HBTT: How important is it to have an orderly house?

July 10, 2008 | 57 comments

It’s time for another Half-Baked Thought Thursday!

In our rapidly-developing suburban area there are lots of model homes, houses that builders decorate and furnish to help buyers imagine the glorious life that awaits them with this brand of house. I find it incredibly inspiring to visit model homes (when I’m not making a complete, utter fool of myself, that is). Every time I’m in one it reminds me of the power that a beautiful, well-ordered home can have on one’s mental state. It’s not even the perfect decorating or the expensive furniture that attracts me — just the tranquility of an uncluttered and clean yet homey environment.

Thinking about this reminds me of something I’ve never really found clarity on: How important is it to have an orderly house? Obviously keeping a house tidy is neither a family’s highest or lowest priority…but where does it lie on the priority spectrum? (I’m not thinking here of whether or not it should be sanitary, which I think we all agree is critical.)

Here are my various trains of thought:

“It completely depends on the family…”
One part of me says that there are no objective guidelines at all. This line of thinking is that each family should optimize on what brings them the most peace, and that as long as their living conditions aren’t unsanitary, if it would cause them more stress to clean than to live amidst clutter and mess, then they shouldn’t worry about it.

“Objectively, keeping an orderly house should be a high priority…”
Another part of me says that, perhaps especially for natural slobs like me who have a high tolerance for mess and disorganization, it is an important exercise of discipline to keep your environment orderly. (I notice that there are no convents or monasteries where it’s acceptable for the place to be a wreck.) Also, per the model home example, I suspect that it is a universal truth that everyone is more calm and at peace when their surroundings are tidy. This part of me says that it’s an inherent part of our responsibilities as parents to keep our houses as clean and orderly as possible.

“Objectively, keeping an orderly house should be a medium to low priority…”
And then there is yet another part of me that says that it just doesn’t matter. In my life I’ve known plenty of people whose houses always seemed to be messy and overflowing with clutter that seemed to do perfectly fine in that environment. This line of thinking isn’t that keeping things in order doesn’t matter at all, just that it should be way on the bottom of the list of the things parents try to get done in a day.

For whatever reason I find this subject fascinating (I know, I’m boring). But, obviously, I have not been able to clarify my own thoughts. What do you think?


  1. mrsdarwin

    Keeping an orderly house is a medium-ish priority for me. I do enjoy having the place look nice, but the un-negligible amounts of work (and I do mean that; it doesn’t just happen in fifteen minutes in the morning or whatever) it takes to effect that look means that I do nothing else all day. I generally ignore clutter, try to keep the general living areas in usable order (“usable” being the key word) and let the bedrooms go until such time as we have guests over or I feel equal to the task of sitting on the children while they work.

    On the other hand, I have a pretty easy-going personality in this regard — as does my husband; an important point! — and so it doesn’t bother me if the place isn’t generally in apple-pie order.

    Knowing guests are coming is a great motivator for cleaning, as I’m sure you know. I should invite people over more often.

  2. Bender

    Let’s clarify a bit here.

    There is a clean home, as in orderly and organized.

    And there is a clean home, as in sanitary.

    A sanitary and hygenic environment are very near to the top of the list. If the bathroom is like a highway reststop or gas station restroom, or if flies are buzzing around dirty dishes in the kitchen, it is time to condemn the house and call in CDC and haz-mat teams to tear it down. You don’t need sterile hospital operating conditions, but sanitary conditions are an absolute must.

    Mere order and organization – everything in its place – is a high priority if you ever have people over to visit, and a fairly high priority if you want to maintain positive mental health, but being an Adrian Monk style obsessive/complusive neat freak is going way too far in the opposite direction. Things should be neat, but comfortable.

    Now, as for me . . . if you want to visit, you’ll have to give me a few days notice so that I can tidy up a bit (a lot). Although, I feel a lot better about things when stuff is put away.

    My mother, on the other hand, is getting progressively worse and worse and worse. When I go to visit (less often than it might otherwise be), 95 percent of the space on tables, counters, ledges, chairs, couches, etc. is covered with some book, paper, magazine, knick-knack, etc., and 85 percent of the floorspace is covered with some box or stack of books or other piece of junk. You literally cannot walk across the room without tripping over something. I’ve tried to help. I keep trying to tell her that she might help getting out of that depression she’s been in for years if she would clean up her place and get rid of the clutter, but she has this perverse love affair with depression and refuses to let go of it.

  3. SuburbanCorrespondent

    As you say, I think it depends on the people involved…however they are happiest is what matters. I think it would be a mistake to make a moral issue of it, however. I’m not saying you are doing that, but some people do. I think I used to. My house is clean, therefore I am virtuous. Her house is a mess, I am better than her. That sort of thing.

  4. 'Becca

    I think it depends on the family, but within the family, the person with the lowest tolerance for mess gets to set the standard, and all family members should work together to maintain the home at roughly 90% of that standard, out of respect for their loved one’s needs. The standard-setter must strive to appreciate the 90% effort and forgive the other 10%.

    I come from a family with cluttered, interesting houses that always have some piles of chaos here and there. I think it’s fun and stimulating…up to a point. When the chaos pile overwhelms a whole room, or when anything gets hazardous, that’s a problem. See link behind my name for an example.

    Model houses, hotel rooms, and real homes at that level of cleanliness and emptiness creep me out a little. When it’s someone’s real home, I think, “But where’s all your STUFF? Obviously you spend all your time cleaning; why don’t you have a LIFE?” which is not really fair, but that’s my reaction. It doesn’t give me a sense of peace, more like restlessness.

  5. Kimberly

    I have one, or five, thoughts: 1) it depends on the family…if one person is deeply unhappy at the state of the house, it probably needs to change; and 2) there is soooome truth to the old adage that cleanliness is next to godliness; but 3) not at the expense of your own health (I am 3 mos preggo and I have a Toddler…when he actually sleeps, most of the time I do too) or sanity; and 4) relationships are more important than things.

    There. Those are my thoughts.

  6. Sara

    This is a huge subject! You can have clean homes that aren’t at all sanitary. Perfectly neat, but covered in dust. Especially the silk flowers. Ick.

    My house is clean underneath the clutter of having 8 family members, 4 of whom are home all the time homeschooling. It’s a constant battle to get people to pick up after themselves.

