I did the math and I swept eleven times on Tuesday. Eleven separate times. Three meals and day plus two snacks for two kids, plus mess from preparing those meals and snacks, plus leaves and dirt tracked in from the playground, plus a container of panko with a lid that was no match for a curious one year old, and the things to be swept adds up.
I grew up hating cleaning of any and all kinds. I didn’t clean my room, I didn’t do my laundry, I didn’t help clean up in the kitchen, I would do anything to get out of the chore of cleaning. This distaste carried well into college and early adulthood, when the floor of my college bedroom would frequently be covered in clothes, and the bathroom in my first studio apartment was a place to be feared.
Then I married a man who is very neat. I had always assumed neatness must come with a certain degree of neurosis and anxiety, but my husband was neat in a sort of casual way. When he brought mail in, he immediately did something with it or recycled it (instead of throwing it on the end table). When he finished a cup of coffee, he put it in the dishwasher (instead of leaving it on the counter “just in case I wanted more later”), and, after we finished a meal, he swept. It only took 2-3 minutes because there wasn’t that much mess, but he swept and rinsed dishes and emptied the dishwasher with the amount of effort most of us use to convince ourselves to brush our teeth: that is to say, none.
This was revolutionary to me. Cleaning could be a thoughtless habit, instead of a grueling chore? Cleaning could be something you did in little 2-minute bursts throughout the day instead of all morning on a Saturday when your mom finally couldn’t take it any more?
I’ve been thinking about all this cheerio-sweeping and dishwasher-emptying and wondering what the power of little habits could teach us for how we work and lead. What are the big chores, the Saturday morning slogs, that could become a lot less painful if they became little habits?
Here’s what some of mine have been recently:
- Making a list every Monday morning of everything that needs to happen this week, and writing it in my planner, then adding days and times to when I’m working on every project.
- Every morning, going through all of my inboxes to see what I can answer in just a few minutes.
- Actually responding to all of my text messages at a few set times every day.
- Sweeping as soon as my children are done making the mess.
I wonder what this mentality could do not just for organization or cleaning but for any of those things that give us that Saturday morning deep-clean dread? Could we parse the work of innovation, of starting a new project or program into a bunch of little daily tasks? Could we develop a daily ritual of thanking a volunteer, or following up with a visitor?
Because the real gift of this practice is two-fold: first, it means when you do have to do the deep-clean, the volunteer meeting, the stewardship letter, its much easier, because you’ve been doing the maintenance work. And second, it makes these tasks not only easier, but actually kind of fun.
I thought my husband just had incredible self-discipline to do all these little things (and he does) but once I started doing them, I realized the gift of the little dopamine hit of being able to say “done!” eleven, or twenty-five, or fifty times a day. We were designed to take joy in accomplishing things, and when we can combine our calling with the rhythms of our daily lives with choices that help us live most aligned with our values, we can create the mental space to live even more in the grace of God.
I swept eleven times on Tuesday because I want my children to be able to toddle around a house where they don’t have to worry about slipping on a mess or stepping on something sharp. I swept eleven times on Tuesday because I would rather do a one-minute task with them playing a few feet away several times a day then have to take 30 minutes out of our family time cleaning the whole house every night. My values allowed me to shape my habits so that my life was more comfortable for me and my entire family.
Take some time this week and consider how you might be called to shift your habits to reflect your values more fully and live into your call. What might allow you the space to do the work you are most called to?