Creating Order When You're a Messy Mom
by Laurie White

The basic definition of a messy, as one author puts it, is “someone who would store things on top of her head if it were a level surface.” That was me. Even when I was single and living in an apartment all by myself, I could make a total mess of things and ignore it for days.

Now, as I began to homeschool my three children, a mild wave of panic hit me one day when I realized that keeping them at home meant that there would be FOUR of us making messes to clean up. Four of us. At home. All day. I began to read books on organizing and concentrating on changing some of my behaviors (as best I could) Over the years some key strategies began to take shape. I would encourage you to read a book or two on organizing and decluttering if you have a problem like I did. Get on the blog list for one of the good declutter gurus to keep you inspired. Do anything and everything you can to get and keep a handle on it. Meanwhile, here’s a few of the reasons I think organizing and decluttering are foundational and not just peripheral topics, along with one or two tips that helped me during my years of attempting to keep a household halfway straight while welcoming the inherent happy chaos of homeschooling.

1. Straightening, cleaning, and organizing are creative activities.

Being a messy clutterer is most often associated with creative personality types, as in, “I just can’t help being messy! I'm the creative, right-brain type.” But hold on! What did our God, most awesome creator that He is, do first-off in Genesis? He created order. In other words, He was decluttering and organizing, transforming raw materials into an ordered and beautiful environment for Adam and Eve. So transforming chaos into order is a function of a highly creative personality.

Also, as one commentary on Genesis put it, God did not consider the chaos as the enemy. It was instead simply something not yet formed, and He was going to lovingly design, shape, and transform it. So first of all, love your chaos. It is merely awaiting transformation. It also represents mountains of blessings if you have little people in your life messing up your surroundings. When you sort the socks, put away the crayons, search for new storage bins and where to put them, know without a doubt, that you are being like your Father. Jesus said whatever he saw the Father doing, that’s what he did. Well, that’s what we are doing too as we create order, beauty, and more peaceful surroundings for our family.

Order is first and foremost a creative act.

2. Chores build self-esteem.
When I was growing up, my mom did it all. She was a stay-at-home Southern lady who didn’t see any sense in giving us chores. I didn’t even have to keep my room clean. It would magically organize itself while I was at school. Clean clothes appeared on my bed, neatly folded. I was expected to get good grades, stay out of trouble (generally speaking), and that was it. But after I was grown and raising kids of my own, I realized something profound. Some of my low self-esteem problems throughout my young adult years and beyond at least partly stemmed from all this pampering. Instead of making me feel “special,” it deprived me of seeing myself as capable, reliable, and able to handle practical responsibilities. I was not being allowed to be a contributing member of the household in any vital sense.

When children are not asked to help out with household chores, the message to them is “you are not capable,” or “this is too grown-up for you to do.” It’s no cure-all by any means, of course, but household responsibilities can be one more strong thread of worth-building activity for your child. Just as Jesus said that “he who is faithful in small things, will be given much,” so the child, when he sees himself being faithful and responsible in small things, will have a sense of knowing that he can handle bigger things when they come along. Do not rob your child of that.

Your kids can take care of their own stuff, their own rooms, plus some of the joint chores for the household too. Employ them! My children were cleaning bathrooms by the time they were eight. They became rather connected to the bathroom they cleaned too, and monitored it for slack behavior. I used to hear them admonish each other: “Don’t leave toothpaste smudges on the counter,” or “Hang the towels back up!” Of course, then there were times I had to monitor the monitoring.

3. Have a joint plan of action for times when you learn that company is coming.

My children and I decided that we needed a 15 minute rule for the downstairs of the house. If friends called and wanted to drop by, we wanted the mess to not be beyond that specific range of messiness. Well, to be honest, we only included our roomy kitchen and a large living room. We left out the dining room. Company never really went in there and the dining room table was usually covered with all manner of projects. So, I confess, we were talking two rooms only and not the whole downstairs. But that was enough for me to have peace of mind. This rule gave me the flexibility to invite someone over spur of the moment, and relieved me of panic whenever someone asked to drop by. It was a great destresser. Each child knew what to do within the 15 minutes, taking care of his own stuff first and then helping with general clutter after that.

What amazed me, once we got this program under way, was just how much the four of us could accomplish in such a short length of time. It was wonderful. Also, we could now call for a 15-minute clean-up even when no one was actually on the way. If school had “closed” for the day or the week, and we were going to watch a movie, say, we might call for our quickie clean-up to set the stage for the change of pace and a more restful atmosphere.

One last note on this item: I know that having a large, separate dining room is a real luxury. Many families just don’t have this kind of space for homeschooling. But this hearkens back to my first point: decluttering is a creative activity. Sometimes it takes thinking outside the box in order to figure out how to get all your stuff in one. The less space you have, the more creative you have to be. Pray for extra infusions of the Holy Spirit. After all, the most creative Being in the universe on either side of the Milky Way is living inside you.

Get your kids on board with decisions. Let them help you look at possible storage solutions. You might be surprised at what they come up with. And the more you include them in decisions and policy-making for the running of the household, the more on-board they tend to be in every aspect. Perhaps this is training for one of your munchkins who will design a space shuttle or tiny houses, both of which major on tight fits and innovative solutions to where to put things. Do not minimize your problem either. That will prevent you from attacking it with powerful intention. But rather understand it, even welcome it, as an opportunity for learning and growth.

Pushing Reset
In The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey mentions a principle of recalculation. He describes how a pilot lays out an original course for the plane to fly at the beginning of the trip. But the plane always veers a bit left or right of that course and a new line must be replotted. Then the pilot veers off that trajectory, replots again, and this veering off and replotting continues for the whole trip. Though he may never be flying on his original course, he arrives at his destination just fine because he always re-aligns the plane toward the intended goal. Covey says this is how life operates, and this is certainly the case with keeping your house clean. One is constantly having to push the reset button and replot a new course. Sometimes it is easy to feel that you have veered far away from the originally intended plan. Take heart! That’s part of the game. Just keep at it. As James says, “...let endurance have its perfect result that you might be perfect and complete lacking nothing.” It isn’t success that perfects us; it is  endurance. When you get off course, praise God. Your children do not need a role model of perfection. They need the model of endurance. They need to see how an imperfect mom in an imperfect and messy world gets off course, prays, resets, and re-aligns herself with her goals. Like the pilot, that’s how we reach our destination, and that’s how our children will too.
Laurie White is an author, teacher, and mom to three kids who were homeschooled k-12. She writes books and other supplemental materials for homeschoolers including her popular and award-winning King Alfred’s English which combines history and English in a highly entertaining format for grades 7 and above. For more info and access to Laurie's free downloads go to