    I think monasteries are clean because they have so little stuff to clutter them up, and work is a big part of what they do during a day. Not slack off, like the rest of us. 🙂

    But I really think that clutter can be both a symptom of depression and a cause of it. I think Flylady has some great thoughts on this. Except I disagree that with her that we shouldn’t expect a certain level of “perfection” from our children. Maybe they don’t have to do a job perfectly, but there should be minimum standards.

  7. Amanda

    I pretty much agree with Bender. There’s “clean” and there’s “tidy”. Tidy depends. Clean is non-negotiable.

    I have two kids under two. When there awake, no the apt. is not very tidy. But it IS clean: there aren’t piles of dirty dishes, crud crusted in the sink, filthy bathroom, etc…

    My apt. is always clean and sanitary, b/c that IS very important. But tidy, THAT’S relative.

  8. Susan Thompson

    I’ve always felt that creating beauty, order, and cleanliness out of chaos is part of God’s work. Finding ways to actually do that, though, is always a challenge. I’d rather have a slightly dirty area which is clutter-free than the reverse. The reason is that if a room is neat and tidy, it’s a snap to clean it. But if it’s messy and cluttered, then you have 2 jobs: First tidy up, and then clean. And tidying up is the real challenge!

  9. Barb

    I love beauty and beauty is caught up in orderly for me. I try to tidy up each night before I go to bed (or after the kids are in bed) so that I get up to what equals peace to me the next morning. I never like doing it at night but always appreciate it in the morning. Even when the kids were small I tried to have a “basket” in each room to put the stuff from the day. Then the kids could help me put it away the next morning during the cleanup time. But I did not have to look at the mess when I got up. That to me was so peaceful.

  10. hallie

    You should take a peek back at your comments on my blog. They were very wise. 😉 I remember that you (I think it was you) mentioned letting a sense of peace guide you. At what level of orderliness/cleanliness do you and your family feel peace?

    I also try to remember that my home is a domestic monastery and I try to let that vision guide me. I do think it’s true that order, beauty and simplicity breed a certain calmness of spirit that I really value but again, that’s probably different for everyone.

    I do think it is especially important to have some level of orderliness if we are homeschooling. I think children learn best in an uncluttered environment.

    But, there are phases of life when having an orderly home must take a backseat to higher priorities. I know that there have been times when I have been especially tired but have forced myself to clean anyway and ended up being snappy with my family all day. I know, because Dan has told me so – lol, that in situations like that everyone would rather have a somewhat dirty house and a happy Mom than a clean house and a grumpy Mom.

    The last thing I will mention is that we invested a bit of money at The Container Store and spent a weekend decluttering and our home is now SO much easier to maintain. I doubt that I spend an hour a day cleaning, even with 4 kids under 5.


  11. Jen Rouse

    I’m with you up to a point, as far as orderliness being up to the individual family. I’ve known people with beautiful homes who were way to uptight about it, thus defeating the supposed calmness and serenity. I have a high tolerance for “messy,” as you would know if you could see the state of my house right now! But a much lower tolerance for “dirty.” The distinction being: toys or laundry or books all over the place=not a big deal. Actual dirt, grime and nastiness=makes a home much less liveable and comfortable, both for the family and any guests.

  12. Sandy

    It depends. When my kids were younger, keeping things picked up was a daily struggle. I grew up in a messy but loving and comfortable home and therefore was not bothered much by the mess. Dh, on the other hand, grew up in a “cleanliness (and orderliness) is next to Godliness” kind of home therefore the mess really bothered him. As ‘becca’s comment suggested, we finally (and I sheepishly admit that means after about 15 years of marriage) settled on keeping the house to about 95% of dh’s standards. It was also, of course, much easier as the kids got older.

    Ironically, I now get a bit cranky around too much clutter and both of my dc (college age) are becoming almost neatniks. Scary.

  13. hallie

    Or rather, a “domestic church”. There is a great article called The Domestic Monastery that I was thinking of and it does feel that way sometimes, doesn’t it? (Especially with many little ones.) 🙂

  14. Maria

    I’ve learned two things about cleanliness/order. First, I don’t have to have my house perfectly clean in order to have people over. I grew up with a standard of cleanliness that made hospitality a burden rather than a joy. I’m getting over it. Second (and this is a result of most of the last year lived in the clutter and chaos of a remodel project), order and cleanliness do matter to the peace and sanity of the family. It probably does depend on the people involved, but there comes a point at which even the biggest slob can’t take it any more. It’s good to try to live somewhere on the clean side of that line!

  15. Anne Marie

    Hubby and I live in the model home for our product so it’s like living in a home that’s always on the market for sale. We have around 300 to 400 people through our home per year so tidiness is a must. I have a natural inclination toward clutter that I must tame as a part of my profession.

    What I’ve found is that when I tame the clutter monster and the house is tidy and presentable I am calmer. It just feels better, and has a very distinct impact on my mental state, and of course when mama is calmer the whole house is calmer.

    Now if only I had a professional reason to keep my daily calories in check!!!

  16. TwoSquareMeals

    Karen Mains has some great stuff to say about this in her book, “Open Heart, Open Home.” It really freed me up to realize that a happy and hospitable home does not have to be perfectly clean and uncluttered. It is more important that people feel welcome to drop in any time and that they don’t worry about messing up your perfect living room.

    I would also say that it is important that your kids feel free to be themselves in your home, and that they feel loved. I can empathize with the commenter who spent all day cleaning and left unhappy kids and husband in her wake. I did that just this morning.

    That said, I do think a clean and orderly house is an important ingredient in a peaceful home. It is just not THE most important, and everyone’s standards will differ. Having small kids has taught me some balance in this area after years of being a bit obsessive.

    Some things are non-negotiable for my sanity, those being leaving the kitchen clean at night (dishes in dishwasher and counters wiped down) and making sure the bathrooms are at least wiped down before company comes (and cleaned well every two weeks).

    Anyway, I didn’t really say anything new, but check out the book. I think you would really like it.

  17. Eileen

    Oh, honestly, this topic makes me tired.

    And I’ve just been soooo tired lately.

    I really can’t keep up with other people’s standards — I love the “clean is non-negotiable” where silk flower dust is the standard for condemnation. Go ahead and knock down my house, then. I’d love to get to the stuff I can’t reach, but it’s sometimes all I can do just to keep up with the stuff I can.

