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By and Large, the Dishes Come First
Printed from Mormon Life, October 17, 2006
Jaroldeen Edwards, Celebration! Ten Principles of More Joyous Living.

… Work--basic order--is the foundation of all celebration. Don't you just love the parable of the woman looking for her lost piece of silver? (see Luke 15:8-9). … the woman lights the room. Now she can see the hidden dust, the cobwebs, the stacks of things to be sorted and put away, and she begins to clean. … At last her labors are rewarded: she finds what she is looking for, and in the process her house has been cleaned and made perfect. … she gives a huge party. But the party was purchased by her labors. Her celebration is not just about the recovered piece of silver but about the whole process of living--work, home, family, friends, the bounties of the earth, and the achievement of a goal. …

Work accomplished gives us feelings of personal worth and self-esteem. When we finish tasks, we feel capable and valued--empowered. We feel renewed confidence when we are able to achieve orderliness in our environment and responsibilities. With our labors under control, we are relieved of feelings of guilt or unworthiness when we make time for play and celebration.

Peace of mind is an important ingredient of happiness. (Notice I said when our work is "under control," not when it is "done." Work is never finished. Individual jobs may be completed, but the dimension of work itself is a moving boundary that we never reach.) …It is important to recognize the unending nature of work. Many people believe they will be able to rejoice only when the work is "done." The Lord does not expect that. Work is an eternal part of the process of living, even for the Lord. In Moses 1:39 we read that we are the Lord's work and his glory, and in that familiar scripture is verified the fact that glory and work go hand in hand and are eternal. So we seek orderliness and control of our work, not the end of labor. …

Celebration means more to us when it is bought with anticipation, planning, effort, and sacrifice. Great celebration can only be created with great effort-- just like the earth itself. The tumult of creation was followed by the sweet celebration of the heavens and the Lord's joy: "It is good." Anticipation as we labor to prepare is part of every wonderful celebration, and it intensifies our joy. When tasks are finished or laid aside in an orderly way, there is such a glorious sense of relief and satisfaction that the moment itself becomes a celebration. … … pleasure has a timer, and when the timer rings, it ceases to be fun. It is then time to return to those basic things that give fun its meaning. Work gives purpose and importance to life, and that sense of purpose in all that we do is what turns fun into something more meaningful--into celebration.

Especially for women, the feeling of joy is consistently muddied by the sense of work undone… I have found I need to do two things to control those oppressive feelings. The first is to look more consistently at what I have done than at what I have not done. No one else has to recognize what I have accomplished--it is enough that I do. The second thing is to realize that I have power over my own work. It is my opportunity to decide what needs to be done, and when, and how. I am the planner and the doer--and if things need to be changed or done better or differently, I have the power to think it through, to use my own initiative and decision. … a good deal of my work (not all of it, of course, but much of it) [is] my own choice. That sense of ownership of my work [makes] homemaking seem more of a privilege, something to celebrate, and less like a punishment or an endless mountain I had to climb. …

One of my favorite stories tells of a village in Vietnam where the women had for centuries swept the floors and the streets with short-handled brooms. An American doctor noted that the women of that village were bent almost double, shuffling in exhausted old age by their early forties. … Finally the doctor asked an old woman, "Why do you sweep that way?" "We have always used these brooms," she replied. "My mother, and her mother, and her mother before that. For as long as we have been a people. It is our tradition." The doctor gathered up the village brooms and replaced them with long-handled brooms. Some of the women resisted the change. … The wiser women, however, immediately saw how much better they could do their job--faster, more simply, with less effort and more control. What a simple thing! Long-handled brooms changed lives of drudgery and despair into lives of dignity and health. All of us need to discover ways to put long-handled brooms into our own lives. In some ways we are all sweeping with short-handled brooms and feeling unnecessarily stressed and tired as a result. The secret to making our work a part of celebration is not to work harder but to find ways to add joy to the work we are doing, to claim our work with a greater sense of ownership and vigor. …

When basic, habitual, daily order is established, then the rest of work can be balanced, performed, scheduled, prioritized, or dealt with expeditiously. A sense of basic order is fundamental. Here are a few tricks that have helped me establish that order.

• Make your bed the minute you rise--without thought, just as matter-of-factly as you brush your teeth.

• When you remove clothes, do not let them touch any surface but the place where they belong--hanger, drawer, laundry hamper, wherever. This same principle applies to mail and to laundry. Sort, stack, and discard on the spot. Try not to handle more than once anything that needs to be put away.

• Do dishes the same way. Clean up pots and implements as you prepare the meal. The minute the meal is finished, rinse and stack dishes in the machine, or wash them in hot, sudsy water, rinse in hotter water, wipe dry, and put away. Your kitchen is clean and ready for the next meal in just a few minutes.

If you stack the dishes in a drainer by the sink they may be clean, but they create clutter and represent an unfinished job. When you begin the next meal, the full dish drainer is usually still in the way. It takes only minutes to wipe the dishes and put them in the cupboard. Putting the dishes away immediately takes about half the time it takes to stack them, wait, and then finally put them away--that way you are handling them three times instead of once. Actually, I almost always do the dishes by hand for this reason, even though I have a dishwasher.

The Finnish people understand this principle. They have created cupboards with slotted racks and open slats on the bottom--over the sink--so that the washed dishes drain right in the cupboard. They have eliminated an entire step of the process.

• Work smarter, faster, more effectively. Analyze, set better priorities, and identify methods you use out of habit that are not truly productive.

