Friday, September 24, 2010

Can The Ant Move That Rubber Tree Plant?

by Susanne Dietze

I have a confession to make.StopwatchImage by wwarby via Flickr

My closet is a disaster.

Well, ok, maybe there’s more mess in my house than just my closet. Since becoming a mother, my housekeeping skills dissipated along with my memory of a good night’s sleep. (Somewhere, one of my friends is probably saying, “what housekeeping skills?” Yeah, yeah, yeah.).

Anyway, back when I first had a baby, I realized right away that I couldn’t do everything. While I had to clean bathrooms, the kitchen, and other stuff that visitors actually see, no one ever saw the cluttered recesses of my closet. It and a few other hidden places – the drawers, the pantry, the cupboards – weren’t public domain, so it was much easier to hide their messes behind a closed door.

Of course I promised myself I’d tidy those places later, but I’ll be honest with you. I’ve moved since then and my bedroom closet is still a wreck. It seems like I just transferred boxes of junk from one place to another. In the quiet moments when I’m actually home, there are always meals to prepare, piles of laundry to fold, Bible studies to finish, sinks to scour and stuff to dust. Cleaning out the places nobody sees is still pretty low on the list of priorities.

I know better, though. I know what magic can be accomplished by the Fifteen Minute Principle.

The Fifteen Minute Principle, or what I lovingly refer to as “The Ant Principle,” is nothing fancy. You may already practice it yourself. We don’t have to move mountains (or clean closets) all in one day. Sometimes, small acts can be as effective in reaching a large goal as hefty ones, just as Proverbs 30:23-24 reminds us:

Carpenter ant, Camponotus sp.Image via Wikipedia“(A few) things on earth are small, yet they are extremely wise: ants are creatures of little strength yet they store up their food in the summer….” Proverbs 30:23-24

Ants are known for being small but mighty. I learned this truth (sadly) not from the Bible, nor from my own childhood deduction, but from that 1950s Frank Sinatra song, “High Hopes.” It’s been stuck in my head since I started writing this post! “Whoever said that ant can’t mo-ooove a rubber tree plant? ‘Cause he’s got High Hopes, he’s got High Hopes…”

The truth is, ants are small, yes, but they’re diligent. “Wise” and “strong,” even, according to the verse. I’d like to be both of those things. While ants can lift more than ten times their body weight, they still have to struggle one little bit at a time. Maybe they can’t really move a rubber tree plant, but a grain of sand or a bit of lunch is still a lot to them. They carry the speck, deposit it at home, and head back out for more. In this way, ants manage to store a generous supply of food and move mountains of dirt. Their example taught me that a little bit of labor, consistently done, can accomplish something big.

Fifteen minutes may just be a speck of time to us, hardly worth noticing, but it can be enough to tackle a manageable chunk of something. Like my messy kitchen drawers, for instance.

Last week, I spent fifteen minutes cleaning out one drawer. Just one. I recycled the take-out menus we never use, tossed broken crayons, and gathered the paperclips I found. Then I stopped and moved on to something else. The next day, I attacked drawer #2 and organized all the little Box Tops for Education I’d shoved inside for our school collection. After a week of cleaning one drawer per day, I had the kitchen drawers somewhat neat and organized.

Now I’m moving on to other projects: organizing the kids’ outgrown clothes, straightening the linen closet, and pulling weeds. Even if a project looms too large – like my closet, for instance – I still break it into chunks of fifteen minutes’ worth of work. I haven’t started that chore yet, but I know what it’ll look like. Mend a sweater: fifteen minutes on Monday. Organize the wrapping paper that’s fallen all over the place, another fifteen on Tuesday. In a week, it’s done, or at least better. I hope.

The Fifteen Minute Principle doesn’t work for everything, but it offers me a daily, reasonable goal with tangible results. I’m all for tangible results.

I pray for all of us today to not grow weary or overwhelmed by our tasks, but to learn to better manage them.

Do you have a system for tackling looming chores? What's the messiest part of your house?