    (I’m speaking tongue firmly in cheek here, of course; y’all are entitled to your overachieving standards. Forgive my peevishness: We’ve got remodeling going on here right now. I don’t have a shower. I can’t let the kids go into the office for fear I’ll never find them again. We have all kinds of dust. None if it is “sanitary”. And between the kids and the contractors, the screen door is left open so often that it’s blueplate special time for the local flies. Don’t worry, I’m not inviting anyone over for dinner these days. Or coffee. Or to use the bathroom.)

    I love, love love a clean, orderly home. I look forward to having one again someday … sometime between when the remodeling is over and the children are grown would be nice. I’m not holding my breath, though.

    So I settle for straightened, most days (beds made, toys picked up, dishes done and rugs vacuumed — and maybe even dusting!), and attack “real” cleaning when I can.
    Getting rid of the clutter helps, and I have a goal of organizing and purging the office and the kitchen before we start school again in August.

    It’s an area I’d like to improve.

    Add it to the list.

    I’m tired.

    P.S. What twosquaremeals said. 🙂

  18. Melanie B

    I think it really does differ from family to family.

    My priorities change a bit from season to season. Especially depending on whether I’m pregnant, dealing with a newborn, etc. I’ll have been married three years in August, two thirds of which I’ve been pregnant. And when I’m pregnant my standards go WAY down because I just don’t have the energy to do more than the bare minimum. And I’m phobic about cleaning products and hyper sensitive to smells. I’m much more tolerant of mess and dirt than I probably should be.

    Luckily, my husband is very laid back about such things. As long as he has clean clothes and food to eat and we aren’t wallowing in food, he’s happy. My standards of cleanliness are much higher than his so it all really depends on my energy levels.

    That said, I have a very hard time making transitions from one phase to another. I have to learn to ignore some of the mess that bugs me when I just don’t have the energy to do it all. I have a hard time feeling very guilty when I spend most of the day on the couch even though I know I need the rest. But then I get so used to ignoring it and get stuck in the rut of low standards even after I start to have more energy.

    It’s during those transitional times that I come back to this question, almost exactly what you write here, weighing the various factors and trying to decide what is necessary and do-able right now in the situation I am in today. I think it is good and healthy to occasionally re-evaluate your priorities because I think when you have small children they are necessarily going to shift and change as your family situation changes.

  19. Antique Mommy

    Oooh interesting line of thought.

    One argument could be that our God is a God of order and not chaos, so to be orderly is a Godly thing. I suspect that I like that argument because I need order or I can’t think or function. I can take a little dust, but everything must be in it’s place, even if it’s a dusty place.

    On the other hand who am I to tell those who enjoy clutter that they must be orderly. If clutter works for you, and your house functions, then have at it. And I will try not to pick up after you when I’m at your house.

  20. Marian

    Can I vote for all three options? It depends on the family, the circumstances, the phase of life, “cleanliness is next to godliness”, “our God is a God of order” … =)I think they fit together somehow.

    Overall, cleanliness and order ARE good things and very conducive to mental and spiritual peace, true hospitality, orderly functioning,practicing discipline, etc. They can serve God’s purposes in and through our lives.

    The thing is, THAT needs to be the focus. Sometimes it’s a matter of whose order we’re striving for– what God is building, or what we think is order.

    Like all good things that serve, it can easily grow into an idol, a master, a distraction from God’s purposes, all neatly hiding under the guise of those same reasons that make it an objectively good thing (continuing to claim that our efforts are so that we’re ready for hospitality and honoring guests or to create a sanctuary for our family, when it has actually grown to be an idol in and of itself, that probably even competes with the godly functions of cleanliness and order.)

    Wow, was THAT a rambly answer! I am tired. But I hope it made some sense. Cleanliness and order are objectively good and serve good purposes, and therefore ought to be important. But their place ultimately comes behind the REAL priorities they serve, and occasionally they will be overruled by them. (Any clearer?)

    It is so nice to know that someone else gets all philosophical about these sorts of things, too!

  21. MooBeeMa

    I have noticed a DIRECT connection between how orderly my house is and how peaceful the members of my family are.

    This doesn’t mean my house needs to be sterile. Just orderly. So everyone knows where to find the tape, or the batteries, and the clutter/visual pollution is dealt with regularly and kept to a minimum.

  22. Liz

    I have spent my adult life collecting friends who were clutter bugs like me. These are the friends whom I can happily let drop in on me at a moments notice and not feel too much like the house is a wreck (because I know what their house doesn’t look a whole lot different). I do have a few neatnik friends as well, I think they keep me around because it amuses them, and also makes them feel just a bit smug about their own homes.

    One of my neatnik friends died a few years back. She used to bleach her floors at least once a week, wash them every day and bleach the toilet daily. Clutter never resided in her house, she spent much of her waking hours keeping dirt and clutter at bay. However, the hours she didn’t spend doing that, she spent drinking, until her liver failed her before she even made it to 50. The family life in that home was physically orderly, but it was miserable, not peaceful. Our house has been cluttered, but there’s also been laughter, and no one has had to turn to the bottle.

    Not all of my neatnik friends are alcoholics, but they certainly spend far more time on things than on people, or on growth in areas like education or faith. I’m sure there are exceptions to this, but the fact is that a lot of the personal growth stuff can entail more clutter. Even my friend Kris, who loves order, sometimes creates great clutter with a candle project, or a spinning project. I suspect that in those moments her house doesn’t look like House Beautiful either. Anyway, my cluttery friends aren’t scared to see me coming, and that’s okay by me. My dd’s fiance loves to come to our house because it’s so relaxed, and I love him because he doesn’t judge me for not being Polly Pefect.

    If I lived in a convent, I wouldn’t have a husband who chooses to keep his tools on the floor in one corner of the dining room so that they are easily accessible. I bought him a tool cart for the basement, but somehow the tools kept returning to the dining room floor. I refuse to try to discipline my husband, so I simply sweep around them most of the time and move them only when I have to mop. However, it’s things like that that make achieving House Beautiful status an impossibility no matter how much I try to emulate Fly Lady. I choose to not be resentful (at least most of the time), but to keep things as clean as is reasonable and live with the rest.

