I’m just putting it out there: natural tidiness is not my superpower. I won’t be on next episode of “Hoarders” or anything, but I definitely could have less clutter and more organization. “A place for everything and everything in its place” takes time and a patience with attention to detail that I struggle to muster. There are more important and much more fun things to do than dishes, filing and de-cluttering cabinets and closets. Never-you-mind that I am also impatient when I can’t find things… keys, papers, my son’s baseball schedule, the bread pan in which my ignored, formerly yellow fruits will be virtuously rebirthed as banana bread. Yep, I’m ripe for a new year’s resolution.

It feels true—an orderly house still makes for an orderly, calmer household. Of course, that order doesn’t just happen magically. Like most new moms, I received the advice that young children should help clean up and that it should be fun and routine. For example, after meals, everyone can do a little dishes dance before and after carrying their dishes to the sink. Before bed, parents and kids can put the blocks away while singing a favorite song.  But, as the advice goes, if all isn’t put away by the time the cherubs go to bed, a “fairy” should finish the job before they wake in the morning. It’s not advice I am thrilled to follow, but it does make sense.

For sure, children (and teens and adults) are barometers who reflect their environment. In addition to how things look around the home, children (and teens and adults) also reflect how the other people in the home are feeling. Researchers say we tend to feel more stressed when we feel our homes are cluttered. They also say women are more likely than men to remain stressed and to take on more housework in the evenings. That said, perceptions of clutter are relative; one person’s stack of papers that needs to be filed is another person’s coffee coaster. So to some extent, it’s about how clutter makes us feel, and about the fact that feelings are contagious. Famed organizer Marie Kondo asks if items in our spaces bring us joy. If not, toss it! My toaster oven will stay despite the fact that it does not bring me joy, but what she is getting at is important.

Want to join me in a tidiness resolution? I’m going to give intentional tidiness a chance, starting with my desk at the Children’s Project. I aim to take the time to approach with mindfulness the work of being tidy, and I’ll trust that I’ll feel more settled and that feeling will spread beyond me. Ultimately, what matters to me is not whether I can find my keys or the paper I took those notes on, but how I am in the world. I want to spend my time learning and doing what nourishes those around me at work and at home. I’m pretty sure being tidier will help.  


Maria Chesley, PhD is an educator and leader who believes in the power of communities to change lives. She is the Executive Director of the Carpinteria Children’s Project (CCP). CCP provides early childhood education, family support services, and leadership of the Thrive Carpinteria Partner Network of early education and social service providers. Learn more at CarpChildren.org. Maria can be reached at mfisk@carpchildren.org or (805) 566-1600.

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