The Road to Cleanliness: The Simpler the Better

Author: Elizabeth Foss


by Elizabeth Foss

It is with great trepidation that I am attempting to write about the importance of keeping an orderly home. In my mind, people who are so bold as to write about it must have perfectly well-organized households. I have researched this topic extensively and I try hard, but I beg you not to surprise me with an unexpected visit to check my competency in this area (particularly since this article is due the same week our third baby is due). Some days are better than others and my homemaking is a work in progress.

The journey to a clean, orderly home has been a long one. Cleaning was the first area I tackled and devising a cleaning scheme was relatively simple. Despite cleanliness, disorder and chaos were still part of our family life. I was usually frustrated and irritable at the state of our house. It was clean but it was cluttered. Things were taking over our life. My time at home was being consumed by managing things, organizing them, cleaning them, picking them up and putting them away. I began to talk to other homemakers about clutter.

I found that women are evenly divided on this issue. Either they will defend their right to accumulate and store things or they will absolutely declare war on "stuff." Depending on my mood, I agreed with one side's philosophy as often as the other's. I was worried that the anti-clutter attitude was too rigid and controlling. But when I began to evaluate my own feelings toward my house, I recognized that clutter bothered me even more than dirt. If I came downstairs in the morning and faced a cluttered living room and a kitchen counter buried in schoolwork and mail, I immediately felt disgruntled. If I began my day with a clean, clutter-free house, I was decidedly more cheerful. The ultimate question was whether a clean, clutter-free home would bring us all closer to heaven. A study of the lives of the saints answered with a resounding, "Yes."

Clutter is composed of extra possessions which draw heavily upon the time and energy of the owner. It is possible to get to heaven under the heavy load of material wealth, but it is undoubtedly a more difficult journey. Almost universally, the saints embraced poverty and simplicity in their lives. Although I had approached the clutter issue from a housekeeping perspective, I came to understand it as a spiritual issue.

Consider this quote from by James Stenson: "Being 'poor in spirit' (a Christian virtue) means being detached from things -- being able to posses goods without being possessed by them. It means... putting people ahead of possessions -- and... seeing material things only as instruments for serving God and the needs of others."

Miki Hill, the mother of six and anti-clutterer extraordinaire, advised me to look critically at my possessions and to weed out any disordinate attachments. I adhered by the strictest notion that if we hadn't used it in the past three months, we didn't need it. At this point, I had a choice: a garage sale or a charity. I opted for the latter because it was much easier to part with my possessions when I considered that someone might need them more than I did. Saint John Chrystosom has said "the man who owns two coats, not only should, but is obliged to pass one on to the man who has none."

Furthermore, I was trying to practice contentedness with my state in life. De-cluttering was a great exercise in stewardship and appreciation for the blessings we have. Saint Francis de Sales writes that there are two ways to acquire all you want: keep getting more and more or desire less.

The anti-clutter campaign has raged in our house for almost a year and I have been mentally writing this column for that long. My husband and sons have listened to so many home organization talks on tape as I researched that they also have the bug.

The children are learning that more isn't necessarily better; that they really don't need all the different Power Rangers when one or two will do. It is my husband, however, who has made the greatest sacrifice for the anti-clutter cause. Until recently, his collection of 900 beer cans, some more than 60 years old, lined the walls of our family room. He had been collecting since he was 12 and he asked me to marry him one evening when I was helping to alphabetize them. There were definitely some sentimental attachments.

The cans were difficult to dust, they were taking up space, the boys were into them, and I was beginning to feel like the family room was a great big recycling bin. Mike took them all down and carefully stored them in the attic to await another time and another place in our lives. For right now, our family room is a clean, clear, clutter-free tribute to a simple time, a simple place.

Foss is a freelance writer and managing editor of Welcome Home, a magazine for mother at home.

This article appeared in the September 29, 1994 issue of "The Arlington Catholic Herald."

Courtesy of the "Arlington Catholic Herald" diocesan newspaper of the Arlington (VA) diocese. For subscription information, call 1-800-377-0511 or write 200 North Glebe Road, Suite 607 Arlington, VA 22203.