    As far as clean enough to be healthy is concerned, I’m convinced that we are raising a generation of kids whose immune systems are not being properly stimulated because of all the disinfectants we are using. My mom used to say, “You have to eat a peck of dirt before you die.” The healthiest kids I know were not necessarily the most scrubbed kids on the block and e coli infections are a whole lot less common among farm kids than among the suburbanites whose moms scrub their hands with anti-bacterial soap at the drop of a hat.

  23. Betsy

    One thing my hubby and I have said is that God has given us only so much space. We have a small apartment, and that’s that.

    If we can’t clean up and declutter quickly enough to keep our lives at peace and our home open to others, then we have more stuff than God has given us room for. So then we donate without prejudice.

    I admit that sometimes I reach for the stockpot and realize that we donated it, or I look for that novel I started last year and remember that it now belongs to the library. But I refuse to cram stuff into corners just so that I can have more stuff.

    Even in our small space, we cherish our room to breathe. I think that this is an important part of a home. Space to grow and rest and breathe.

  24. magdajhawthorne

    I want to clarify my earlier comment, which I realize could sound harsh after reading some of the other comments.

    Here’s a statement I will stand by:

    I do think that it is an objective rule that you should have an orderly home, and my criterion for objectivity is “would I turn this into a rule that every child should be taught?” and the answer is yes. Here is the rule that I believe should be an objective standard for orderliness:

    “If you bring something into your living space, you bring with it a responsibility to keep it (reasonably) clean, in good repair, and out of the way of your and other people’s day to day life when you are not using it. If you can’t take care of the thing in this way then you need to release it back into the wild — regardless of the sentimental attachment you have for it (b/c obviously, if you cared that much about it, you would keep it clean).”

    With the exception of temporary times in life like when you have an infant, lots of young children under 5, moving, remodeling, illness, and pregnancy, I believe that standard should apply to all people, and all their things in every house at all times.

    I believe that it is so important to have an orderly home that if you consistently find yourself struggling to keep things neat and clean (to a reasonable, not perfectionistic standard) and berating yourself because you can’t keep your house neat and clean that you should not relax your standards of neatness — which is what most people do — but instead, you should release those things that you can’t take care of properly. Further, you should insist that your children above a certain age should also release the things they can’t take care of properly.

  25. amy

    Wow–this touches on all kinds of issues for me– to the point that I wrote my own post about it: Housekeeping and God. But rather than write a huge comment here, I will just say that what sara said:

    But I really think that clutter can be both a symptom of depression and a cause of it.

    is definitely true for me to a big extent, both ways, as a cause, and as a symptom of depression. There’s nothing more depressing to me than a messy house, and when I’m depressed, the last thing I want to do are acts of caring for myself (and our home is an extension of this).

  26. nicole

    I always vow to make keeping an orderly home a higher priority. I know that I am more at peace when things are somewhat clean. My husband definitely prefers an orderly home to a messy or untidy one. My kids seem to play better when things are neatly organized. So, it is of medium importance to me, but perhaps should be a little higher.

  27. Kathy Grubb


    I could write a book about this, and someday, I just might.

    But for now, here are my thoughts.

    I think you are desiring clear direction — kind of What Would Jesus Do — if he were in charge of your house.
    It is true God is a God of order. It is also true that God loves people. Somewhere in there, we have to find a balance of keeping order and loving people, not keeping people and loving order.

    I think that looking to others’ standards is always a bad idea. Rather, pray and ask God what he would have you do. (And ask your husband what he thinks!)

    When I have done this in the past, he has revealed to me that what I thought was “being flexible” was really a lazy streak. He wanted me to confess it, grow in discipline, and honor him in the faithfulness of keeping my house well ordered. What I thought was “loving my children” was really using them as an excuse not to do my basic chores. I want my children, in the long run, to see me being excellent and faithful, (not perfect) honoring God with what he has given me. I am hoping they learn by my example and do their chores with the same faithful humility.

    This has been a long, long tedious process. I’ve been married 11 years, have 5 kids and I’m still not there. It helps, though, to have married an Felix Unger, when I am SO Oscar Madison. (Oh, dear, I’ve just dated myself.)

    Anyway, there is grace here, not condemnation. God is calling you, I think, to look to Him for help in this. Your house, your desires, and your callings are nothing like ours. He knows you and his clear direction will be manageable and sweet.

    I will pray for you, (check out Flylady.net) and look forward to hearing of your progress.

  28. a

    I am a neat freak–organizationally obsessed. BUT… when life gets the better of me (happens often with busy schedules, 2 young children, lots of commitments, health issues, etc), and the mail and laundry pile up and my book-buying habit has been on overdrive… I tend to get overwhelmed and not know where to begin to bring us back to order. Rather than just tackling one pile or one room and getting started, I wander through, wallowing in being in over my head. I can physically feel the stress being “out of order” creates–tightness in my chest, headache, poor sleep.
    My husband grew up in a spotless home and likes things kept that way (but is himself fairly messy). He has a very high stress job as well as a chronic health condition that leaves him exhausted by the time he gets home (and it’s exacerbated by stress). I stay home to care for our home and our children, so I think it is part of my job to (within reason) provide a peaceful environment for him to come home to, rather than add to his stress. That doesn’t mean everything be perfectly in place like a show house at all times, just that we have clean laundry and provisions, a clean house, and i know where things are (is there anything more stressful than having to go frantically searching through piles of paper to find a lost financial document?).
    I THINK it’s part of my job…but at the moment there are 2 HUGE piles of ironing awaiting me, I can barely see the surface of my desk, the playroom is overflowing with toys, and the entire main hallway of our house is part of an elaborate knight’s realm… In another day or so, I will finally snap out of my frozen-in-overwhelmed-land state and work like a crazy lady for a day or 2 to bring it all back to obsessive order. I wish I could get out of this pattern and just keep it all the time at “fairly neat” instead of swinging back and forth between a scary mess and Martha-Stewart-land.
    Two books you might find interesting on this and related topics are:
    Holly Pierlot’s A Mother’s Rule of Life: How to Bring Order to Your Home and Peace to Your Soul – She’s a homeschooling, Catholic mother of 5 who devised a pattern for living that combines the spiritual and the practical. It was her actual plan that I found most helpful and interesting (now to put it–or some personalized version–in action!)
    Keeping House: The Litany of Everyday Life by Margaret Kim Peterson – She is a Presbyterian theologian and writes about the spiritual gifts of the discipline of caring for hearth and home.

