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A House of Order

Sandy Reddish divides her time between being a military wife to a solider who is deployed, part-time speech language pathologist, and a mother of three wild children. New to the world of blogging, she writes in spurts from the insane trenches of temporary single parenthood…

The pristine corridors of the temple feel therapeutic as I tiptoe to the locker room. I exult in the lean long white lockers with not a hand print anywhere. I breathe deeply as I listen to the sound of silence after gently closing the door, realizing no one is screaming at me. The marble floors are spotless and I didn’t trip on a single Lego.

When I used to read the admonition to “set your house in order,” and that “cleanliness is next to godliness” I took these admonitions as my mantra regarding my home. I spent my days endlessly following my children around like a maid gone mad. I would not let myself do ANYTHING until my house was in perfect order and all the housework was done.

My second child grew up looking more at my backside than any other body part as I cleaned, vacuumed, and scrubbed, only to wake up and do it all again the next day. Being a maid for two summers in college can make you a bit obsessive about what a house should look like. It took baby number three, several promptings from the Holy Ghost, and many pep talks from my husband before I began to understand what order could really mean.

As I peek around the computer to glance around my living room, I see that it looks like the local landfill. There is a trail from the front door to the kitchen table, beginning with a jacket, papers, dirty socks, and a splattering of school supplies. A lone cracker lies smashed into the table, sticky from the pool of milk puddled nearby, jostling with the peanut butter smeared into the chairs for my attention. The sliding glass door is covered with hand prints and there is an explosion of dirty shoes in a pile of sand and dirt on the floor. This all occurred since I logged on thirty minutes ago, and this is just two rooms of the house.

Please don’t get me wrong. At least once a week (or a month) I finally launch into cleaning mode and my house will look great, spotless even. But I have come to grips with cleanliness lasting as long as it takes two toddlers to dump a full bottle of canola oil onto my linoleum, six people to devour lunch and leave, and eight children to have a fight with the six bags of “shredded” mail sitting in the hallway.

But as I try to listen to the Holy Ghost, my mind can gain a sense of what order could really mean. I find a different kind of order in my days than I would have once imagined. No, the socks are not arranged in rainbow order in the drawers, my kitchen counter is rarely visible, and my children are clean for about five minutes after their baths. The dust bunnies are conjugating as we speak, and the kitchen will probably be condemned by the health department soon, and the cordless phone is ringing somewhere.

I find order as I take the time to study my scriptures and really pray, even though I am already behind, and it is only 6:00 a.m. I sense order as I let my children play in the mud and the sandbox because I know they love it. I find order as I kneel with my small son in prayer so he knows best how to begin each day, even though he wants breakfast NOW. I find order as I take an hour to play with my toddlers before plunging into THE LIST.

I feel order as I cheer a friend who needs a boost, even though I’m tired and need to go home. I find order as I go outside in the sunshine to play soccer with my son, instead of cleaning up kitchen.

This is the kind of order I think that Heaven wants to me bring, order that places first things first–God, family, friends and then self in the proper alignment each day. Yes, my house may not look like much (don’t open that closet door–it could be hazardous to your health) but I am beginning to learn what makes a house of order.

What helps you sense what matters and what doesn’t? How do you keep a sense of order and still live life? What have you learned to let go of as unimportant?

19 thoughts on “A House of Order”

  1. I love your definition of creating order- especially since it's so different from you what you used to think would create order. Thanks for the lovely post.

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  2. There is a time and place for having a nice, clean house all the time, and that time isn't when you have small kids. I don't have kids, and the reason I'm so bad at keeping my apartment clean is because I spend too much time doing mindless things…not good.

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  3. I love this post! I've had a similar awakening about priorities, and while the constant mess still grates on my nerves, I have learned to find order in the chaos like you have.

