I have a vivid memory from my teenage years.
One particular winter weekend, my parents left town while my brother, sister, and I (all in our upper teens) stayed home.
Of course, as teenagers tend to do, we weren’t particularly prompt in cleaning the house over the weekend. Dishes got left on the counter, wrappers got left in the living room, dirty clothes got left in random places, and the bathroom counters filled with stuff. Messes popped up everywhere.
(It’s actually pretty surprising how messy a house can get over the course of 4 days with just 3 teenagers… plus a few friends I suppose).
“But hey, not to worry,” we all thought, “our parents won’t get home until late Sunday night. We’ll have plenty of time to clean before they arrive.”
Of course, if you know where this story is heading, our parents pulled back into the driveway hours before their planned return. I can only assume the moment walking through the front door and seeing our mess everywhere was just as memorable for them as it was for us.
If they found any enjoyment in their weekend away, it vanished within seconds of opening the door. A mess is never enjoyable.
I have since come to view messes differently these days and have learned the importance of cleaning along the way.
It was Gretchen Rubin’s one-minute rule that changed my view on cleaning messes. As she explains it:
“It’s very simple: I must do any task that can be finished in one minute. Hang up my coat, read a letter and toss it, fill in a form, answer an email, note down a citation, pick up my phone messages, file a paper, put a dish in the dishwasher, replenish the diaper supply by the changing table, put the magazines away… and so on.”
That habit has changed my life in countless ways. By cleaning messes immediately when they arise, we bring positive effect on our lives.
Conversely, messes that collect and remain over time have a negative impact on our lives:
- They weigh on us mentally because we always know, in the back of our mind, they need to be handled.
- Messes that are not cleaned become harder to clean over time. I always think of tomato sauce on a plate… easy to clean immediately, hard to clean later.
- Messes that are not cleaned gather blame. Over time, we even begin to debate who caused the mess in the first place.
- Messes that are not cleaned collect more mess. Clutter collects on top of clutter and the mess gets bigger and bigger.
It is far better, by every possible measure, to simply clean our messes right away.
This holiday season, clean up any messes that occur in your home. And do so immediately, rather than allowing them to exist and grow.
But maybe, the importance of cleaning up messes this holiday season should extend beyond the pile of dishes in your kitchen sink.
Maybe there are greater “messes” that call for your attention and this is the season to finally take a step toward resolving them.
The holiday season is to be a celebration of peace, goodwill, reconciliation, and love. But for many families, thoughts of peace rarely accompany the holiday season. Instead, years of bitterness, resentment, and depression have piled up on top of misconceptions, misunderstandings, and misbehavior.
Messes have emerged… and continue to remain.
Family peace was lost years ago—and is yet to be reclaimed.
It seems to me this year, more than any other, we are being reminded of the importance of close relationships. We’re being reminded that at the end of the day, what really matters is that your loved ones are safe and you’ve done your best to live your life to the fullest.
Maybe this holiday season is the holiday season to clean up any remaining messes—within your family or other close relationships that need resolution.
But how do we accomplish this?
1. Admit that a mess exists.
Relationships are not always easy. If there is something between you and a loved one or an old friend, take notice and admit it’s time to work toward resolution.
2. Get over trying to assign blame.
Messes never get cleaned if we continually blame others for it. The mess may not be your fault, but if everybody keeps waiting for the other person to take the first step, it will never happen.
3. Decide to be the one to take the first step.
Determine to be the peacemaker. You may think you have time to do it later, but this year has taught us that is not always the case.
4. Take one step.
Make the bold decision to be the first in your family to offer peace and reconciliation and take one step. Maybe just a simple phone call, “Hey, I’m just calling to wish you happy holidays. I know we’ve had disagreements in the past, but I just want you to know that I love you very much and I hope we can put them behind us…”
5. Mentally prepare for any response.
One small step may be all that is needed to begin bringing closure. Or, it may not. You may not receive the response you desire and may experience rejection again. So be mentally prepared for any response. Either way, you have done the right thing and accept their response with grace.
6. In all circumstances, seek to leave every relationship better than you found it.
One of my first bosses taught me that when I saw him bend down and pick up a dirty paper towel off the bathroom floor. “Joshua, leave every room cleaner than you found it,” he said. The principle should also apply to our relationships.
This holiday season, leave every room a little cleaner than you found it.
And leave every person a little better than you found them as well.
This season more than ever. And this year more than ever.