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  1. My method could be called 'competition'. I try to see just how much I can get done in the time allowed.
    I'm a list maker all the way!

    I love cleaning and organizing for the satisfaction of it but then I also reward myself with more writing time, a netflix break, etc.

    It's been my housecleaning method for years. Get the hard stuff done first and then enjoy the rest of the day. Now I generally write for a few hours on Sat, do my housework in a race against time to get back to my writing.

  2. I so appreciate the life skills things! Thanks for the fifteen minute reminder. Love the pep talk. Now where to begin....

  3. Good morning, folks! I'm humming Frank Sinatra and ignoring the messiness of my desk as I type. Ugh. I could use a few 15-minute sessions organizing the manuscript notes scribbled on scraps of paper surrounding me at this moment.

    Deb, you've got a healthy system for tackling chores. I love the idea of rewarding yourself. I need to do more of that, although yesterday, I met a small goal and gave myself a square of Lindt intense orange dark chocolate. Yay for me!

    I try to get things done so I can write, too. Writing is my biggest threat to a tidy house, and there's something wrong with that. I need to balance better.

    Thanks for sharing your method, which I like very much, and I hope you have a great day!

  4. Hi Cheryl! Nice to see you this morning!

    Ah, where to start. I am not sure I know that, either. One thing that's hit me in the last two days is how many shirts of mine need mending. If something of my family's needs mending, I do it, but I put off my own stuff. I even taught my kids to sew buttons and do a few basic stitches this summer but I still didn't fix my shirts, even while I had a needle and thread in my hand! So...I've decided that for a day or two next week while I watch TV in the evenings, I'm going to get out my needle and just do it.

    I hope you have a wonderful day.

  5. I had a friend whose house was a disaster area. But faithfully, once a month, she moved her refrigerator out and cleaned behind and underneath it.
    Somehow I think her house was actually more clean than mine, even though mine is generally surface clean.
    Anybody else ever hid dirty dishes in the bathtub or oven before company shows up?

  6. Okay so here is my confession.The messiest room would be my bedroom.I think when I have looming chores I go in order of priority of if someone were to come over would I be happy with them seeing this room or that room. I do keep the house clean just even cleaner for company lol.

  7. Niki, YES I have hidden stuff in the oven. Then I was so embarrassed when I realized it was visible! Argh! I'm glad to know I'm not the only one to hide things last minute.

    And no, um, I haven't cleaned behind my fridge in 2 years. Gulp. I should probably move some furniture around and vacuum behind them, too. There are surely mountains of dust bunnies there.

    Take it easy today!

  8. Hi Louise! Isn't that true about keeping the "public places" more tidy? I tend to hide things in my bedroom and my closet too.

    Since we moved two years ago, we've had several visitors come by to see the new place, but I never want to show them my bedroom. But once when we had a housefull, a relative announced, "You've got to see Susie's closet! It has a shelf!" Well, she'd seen the closet empty, before the moving truck came. Let's just say that when she made this invitation for everybody to peruse my closet, you couldn't see the shelf anymore. I was so embarrassed. So embarrassed.

    But you've got to live. I'm not one of those people whose house looks like a model home. It's obvious that children and a writing/reading obsessed mama live here.

    Have a great day.

  9. Well, this is not exactly a system for keeping things done. More like a system of not doing things. This comes from the first writing book I ever read, "If You Want to Write" by Brenda Ueland. She recommends the "theory of planned neglect." Meaning, if you want to be truly great at something, you have to commit to it and let some other things go. So when I'm a famous award-winning author, I will thank my messy closets in my acceptance speeches :)

  10. Hey, Dina! Yes, we can't do everything, can we? There's always a balance...

    Hope you have a great weekend.

  11. LOL- My husband was just commenting about the messy areas of our house! I have a chart with all chores I do all week. So when the kitchen floor looks like a barn floor I can feel ok by saying, "well, I mopped it 3 times this week." Truthfully, on bathroom day, I tend to take a nap instead of clean the bathrooms.


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