  29. David, S.J.

    “I notice that there are no convents or monasteries where it’s acceptable for the place to be a wreck.”

    Granted, I live in a house of studies, and not a monastery, but I will say that part of the reason we are asked to not litter the common areas with our stuff is simply as a courtesy to the other 29 Jesuits in the house (the state of our personal quarters, on the other hand, varies from person to person). Not to mention that there´s an element of hospitality involved- I notice that our guests are usually more at ease when they don´t have to worry about deftly navigating through a sea of bags and coats near the front entrance.

  30. Anonymous

    It’s very important to me. It has been a priority and I consider, as a mother and in charge of all things house related, that it is my duty to teach my children how a household should function and run smoothly.

  31. Laura

    I tend to be an orderly person by nature so an orderly house is just something that I feel is important to my mental health!! The key is to not let it take over my personality. There is a fine balance between having a house that is in order and being obsessive about it.

    I have found that now that my children are getting older that it is easier to tidy up (notice that I am not saying that my house is more orderly) quickly. We have a routine where each child is assigned a room to straighten for one month. Then usually before dinner I will call for everyone to straighten their assigned rooms. This takes about 15 minutes and the house looks fairly decent.

    We do a general cleaning on Saturday morning, again with the kids doing a lot of the chores. I usually only do a good clean when I am having a party (which seems to run about every 4-6 weeks for some reason).

    Our God is a God of order, so I feel it is something that everyone should strive for. If you are comfortable in your home and not embarassed to have anyone else over (given, lets say a 1 hour notice), then you probably are doing okay.

  32. Anna


    I want to repeat what Kathy Grubb said, because it is about exactly what I would say on the topic:

    I think that looking to others’ standards is always a bad idea. Rather, pray and ask God what he would have you do. (And ask your husband what he thinks!)

    When I have done this in the past, he has revealed to me that what I thought was “being flexible” was really a lazy streak. He wanted me to confess it, grow in discipline, and honor him in the faithfulness of keeping my house well ordered.

    Just lately, I have heard God tell me that my home is a gift from him and that I need to take care of it and keep it as to honor him. Part of the message was that these things have to be learned and exercised. There is no one formula for cleaning that will work for all times and all people in all situations. Only God can reveal to us what *we* need to do *now*. And much of this he reveals to us by letting us experiment and find out for ourselves what works and what doesn’t. I find that as I try different things, with an open ear to God and paying attention to what kind of effects I end up with, I really do learn a lot. But you aren’t likely to find out if you don’t try, if you don’t ponder the results, or if you don’t ask God.

    Right now, God tells me I need to clean more. Five months ago, God told me I needed to sleep more. I wasn’t sure why, until I discovered my first-trimester nausea was greatly reduced by getting ridiculous amounts of sleep. At that time, sleeping was a greater priority than cleaning. Now that I’m further along, I still need sleep, but not nearly as much of it, and cleaning has gone up the priority list a bit.

    God bless.

  33. lizzykristine

    I think it is interesting that we have different levels of tolerance for mess, but just about everyone appreciates tidiness.

    I had never thought of it until one of my neighbors joked that she felt calm in our apartment because it was clean. (She had a higher tolerance for mess 🙂

    Ironically, I have a high tolerance for dirt. Dust doesn’t bother me very much, as long as it is in a tidy-looking room. 🙂

  34. LaDonna

    It’s not as important as getting food into, and schooling my children. Taking care of our daily health – ie, I’m 6-ish months pregnant and sleep is more important sometimes – is a higher priority too. But I think the bigger issue is the amount of time that we waste and the amount of stuff we collect. If we fixed those two problems the symptom (the messy house) would disappear. Just my thoughts.

  35. elizabeth

    Whenever I find myself debating the various trains of thought, like the ones you listed, I eventually realize that I’m trying to rationalize being lazy. I feel better and enjoy my home more when it’s both clean and uncluttered. I can find things easier and I simply like being in my home when it’s tidy. And when I like the condition of my home, I’m less likely to shop and spend money needlessly.

    When children are accustomed to living in a clean home — when they have been conditioned to not only pick up after themselves and take part in maintaining the home, but also have a certain level of order become the norm — they’re more likely to grow to be adults who choose to live with order. Every once in a while I’m tempted to not wipe my daughter’s hands or face so often (“Eh, I’ll be giving her a bath in an hour anyway,” that sort of thing), I’m reminded that the only standard of cleanliness she’ll receive is from me. If she’s never known a clutter-free living environment, how and why would she ever set out to emulate that in her own home?

    I feel I owe it to my daughter and husband to have a house they are proud of, my daughter more so, I guess because I’m always worried about setting an example. My family deserves to come home to a calm, peaceful home.

    I know this probably sounds Draconian and sterile to some people. It’s also an impossible ideal sometimes, and I’m learning to roll with it when a spotless house isn’t in the cards that day. I also only have one child, so I know it have it much easier than others. But freakish organization turns me on like nothin’ else. I don’t watch Oprah often (really! seriously), but I saw the show where party planner (or whatever he does) Colin Cowie was on. I should have DVR’d it so I could watch it over and over … *swoon.* The innards of his kitchen cupboards were aligned with surgical precision. He uses an acrylic board when folding T-shirts and sweaters so they are crisp and uniform. He has a wall of shelves and drawers devoted to pre-purchased gifts and all the accoutrement needed to wrap them. It was heaven.

    A clean home wards off depression for me, additionally, so it’s not just an aesthetic issue.

  36. Erika

    Hm. I love the idea of making one’s home like a monastery and am actually reading the Benedictine Rule again to try to extrapolate how I might move toward that in my own home–but I’m beginning to suspect it will have more to do with analogy than with application of the specifics of the Rule to our lives.

    We’ve moved three times in the last two years and are looking to move again in less than a year. In between, we had a baby and are expecting another. Monasteries, by contrast, don’t have exhausted pregnant ladies trying to run them or toddlers flying about (or bales of differently sized clothes for every stage of pregnancy/post-pregnancy, or kiddo gear for infancy to toddlerhood and beyond, or grandmothers shipping boxes of baby things to them at every possible moment, etc.). Also, the inhabitants often take vows of stability and aren’t uprooting the contents of the monastery and hauling them from one place to another every year. Plus, most monasteries are bigger than 800-1200 sq ft., which is the size of the places we’ve been living.

