Creating structure in the home

Tonight I was thinking about a recent conversation I had with a woman who is also a mother of 7 kids. She mentioned that her oldest son, 14 years old, didn’t enjoy being at home. I asked her why, and she said that he feels it’s too loud and chaotic, that there’s always someone yelling or screaming, and that things are always a mess. Then she kind of laughed, assuming that as a mother of a family of the same size and virtually the same age kids I shared her experience, and said, “Well, when he gets older he’ll appreciate it and love it.”

My response (she is a good friend or I would have kept my thoughts to myself) was that it was possible he would look back at it all with a warm feeling, but it was more likely he would become determined not to duplicate that environment for his children later on, and would probably want a small family. I told her that I thought it was reasonable for him to want some peace and quiet, and that being part of a big family didn’t mean that he should forgo his need for some space. (I also told her that kids shouldn’t be screaming and yelling all the time, but that’s a topic for another post. :)

This person felt that chaos was a natural part of having a large family. She is an extremely loving mother, but organization is a very weak point for her. Does having a family of any size mean chaos is inevitable? Are only born neatniks able to create a pleasant home environment with young children around, who are constantly undoing our work? It’s true that there can be lots of action, especially in a larger family, and often lots of noise, but a parent has to be able to channel it and keep it within a healthy limit for their family. I felt it was crucial for this mother to recognize that she needed to make an effort to learn new skills that would help her make her home a special place for all of her children, including this son. I told her it was very reasonable for her son to want some quiet space and privacy, and I thought it would be an important deposit of love to try to give him that.

Now I know that some of you who aren’t naturally organized are starting to feel defensive about all of this. I don’t doubt that you are loving mothers and I’m not implying that they are going to suffer long term damage if you don’t get your home together. Don’t think that I live in a house that is pristine and sparkling at any given moment – actually, if I ever achieve pristine and sparkling, it lasts about two minutes. I’m not talking about becoming insistent that your home looks like children don’t live there. I don’t think that’s healthy or realistic. But it is beneficial to everyone to have a basic structure to your lives – regular mealtimes, bedtimes, and a home that is functionally neat (how you define that is up to you!). It is so much more pleasant for all of us to live in a home that is cared for. Most people enjoy the security of a predictable and reliable daily routine – eg, meals at basically the same time each day. Having a routine makes a lot of daily decision making unnecessary, or at the very least, not urgent. Piles of things everywhere you look, and clutter and mess all around lead most people to feel stressed and like they want to escape.

But what do you do if you just aren’t a naturally organized person? Don’t feel this means that you are doomed, and you don’t need to bother trying to improve in this area. I think lots of us like to excuse ourselves for not making the effort to improve by telling ourselves, “I can’t, this is just the way I am.” Recognize that a person can learn new strategies if they are motivated to invest the time and effort. I have a very close friend who was a disaster organizationally, when she was first married; she was a free spirit by nature. Someone entering her home now would never guess that she struggled with this for years, since it always looks lovely when you drop in, and the home environment is calm and loving. I recently asked her what her incentive was to overcome the way she had been doing things all her life, because obviously, change that goes against how you’ve grown up is really hard. She told me that her husband was so unhappy with the mess that she committed to learning how to keep her home neat, because she wanted him to be happy in his home. Because she loved her husband so deeply, his happiness was a huge incentive to her.

The first step to making a change is recognizing that what we are doing isn’t working, and being honest with ourselves about it, however hard it is to do. Don’t give away your power by telling yourself there’s nothing you can do that will make a difference. That will hold you back and keep you where you are right now. There are lots of strategies out there for developing home maintenance skills; many books on home organization have been written by reformed slobs who feel a sense of mission to help others who have struggled the way they did. Next time you are at the library, check out some books on the topic – I find that I often learn new and better ways to do things. Each thing may only be a small detail or tiny improvement (or it might not!), but every little step enhances the home environment, as well as our internal environment.


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