by Susanne Dietze
I have a confession to make.Image 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:
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?