    Right now, things like happy time together and physical and mental health are trumping the clutter on the counter, toys all over the floor, and, yes, even regular cleaning of the bathroom and changing of sheets.

    It seems that different times of life call for different priorities, and right now, if someone decides to “drop by” with little notice, we have to trust that they’ll show enough charity to look past our mess and accept the other kinds of hospitality we show, like good food, a joyful child, and a genuinely happy welcome.

  37. Alexis

    I grew up in a cluttered and dirty home. My mom has a higher tolerance for it (sort of, but she also suffers from mild depression so is it the chicken or the egg?) but most of my siblings (myself included) and my father have a lower tolerance for messiness. I really, really, really wish that she had been a better role model when it came to housekeeping. I’ve had to learn what’s “normal” on my own and my brothers are going to be really difficult husbands b/c they don’t know what standards are normal. I don’t think it does your children any favors to home school IN PLACE of keeping a decent level of cleanliness. What are you really teaching them? That living like a pig is just fine…
    I will be homeschooling (like my mom) but I will have a pretty serious take on teaching the skills to live as an adult in this world.

  38. MC

    I feel like I should have read all of the comments before I jumped in, but then I read Bender’s comment and I want to jump in there. I am SURE that clutter and depression have a symbiotic relationship; it is hard to clean up when depressed, hard to come out of depression in a mess. But I have often wondered if something else is going on in elderly people who are hording. We don’t really talk about what the second half of our lives are about. And I think about this a lot since my mother-in-law moved into our house. I think it goes to a deep philosophical question: what is life about? WE DON”T WANT TO GO THERE. However, we must.

    If life is a journey, it seems clear to me, that for those fortunate (or unfortunate, depending on your outlook) enough to reach old age, the lessons in life seem to be, at some point or another, about letting go. I think of this in terms of letting go, and acknowledging God’s control, but however you think about there is a lot to let go of. Friends and family are dying around you. For many, like my m-i-l, they are perfectly aware that they are having to let go of who they thought they were, because their brains don’t work the way they once did. Now, if you are losing people and things, and your ability to get things, as you once had, perhaps it is natural to hold on to everything. But even more, if you are losing your memory, early on in the process, you KNOW you are losing your ability to decide what is important to keep and what isn’t. This has to make it IMPOSSIBLE.
    I DO NOT know the answer to this, it is something I am learning to pray about. But anyway, those are my thoughts on Bender’s comments on this blog.


  39. Karen

    I was thinking about this very “issue” in my devotional time this morning. I live in a neighborhood where all my neighbors (at least, this is what I believe) keep immaculate homes – and mine is clean but cluttered. While I can sorta live with it (from time to time I just need to go through and get rid of a bunch of stuff), and my closest friends can feel comfortable in my home, I would shudder to have a neighbor come in. And that bothers me because I really want to feel comfortable inviting neighbors over. So I guess I need to get my (and my kids’) clutter under control so I can use my house for God!

  40. Anonymous

    I’m posting anonymously because my mother sometimes reads here. I want to give some perspective from the child of a “clutter bug”.

    Growing up, I was always embarrassed to invite friends to my house because it was always messy and dirty. Now, I can’t stand going to my parents’ house because it is filthy. That sounds snobbish–I am not a neat freak my any means. I would call my home “fairly tidy”. But when my kids were babies and toddlers it was a safety issue. I couldn’t put them down anywhere at my parents’ house because there was stuff EVERYWHERE for them to get into and hurt themselves, and because it was so dirty.

    Now it’s just thoroughly not enjoyable to be there. You have to move piles of stuff to find somewhere to sit, the bed where we sleep is covered with dirt and debris, the bathrooms look like they haven’t been cleaned in months, and it’s difficult to even make a sandwich because there is not a square inch of empty space on the counter.

    I bring this up because, while there is some truth that it’s your home and you can do what you want, if it’s important to you that your children (or anyone else for that matter) come to see you, they will be more likely to come if your home is somewhat picked up and clean. We all love to have my parents here but dread going to their house. My mother often asks when we’re coming to visit, and I can’t tell her how I feel because I don’t want to hurt her.

    No doubt someone will say how I need to accept them the way they are. I do accept them and love them very much. I don’t look down on them. But being in their home is very stressful. I would go more often–and enjoy it more–if it weren’t so filthy.

    And yes, I do help her clean when I’m there, but I can only do so much during a visit, and the next time we go it’s right back where it was before.

    As for myself, I am not a perfectionist about my home. We have a system somewhat like Flylady. It’s not all spotless on any given day, but it’s somewhat orderly.

  41. MoziEsmé

    I’d say it depends on the family. Mess = stress for some, causing marital tensions, etc. But I’ve seen other families where there is much joy in the chaos.

    For me – it is a high priority as long as it doesn’t overshadow the priority of relationships – within the family and without.

  42. Shelly W

    Interesting topic! I would never say that the cleanliness of your home reflects the cleanliness of your heart or anything like that (i.e. the “cleanliness is next to godliness” camp), but I do think that the cleanliness of your home brings a sense of peace and calm that kids especially need today.

    That said, I am not a neat freak–I leave that to my husband. 🙂 After 23 years of marriage, I have come to accept that he just can’t help himself. He can’t function well if the house isn’t clean. He has a very stressful job, so I feel like, out of love and respect for him, I want it to look nice when he comes home. Oh, it’s not eat-off-the-floor clean, but at least it’s picked up and tranquil.

    As for the kids, I think they are bombarded with so much “stuff” all day long at school that when they come home they want a calm, peaceful place to be. I think it’s important to create that kind of environment for them. I’ve also established expectations for their personal space as well (their bedrooms). They are supposed to make their beds and pick up their rooms every morning before school. It takes five minutes, really. Not a big deal if you keep at it. Now that two of them are teenagers they have taken the responsibility on themselves and keep their rooms pretty clean most of the time. When they get too busy to keep up with it during the week, they clean their rooms on the weekend.

    As for me, I can handle a greater degree of chaos, but I’ve grown to like a neater house. It makes me feel more clear-headed and ready to take on whatever comes my way. Just don’t take a look at my desk! That’s where all the clutter in my life lands.