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  4. I have to work hard to maintain a balance since I do not function well in a house that is messy. But there are times when I have spent way too much time cleaning and not enough nurturing my kids. But a messy house where I cannot find the floor sends me into meltdown faster than anything. My compromise is trying to do only the essential things that keep me sane. I choose a couple of things that make me happy, like vacuuming and let the rest go. I have a weekly schedule that breaks down the work and include my children in the process as much as possible.

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  5. This is wonderful. I think you actually just described my house. Peanut butter, school supplies, condemned closets and all. You've completely changed my perspective on order. Putting things in order is prioritizing what is important, not just putting objects in the proper place. Thank you.

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  6. One more comment, sorry, I'll try not to dominate the conversation.
    Two years ago, when I was pregnant with my fifth child and very, very ill from a chronic illness, I literally could not do more than five things a day: make dinner, do the dishes, help my kids with homework, watch my daughter and laundry. My house was a complete disaster, but I couldn't do more than that. At the time, I felt the promptings of the Spirit that what I was doing at the time was acceptable and appropriate, any more than that would have put me out completely. Ironically, we had major contention with our then-landlord because of it. It was a hard thing to go through but I realized at the end of the day, I was taking care of myself in the best way I could.
    My point is that we go through periods of outward order depending on circumstances.

    I also loved the point of the OP that order can be found in doing the most important things such as scripture study. I can personally confirm that as studying my scriptures has given me a greater sense of order than doing anything else.

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  7. I think your definition of order is in perfect harmony with the other manners a house of God is to be established: of prayer, of fasting, of faith, of learning, of glory, of order, of God. These principles are to create an industrious and pure individual rather than to create a perfectly spick and span house.

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  8. The word 'order' has come to mean a lot more to me since dealing with chronic illness. You have captured many of the thoughts I have had on this…in fact, I have a draft right now on one of my blogs with this same title. Maybe I'll finish it one of these days…or maybe it will sit, unfinished, like so many things in my house. Alas….

    I always end up thinking about Sister Beck's "Mothers Who Know" talk when I think about housecleaning. I know some people were upset that she talked about housework, but I felt like she brought perspective on it all…inspired me to want to take more time to help my children be part of the process, to have the process be as important — if not more so, perhaps — than the result. I wish I'd understood that better when my kids were younger.

    Anyway, thanks for the post.

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  9. My order depends on what is most important at the moment, though perhaps "which fire needs to be put out first" may be more applicable.

    Basically, if we have prayed, had scripture study and told each other "I love you" with a hug and kiss, everything else can wait. I go days at a time by that definition of order, particularly when I have exams.

    Exams finish Monday, then order will expand to include clearing my study (actually, dining) table and mopping the floor, with extras to be advised.

    Loved the humour in your post!

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  10. This post reminds me of my mom. I am so thankful her focus was on me, and not tasks. Jobs need to be done, but I am thankful we grew up knowing we were most important of all.

    Julie Beck talked about this in some respects last month at the BYU women's conference. I have 2 great quotes from that talk on my blog today.

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  11. I find order as I put my priorities in order…

    When I don't put the most important things first, they often don't get done and life feels chaotic. Making a schedule of the vital basics… seeing to it that I make them PRIORITY, then fitting in other less important things as I can… creates a feeling of peace and order in my home.

    http://corinesmiles.blogspot.com/2011/05/prioritizing.html

    http://corinesmiles.blogspot.com/2011/05/tribute-to-my-mother.html

    I really enjoyed reading this. Thanks!
    Corine 😀

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  12. I really liked your post, especially the talk about priorities. We can't have order without those. I think sometimes we are our own worst enemies in the "keeping order" category. I find it hard to keep order in my life and house if I keep a lot of "extra" stuff around. A quote I really like (by William Morris)says "Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.” I try to keep that in mind when I am buying things as well as when I am sorting through rooms. If you have less stuff to move, dust and find a place for it makes keeping order easier. It also works on a spiritual level–repenting and getting rid of thoughts, actions or habits that do us no favors. And definitely making time for scripture study and prayer if nothing else in a day. I also really liked the idea of keeping perspective–when you aren't feeling well, you switch focus on what you do and what is important. President Uchtdorf talked about it recently–slowing down rather than speeding up to go over speed bumps. As far as housework, I have been trying flylady's "zones" again–after I do my cleaning in that area of the house then I can forget about it until the next day. It seems to help me not hyperventilate (so much) about finger prints and stickiness.

