Many years ago, when my now 32-year-old son was in the throes of adolescent indifference about organization and neatness, I came up with what I call The House Rules. His cleanliness standards were far afield from mine and I got tired of nagging him about putting the dishes in the dishwasher, rather than leaving them in the sink, on the counter or even farther away in the living room where he had been camped out either watching tv or playing video games with far-flung friends who were likely similarly ensconced in adolescent electronic heaven. When I would nudge him about cleaning his room, he would moan and respond, “Why should I clean my room, it will only get messy again?” I reminded him that it didn’t get messy on its own.
The rules are simple:
If you open it, close it.
If you take it out, put it back.
If you drop it, pick it up.
If you make a mess, clean it up.
If you break it, please repair or replace it.
Don’t expect anyone else to clean up your physical or emotional clutter.
It took repetition to make the eventual changes. I reminded him that these were adult living skills that he would need and I was also doing this for the benefit of my potential future daughter-in-law. When he and his wife did eventually meet, I said to her, half-jokingly, “You can thank me now.” She laughed too. I don’t think he did.
I know that it takes time to unlearn old habits and cultivate new ones. Conscious action is key. If it isn’t a priority, it isn’t likely to get done. A come clean (no pun intended) is that I am not naturally organized and need to focus on having a place for everything and putting everything in its place. Many years ago my friend and mentor Dr. Yvonne Kaye reminded me that “Discipline is freedom.” My response was, “Yeh, right, woman. I’m a free spirit.” She volleyed back, “When you have structure, you can be as creative as you want. Resist it though I did, I decided that she was right. It is what allows me to spin so many plates as a therapist, journalist, minister, speaker, teacher, editor and event promoter/producer. Add to it the FREE HUGS thang I do as often as I can, as well as the necessary activism given the nature of the world at the moment. As I am writing this, my brain is jumping all over the place with ideas for other articles, for things I have on my to-do list today, as I am listening to a moment by moment Woodstock replay on WXPN, my favorite member supported station that broadcasts out of the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. Grace Slick (Jefferson Airplane) is gracing the stage at the moment. Is it any wonder that I need to follow the House Rules?
Taken to a broader level, consider how many people really do expect other people to follow after them with a literal or symbolic dustpan and broom. Perhaps they were never taught why it is important or how to do it. I have many clients who feel overwhelmed with the clutter that has accumulated in their surroundings that reflect how they might be experiencing life in general. What we talk about it is how to manage it by taking on one shelf, closet, surface or drawer at a time and once it is done, to move on to the next thing. It goes beyond the initial cleaning to the maintenance of the space.
As it extends to human interaction, imagine your relationships and ask yourself if you have the expectation that others will do the ‘heavy lifting’ for you, or if you will hoist and haul together as you clear space for them to thrive.
On a global level, I think it would be wonderful for world leaders to have a House Rules 101 class for ways to manage their responsibilities. Imagine what it would be like if they were to model that ideal.
Two juxtaposed images come to mind, one related to Woodstock and the other to Burning Man. The former which is celebrating its 50th anniversary had a massive crowd estimated at 500,00 who left detritus behind such that it took two weeks to clean up. The latter in its 33rd year has something like 70,000 attendees who adhere to the principle of Leave No Trace. There are no trash cans and they pack up and take with them all that they bring in. I’ve not been to either. I was nine in 1969 and I don’t think my lungs could handle the heat and dust on the Playa in the Nevada desert where the Burn takes place. I have friends who wax rhapsodic about the community event.
I love the Boy Scout adage, “Always leave the campground better than you found it.” As true for cleaning up the physical space around us as well as the people with whom we share the planet.
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