If cleanliness really is next to Godliness, then I’m no doubt on the fast track to Heaven.
Actually, it’s probably more accurate to say that I thrive on organization over cleanliness. Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate a good disinfectant just as much as the next neat freak, but at the end of the day, if there’s a little hidden cat barf under the bed that isn’t visible as I meticulously fluff the throw pillows on top, then I’m ok with being none the wiser. (It will get scrubbed up eventually.)
I honestly can’t remember a time when I didn’t crave compulsive categorization. Even as a child, I vividly recall the pure pleasure garnered from hours spent organizing my closet, straightening drawers, alphabetizing my book collection. Having grown up in a chaotic alcoholic household, I believe these mini rituals instilled in me a much-needed sense of order that was otherwise in short supply.
I can even walk into any room of my house and, with the eye of an eagle, immediately ascertain if a picture frame has been inadvertently rotated 11 degrees since I was last there. Perfectly placed angles, glorious white space, uncluttered countertops — I covet them all. And if during a sorting binge I happen across an item that I can reasonably expect won’t be needed in the remotely near future, I will sooner toss it than store it.
It is physically impossible for me to sit through 5 minutes of an episode of Hoarders, even with eyes averted, without breaking out into a cold sweat.
So it comes as no surprise that I’ve always required my children to keep their rooms picked up. It’s the kind of orderliness that tends to turn the heads of people who have kids of their own (but perhaps haven’t seen them for a few days because they’re buried somewhere under piles of Legos, laundry and leftover pizza crusts). “Oh my God, did you just clean their rooms?” I have heard countless times while parading friends past my two teens’ abodes. “How in the world do you get them to keep it so … clean?”
A year ago, as I helped my eldest sort through his closet before leaving for college, I literally felt an adrenaline rush as we dragged to the curb garbage bags filled with used-up high school notebooks, old magazines and 54 miscellaneous charging adapters from former phones, iPods and gaming consoles (all confiscated from a single appropriately designated “junk drawer”).
If none of this is ringing even remotely familiar, then perhaps you could try to recollect the nesting stage of your pregnancy, then imagine it magnified on mega-doses of steroids, then multiply it by 25 just for good measure … and that’s my daily reality. (The nesting phases of my own three pregnancies were particularly frustrating because … well, everything in my house was already organized).
Now, before you condemn me for attempting to inflict my own neurosis onto my offspring, bear in mind that there are benefits to insisting they clean their rooms. And if you don’t believe me, consider this: during a 2014 commencement speech at the University of Texas, U.S. Navy Adm. William H. McCraven — the commander of the forces that organized the raid to kill Osama bin Laden — delivered some key advice on success. “If you want to change the world,” he cautioned graduates of his alma mater, “start off by making your bed.”
Mothers everywhere rejoiced as McCraven — relaying several lessons learned in his 36 years as a Navy SEAL — went on to share that making the bed kick-starts the day with a sense of accomplishment, which in turn encourages young people to attempt another task, and another, and another. “And by the end of the day, that one task completed will have turned into many tasks completed,” he vowed.
Hey, if it’s good enough for the mastermind credited with helping take down one of the most reviled terrorists in history, then it’s good enough for me. And if you, too, are considering making a clean break from the chaos that is your kids’ rooms, then here’s a few additional advantages to requiring them to keep the space tidy:
1. It teaches them discipline. Routines and chores provide excellent opportunities for kids to learn responsibility and self discipline, with resulting rewards extended as privileges. If my 16-year-old wants to go to the beach for the day — and his Algebra book, last night’s clothing and a half-eaten-bag of chips are strewn across his bedroom floor — he is well aware that he won’t be catching waves anytime soon.
2. It makes kids household contributors. My husband and I were both raised with the notion that every family member is expected to help out for the greater good, and we have worked to instill that same sense of responsibility in our kids. Even if it’s a relatively small measure such as making the bed or picking up toys, they’re doing their part for the family unit.
3. They can always find their crap. If I had a dime for every time one of my three children wailed, “Mom! Where’s my —?” then I’d be … hmmm, about 80 cents richer. As much as you may want to admonish me for being a Type A, organization-obsessed lunatic, the fact is, my kids know where their shit is. Yes, even the 4-year-old. She doesn’t wonder where that little brown-and-white spotted plastic horse is grazing; she heads straight for the horse bin. If she wants to feed Baby Alive with the bottle of make-believe milk, she makes a beeline for the baby doll box. And the princess dress, the magic wand, the blue cowgirl hat, the pink cowgirl hat, the red-white-and-blue cowgirl hat? Yup, all present and accounted for in the dress-up drawer.
By teaching my kids to put their possessions back after they use them, and supplying convenient methods of organization (thank you, The Container Store), they don’t have to waste time —theirs or mine! — wondering where things are when they need them. I’ve watched this phenomenon in my own children transfer from their toddler to teenage years, and now all the way into college.
4. It preserves my sanity. How many times have you heard a husband turn to one of his friends and, generally with a little guy-code wink, say, “Happy wife, happy life.” Well, in my case, my hubby would likely advise — solemnly, without the wink — “Clean house, happy spouse.”
And seriously, even though my personal serenity/inner tranquility isn’t the only advantage afforded by making my kids keep their personal spaces in order … wouldn’t it still be perfectly legitimate if it was?
Because in my home, clean and calm equals happy mom. And it does no family member any good to be sweeping that aspiration under the rug.