Creating a sense of order, peace

Organize a cabinet to increase your energy? Clear off a table or paint a room to feel happy? How do you feel when you clean, organize, or improve something in your house and surroundings?

“Cleanliness is next to godliness” and “a place for everything and everything in its place” are two old and familiar sayings. We seem to inherently know that a clean and organized atmosphere not only looks good, but makes us feel better. Who doesn’t need some of that during the doldrums of January and after the recent holidays?

Store aisles loaded with cleaning supplies and all kinds of containers to organize a million different things is evidence that people at least attempt to enhance their home and workplace environments. Indeed, when surroundings are unkempt and clutter abounds, it not only doesn’t feel inviting, but can contribute to people feeling ill at ease, anxious, unfocused, and perhaps even depressed. Consciously or not, many people make some sort of order and organizational goal to improve upon as a new year’s resolution, whether it’s the typical one made at the beginning of the calendar year or on a birthday. Improvement in organization and cleanliness can yield great overall and diverse benefits for this new year of 2014.

In “yesterday” times, keeping the home clean, organized, and pleasant was considered part of homemaking. Nothing less than an art, it required much skill and dedication. The Every-Day Cook-Book and Encyclopedia of Practical Recipes from the early 1890s has an entire section dedicated to homemaking strategies to make the home more cozy, cheerful, and pleasing for everyone in the family. Related to organization, it states that an inviting home has (among other things) pictures to adorn the walls, plants, flowers to cultivate the finer sensibilities, games such as checkers and entertaining and instructive books and periodicals.

However, “In settling the room, these should find their proper places. Untidiness and litter will soon make any room appear nearly as badly as before it was scoured.” Furthermore, “A room filled with trifling ornaments has the look of a bazaar and displays neither good taste nor good sense.”

In other words, items in our surroundings should harmonize each other. If not, we learn from the book that these things are worse than useless and only fill up space that would be better left empty. They also gather dust, making it more work to keep things clean. Not only is there beauty in simplicity, “plainness in decoration is appreciated by the thorough housekeeper who does her own work while dusting.”

It might seem easier said than done without some strategies for getting and keeping organized. It’s a relentless fight for even the best of us and a fight that can’t be won without continual diligence. Beyond keeping things simpler, small and regular habits help to keep things in order.

The old cookbook has a nostalgic section on kitchen work, and even though it speaks of cinders on ironing day, soot, and the draught in the wood-burning stove, the idea presented is still the same today clean up as you go. We spend a lot of time in the kitchen so it needs to be functional, organized, and clean.

The book is offering advice that is sound today when it admonishes that a clean and tidy kitchen can only be secured by having “a place for everything and everything in its place.” There needs to be frequent scouring of the room and utensils; ranges should be wiped carefully (with brown paper in 1890s) after cooking greasy food and it will be kept bright with little difficulty.

The advice, “If every iron, pot, pan, kettle, or any utensil used in cooking of food, be washed as soon as emptied, half the labor will be saved” still makes sense

“Outer order creates an inner calm” is the inspiring message from a Good Housekeeping article from January of 2012. With similar sentiment about the importance of cleanliness and orderliness related to our emotions and feelings, it proposed that there is actually an “inverse relationship between clutter and happiness.” It seems the less clutter around us, the happier we will be.

To achieve this goal, three simple habits were suggested. First, always take care of any task that can be done in one minute. This frees you up to focus on more important things later. Second, spend a few minutes at night to tidy-up spaces. Put things away. It feels good in the morning and creates a “visual order.” Third, get rid of things that are not useful or beautiful to you. I also found this advice in “Simple Abundance, “an uplifting book about creating more peace within our homes and in our lives.

Cleaning and organizing to feel better is the “what and why” of it all, but those so inclined to consider the spiritual or metaphysical know there is more to it. Our universe and the complexities within it are beautiful and infinitely organized down to the subatomic level. For the religious, the Lord’s house is a house of order.

Organization of physical things is a similitude to obedience in putting things where they should be spiritually; obedience being the first law under heaven. Cleanliness symbolizes where we stand before the Lord. Baptism and the sacrament of Communion cleanse the soul. Perhaps these deeper reasons are why people feel compelled to improve their surroundings. We are trying to create a bit of heaven on earth by making our homes a peaceful retreat from the chaos of the outside world.

A woman told how she became deeply depressed from various life circumstances including living in a small apartment of squalor and disarray.

Inspired by a book with a lesson “Caring for Our Homes,” she decided to take action.

“I threw off the shackles of self-pity, rolled up my sleeves, and worked steadily until my little home was clean and cheerful. A new spirit of home was born,” she said.

Remember to take small steps and note your progress; just two tips highlighted in last Sunday’s OBSERVER in “On New Year’s resolutions: giving up the farm.” Keep in mind “yesterday’s” sage advice from The Every-Day Cook-Book. “There is such a thing as being too neat and nice to take comfort in everyday life, and this is anything but cheerful. And then there is such a thing as being so disorderly and negligent that comfort and cheer are impossible.”

Make it a good week and clean a closet!