    I had a friend stop by my house one day and tell me, “Your house is so peaceful. I can’t figure out what it is.” A few minutes later she said, “I know what it is! You don’t have anything!” We laughed about that, but what she meant was that I didn’t have all the usual “stuff” hanging around my house. No clutter. It just helps.

  43. Wendy

    I think the answer is “Why?”

    When you are contemplating making a change in your life, praying about why you should (or shouldn’t) make a change can clarify the issue for you.

    A lot of the advice offered here is really excellent, but it is also dependent on temperament and state of life.

  44. Terri

    Very interesting topic.

    I thing the key is balance, of course. My goal is to keep the house so that I wouldn’t be embarrassed for someone to drop in on me, but I don’t want to stress about it so much that I never do anything but clean constantly. A lot depends on what one’s definition of clean and orderly is.

    Some of us may have to work harder to keep things orderly because not all of us are neatniks. But, I don’t think that should be an excuse to just let things go and live like slobs either.

  45. noe

    I love what Erika said!

    From reading the comments, it is very clear that everyone is different, and we all have different levels of comfort and even ability to create an orderly home. It seems that for some of those in the neat camp, being orderly is a moral trait – sounds very Protestant New England to me!

    Several years ago I heard a powerful talk from a young priest. It was during Advent and he spoke of how our lives can be so chaotic, especially for families in the weeks before Christmas. But he made a point that has always stuck with me: our chaos gives God the raw materials that He can use to make a new creation. In the beginning of Genesis we learn that God created the universe from chaos. Doesn’t it follow that when we completely order our lives, we might not be leaving God enough room to work creatively in us? I’m not sure this translates into chaos in our homes, but I am hopeful!

    Anyway, I am not and will never be orderly by nature. I’m just not wired that way. One of the crosses I bear is to keep enough order in our surroundings that my husband can experience peace. I do enjoy being in an ordered environment (I love going away and keeping a rental unit neat and clean). But in my home on a daily basis, with all the competing demands and distractions I face, it just is not easy for me to produce order. And I have a very high tolerance for clutter.

    I’ve been using the Flylady’s system for the past year or two, and it makes sense and does help, but it is always work for me.

    My children are 20 and 22, and they are not wired as neatniks either. I have some very real pangs of regret that I didn’t instill in them the habit of order (but I have told them about Flylady!) At the same time, they got many other positive things from their childhood: we cooked regularly, read books for untold hours, spent entire afternoons on the floor in imaginative play, went camping frequently, and did countless art projects together. They have grown into caring and creative adults, who are amazing cooks, voracious readers, elegant writers, critical thinkers, and enjoy nature. (I actually don’t know a mother of grown children who does not have regrets.)

    In sum, clutter and chaos is something that I struggle with daily, but I resist the conclusion that being orderly is objectively moral…

  46. Lauren

    This is an interesting topic, and one I think about a lot. I grew up in a household where the need for cleanliness became a source of huge stress among the family members, particularly between my mother and I. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to help my mother keep the house clean, but as a teenager, I didn’t “see” the clutter and dirt that she was upset with. Now, as an adult, I need the house to be clean and decluttered to feel at peace in my home. But it’s now becoming a major issue between me and my older daughter (she’s almost 8). The kids are pretty good about taking their books, shoes, laundry, Barbies out of the main living areas of the house, but trying to get them to clean their own spaces is a painful process, and I can hear my mother’s voice coming through when I start scolding my daughter for hoarding dirty laundry and random scraps of paper in a pile in her room. I’ve been praying about that because I do want the kids to take some responsibility for themselves and their rooms, but it’s also not more important than having a positive relationship with my daughter. And my mother’s constant nagging really did affect my relationship with her growing up.

    That being said, I have been trying to find more time in my life for things that are meaningful to me, particularly writing. I have found that by making cleaning and decluttering a medium-low priority rather than a high priority, I am able to carve out the time for that. Cleaning and organizing is really something that could balloon and fill a whole day, but deep down I know that reading and praying and spending time with my kids doing fun things are way more important. The laundry will get done. The dishes will get done. But you will never get this day, this moment back, to spend on things that are truly important. So for me, relaxing my standards has enabled me to live a richer, fuller life. I love the feeling of peace that comes over me when my house is perfectly clean, it is true. But the house isn’t that much dirtier than before, just slightly more cluttered, and dishes and laundry might wait a little while before getting done. Everything gets done, though.

  47. Abigail

    I struggle so hard with this issue everyday. I’m the daughter of a mom on the far end of the “non-tidy” end of the housekeeping spectrum. We had clean dishes everyday, but everything else was a jumbled mess. We never knew where our umbrellas were on wet days or if the cross-country uniform was clean before a race.

    I have 3 kids age 5, 3, and 1. A “neat” husband. I came into marriage with almost no domestic skills. I actually did not know how to make spaghetti! I spent my life preparing for being in the working world, so finding myself in the new stay-at-home mom world has been a real challenge in humility.

    The “cleaning” issue, has really been more about internalizing the virtue of “order.” It’s tempting to look at time spent cleaning as “time not spent reading to my kids” or being a “good” mother. (Not to mention less fun than writing my novel.) Housekeeping is not high on my “fun” list.

    Yet because it’s a struggle, its the time I feel the MOST spiritual during the day. When I do laundry, (which is every day since we are struggling to master the art of potty training) I think about the sacraments of baptism and confession. I offer up the grossest, poop filled parts of my day to Jesus, and imagine that he does to my soul what I do physically for our smelly, messy clothes.

    When I clean up the toys my kids rooms, I pray for them. It’s a quiet time at the end of the day while their Dad gives them a bath in the next room. I can hear my kids laughing in the tub. As I rearrange all the various toys in places where they can find them tomorrow, I pray.

    Cleaning, for me, is not fun. It’s not immediately rewarding. (Home-schooling is more about “the joys I imagined I’d do as a mother when I was pregnant with my first-born.”) But their are these huge rewards for doing the humble, hard work of creating a beautiful space for your family.