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  13. Perhaps someone knows the origin of this point of view. There was a talk on "Work" – I think from a B.Y.U. Women's conference. I only saved the part pertaining to housework – it doesn't have the name of the author or the source. But the point was that every home has cleanliness, order and beauty. They are just buried under the clutter and dirt and messiness. When we clear those away, we're revealing the cleanliness, order and beauty that are already there. May I quote from the talk:
    "When I walk into a room to clean, I no longer feel it is unfair that I am doing this instead of someone else. I no longer feel inadequate because the room is dirty and somehow I think it never should be. I no longer resent the ret of my family for their contributions to the disarray. I look at my home and feel glad. Even before I start, I know that cleanliness, order and beauty are under there somewhere. I look at any clutter on top of that cleanliness and order, and I see blessings…….
    Housework helps me stay focused. It's like a long, drawn-out prayer of gratitude for blessings of home and family. It's an opportunity to meditate upon the spiritual qualities of our physical world. It brings peace of mind and immense satisfaction, for as I bless our home, the Lord blesses me."
    End of quote

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  14. When I was on my mission, I remember a sister in the ward saying that youth liked to frequent her home more as it was not as formal. I guess I had the impression that it was "lived in."

    I grew up in a very child centered home before we moved into a larger home. I am so nostalgic about the home with the uneven floors where I loved from about 4 years to 12 years. We had a huge family room with a table that someone my dad knew made that I think sat at least 8. On the white surface with glitter-like decoration, we spun marbles, colored, drew, did "fashion-lates as we grew older, wrote books, did homework, and played school with dolls.

    We also had toys in the room in open shelves. Before we got a fun carpet design, we just had a braided-like rug on the floor. My brother, sister, and I would run around it like a track sometimes. Mom would come in and say that if I had that much energy that I could help clean. I would fall to the floor and say that I just ran out of energy.

    My mom did not turn on the television during the day as she wanted to do her chores. I never remember living in an immaculate home by any means. Once she had no sooner cleaned the house before we messed it up again. Then, the door bell rang that I think were unexpected relatives from a nearby state. I think she said that she just cleaned the place.

    When I visited my friends home in the period that I think fell during one of her husband's deployment, I saw messy art supplies and other remnants of children. Her young daughter dumped what I think may have been animal crackers on the floor during the course of the visit. I thought this was all great as it was a child centered home.

    I should say that we did have a living room with a 50 gallon fish tank, a dining room, and a kitchen that were generally more orderly at the house of my youth. We did not have fancy furniture or anything even in the more formal living room. Just to paint the picture, this was the day of shag carpet and we had red shag carpet in the living room and dining room, which I think had a rake to bring up the carpet when flattened In our dining room, there was a section where mirrors went from pretty much the floor to ceiling on the wall. I think they were speckled with black. I think it started by the door that went into the family room and wrapped around to the little portion that was at the kitchen entry. I used to spend alone time looking into the mirrors. There was also a mirror right when you came in the door on the closet. I liked to make funny faces into mirrors such as making lips into fish. Then, there was the border of fantasy as I would sort of think the me on the other side was in a different world. At least, I kind of remember that.

    I don't know that I am the poster child for well-adjustment as there has been a lot of trauma in the years to follow after living in that house. But I love the foundation there and the mom who did not hover but was there for me with her sweet disposition.

    I really hadn't planned to go so far down memory lane but this has stirred up some images that are happy to me.

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