Part of the joy of creating our home is that we have the right to choose how we want our home to be. If we are unhappy or uncomfortable about the way our home looks, or the way in which we are maintaining it, then we must learn to believe that we are capable of making improvements. In that belief, anticipation and effort can be real sources of happiness. The smallest improvement can create a sense of great celebration. An entire garden begins with one primrose. If you would feel joy in your home, do not think of all the things you wish you could have--concentrate on what you can do to make things as they really are just a little better. For example, a young student couple moved into their first home, a tiny, old pioneer house. The house seemed dark and old-fashioned to them, but they had no money to spend. With energy and a feeling of celebration, they pulled up the worn, ugly carpeting and discovered solid oak floors underneath. It took effort and time, but they sanded the floors, refinished them, and painted the walls of the house--and it became a splendid celebration of their dreams.

We should not let our failings, mistakes, or inadequacies discourage us. We are all in training--in fact, that is part of the fun. As long as I have lived I have felt the thrill of discovery as I have become aware of ways to improve how I do things. And I don't blame myself for things I don't know or have not done well. I figure I just have plenty of room left for learning.

The following ideas are tools I have identified that help me keep my work and my life in basic order:

1. Identify the real problem. If something is troubling me about my home, it does not mean that I need to completely overhaul it. It does not mean that everything is wrong, that I am doing nothing right. It might simply mean that there is one thing out of control. … One good thing about celebratory change is that it can be done in small increments, in the midst of our daily life. Celebration is not the wardrobe of life, but it is the ribbon in the hair, the string of pearls, the flowers on the table, the grace notes that make the whole a delight.

2. Deal with each task directly. Sometimes we imagine we can put pending work out of our minds, but even when we think we have put off thinking about it, it hovers in our mind like a dark cloud. A better way to handle work is to deal with it as quickly as possible. There are three ways of dealing with a pending task: Do it. Plan it. Discard or delegate it. …

[The first alternative --] When something rises high enough in priority that it is in our minds and pressing on us constantly, the most joyful thing is simply to get it done and celebrate its completion.

The second alternative in dealing with a task is to plan when to do it. Many jobs hang over us like a nagging toothache: "I must get the windows washed." "I must get the ironing done." "My personal files are in complete disarray; I've got to get them organized." … The way to remove such work from shadowing our happiness is to plan when we will do it. It is a remarkable phenomenon that specifically and definitely planning something gives us almost as much relief as getting it done. Assign the day and the hours you will spend washing the windows two weeks from now. Write it down on your calendar as if it were any other appointment. Suddenly the grimy windows no longer nag or hang over you. You know that they are going to be cleaned. Planning our work gives us power over our own agenda, and nothing gives more satisfaction in any kind of enterprise. When we plan the work, we are in charge of the job; the job is no longer in charge of us. That is empowerment, and it is essential to our feelings of celebration.

The third choice when we confront a task that is confronting us is to discard or delegate it. Once I had a basket of ironing. …At the end of one long afternoon of ironing, I had finished most of the basket. … I realized that those same clothes had been in the bottom of the basket for months--possibly for more than a year! … The reason I had not ironed them was that they were basically unwearable--and ironing wasn't going to make them any more wearable. …With a moment's reflection I realized that if we had gone without those clothes for more than a year, we could obviously do without them for good. I tore up the bottom-of-the-basket clothes for cleaning rags and put them in my broom cupboard. For the first time in months my ironing basket was completely empty, and I felt great! When discarding or delegating--jettisoning--a job is appropriate, do not hesitate to do so. …

As we perform, plan, and discard or delegate our tasks, we should be certain that we have considered our relationships with others. We will probably encounter differences of opinion or feelings that labor is not fairly shared. We need to learn to organize, to negotiate, and to express our feelings and approaches to the tasks that must be performed. … Try making small improvements in your approach and methods, and you will be surprised what a building thing even small increments of change can be.

3. Use better tools. Hunt for the best bathroom cleaner you can find--one that does the scrubbing for you and removes the mildew and soap scum through cleanser reaction. Keep looking until you find it. Let hot water and time work on your side. Soak food-encrusted pans and stained objects. Use rubber gloves so that you can use stronger cleansers and hotter water. Use sharper knives, a good vacuum (a really good vacuum can do bare floors as well as carpet, and cleans better than a broom), good laundry detergents, and heavy-duty, quality pots and pans. Purchase them one at a time if necessary. A good pan will save its cost in food that is not burned or ruined.

4. Listen and learn from others in your profession. Don't be reluctant to talk about your work. When you see a job that is wonderfully well done, ask questions about the methods, tools, and approaches used to accomplish it. …

5. Turn work itself into celebration. Learn ways to make work more fun, both mentally and actually. I do absolutely love to work. I love the touch, the feel, the effort, and the completion of my labors. Some jobs I like better than others, but there are elements of celebration in everything I do. …

One of the sweetest things about work is that when we live with the habits of basic order, we can occasionally give ourselves permission to play truant from daily chores. Once in a while it is a source of sheer celebratory joy to run out of the house with our children to catch the morning breeze at the beach, or kick the soccer ball at the park, or go to see the new puppies at the neighbors', leaving the dishes in the sink, the laundry in the hamper, and the cobwebs in the corners. Work will hold, but certain opportunities for joy are as brief as the wink of a firefly and must be grasped on the instant.

A life of basic order gives us the courage to make the choice to fly free because we know our string is tethered.

© 2005 Deseret Book Co.

“And see that all these things are done in wisdom and order; for it is not requisite that a man should run faster than he has strength. And again, it is expedient that he should be diligent, that thereby he might win the prize; therefore, all things must be done in order.” (Mosiah 4:27)

(see "What It Takes to be Great" and "The Perfect Career")

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