    Last week, my father in law had a health emergency. I had to get a family of 5 out the door in two hours, all while supporting my husband and saying many Hail Marys for my Dad to survive in the ICU. We were half-way through our car trip, before I realized how blessed I was to have kept up with all the boring, daily maintenance of housework. If we hadn’t had clean laundry, I hadn’t know exactly where the swim suits were hanging, and the sippy cups drying, and where the diaper cream had landed, and all 700 other necessities for all five people, we could not have gotten out of the door.

    A clean house, helps my family do their jobs “better” as Catholics. It helps us respond faster to calls from the sick. It helps us be more open to the practice of Christian hospitality. A clean house, even helps us pray the rosary better at night.

    My house never approach “model house” clean. But God has used the tasks of cleaning to make me more in tune with his divine virtues of patience, self-sacrifice and order.

  48. 'becca

    I notice a number of people mentioning a level of housecleaning that wouldn’t embarrass you if guests come over. I was raised with that idea: If we knew someone was coming, we went into a stressful frenzy of cleaning. We lived in a town where many women gossipped about other women’s housekeeping, so I sometimes felt embarrassed about my home when people came over, even though I was comfortable there myself. These feelings continued into my adult life. I’ve often postponed friendly gatherings or arranged to have them in public places because I was ashamed of my home–even though most of the people I know around here do NOT keep their homes a lot neater/cleaner than mine.

    Then I read Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis. Among many other helpful things, he says that worrying about how your home appears to guests is the kind of Pride that is a Deadly Sin. That blew my mind! As I struggle to let go of that–to keep the house in a state that pleases me and my family, resist apologizing for it, and stop judging myself and others on the basis of housekeeping–I am becoming more and more aware of how wrong and twisted it was and how it impaired my experience of hospitality.

    I’m not saying everyone who keeps a clean house does it out of sinful pride! Just something to think about.

  49. Carmen

    ‘Visual Clutter’ is a stressor…and discipline (excellence in love) is freedom…and y’all I used to ABHOR anything that involved it…’til I discovered thru the Power of God’s Word & Spirit that it means simply being a good steward and is extremely liberating – body, mind and spirit. (on one level, it could be the difference between an ‘acceptable vs. unacceptable’ offering – Genesis 4:7)

    Shalom Rav!

  50. RedSalamander

    I grew up in a cluttered, dirty house; I was ashamed to have my friends over because of my mother’s stacks of newspapers, piles of junk, dust and crud. I still hate visiting her house.

    I am by no means a neat freak, but I do like things to be reasonably clean and orderly. I am probably more into the visual appearance of order — I can handle dust as long as things *look* tidy.

    Some of my kids, and my husband, are natural born slobs. My littlest one is very neat, she is the sort who will put her toys away without being asked. The other two couldn’t care less about tidying up. My husband doesn’t care at all.

    I struggle with finding the balance between enforcing everyone’s responsibilities to pick up their toys, put their clothes in the hamper, clean up their messes, etc., and not being a demanding shrew-mother. I don’t have a clear idea of what “normal” is because my childhood was clearly rather abnormal. So I sort of alternate between slacking off and being quite relaxed, then freaking out about the mess and turning into a screaming banshee until it is cleaned up.

    I am pretty good about clutter. In fact, I have a reputation for throwing EVERYTHING out, including stuff we need! Whenever I visit my mother, I come home and start tossing stuff right and left. I just do not want to ever end up like her.

    I certainly am in a better frame of mind when things are tidy. Trouble is, with a bunch of young children, everything tends towards entropy pretty quickly. Perhaps it will change as they get older, but I suspect I will always struggle to some extent between my slovenly streak and my inner neatnik.

  51. Jon

    I want to second what the Jesuit, David, said, the difference is that I’ve seen some of the non-public parts of monasteries. For example in the (Anglican) Benedictine monastery I was just visiting someone is always given the chore of keeping the public rooms neat, tidy, and clean since that helps guests feel comfortable. I think it’s worth noting, though, that the closest non-monastic parrallels to those spaces are hotels, restaurants, and libraries. Of course there’s also the church, but no one leaves stuff piled up all over in church. In the kitchen and the Abbot’s office and the Prior’s office, however, neat and tidy goes flying out the window. The same was true of the flower beds all around the monastery. I haven’t seen the cells, but a cell probably will be only as tidy as the monk who lives in it wants to keep it.


  52. Anonymous

    I just came across this blog and found the topic so interesting that I needed to comment. I grew up in what I would classify as a moderately clean home. I was one of four kids and so there were often toys and clothes strewn about, homework on the kitchen table and dishes in the sink. However both my parents worked hard to teach us that we needed to be responsible for cleaning up our own things and that cleaning up little messes everyday was a lot easier than cleaning up large messes every week, two weeks, etc. They weren’t obsessive about it and eventually I learned that they were right!

    I think it’s up to the individual family to decide how much time they dedicate to tidiness.
    Because I like to be fairly neat, but don’t want to dedicate too much family time to the issue, I’ve worked out an arrangement that works quite nicely for my family (I have two small children). I allow myself ONLY 20 minutes after the kids are in bed to tidy up the house by picking-up/organizing clutter. It’s amazing what can be accomplished when I dedicate myself to cleaning during that time. Anything I don’t finish in that time just doesn’t get done that day (Although some days I finish before the 20 is up). Then once every two weeks, usually on a Sat. or Sun., my husband takes the kids out of the house for a fun one or two hour “excursion” while I clean. We have a moderate size home and I am able to clean it fairly quickly by using one all-purpose cleaner in the bathrooms and kitchen and using a swiffer mop and duster. My husband enjoys the alone time with the kids and I can be much more efficient.

    It’s pretty easy to keep the house clean this way and I think we are all a little more relaxed.

  53. Jenny

    WOW! There’s quite the range of opinions. I won’t add anything new, for sure…

    But I’m much more concerned about clutter than cleanliness…

    my .02 🙂 Not everybody is a “sanitary is non-negotiatable” type. 🙂

  54. Anonymous

    for the sake of completeness and another view, here goes:

    when I straighten up (ie put away) my 1 year old daughter’s toys, she thinks that she is not allowed to play with them. (no, that isn’t a rule or a punishment, she come up with that on her own)

    when i leave any of them outfor her to play with ALL of them are strewn throughout the house for me to trip over!

    No answers just my own quandry.

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    If you are in a not good position and have got no cash to go out from that, you will require to take the personal loans. Because it will aid you definitely. I take short term loan every time I need and feel myself OK just because of that.


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