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Some artistic types thrive on chaos and regularly find the greatest inspiration amidst the biggest mess; I am not one of them. :) I spent the last weekend cleaning up my studio because the piles had started to outnumber the empty surfaces, and I realized anew how important organization and continuity are to me. I love color and texture, and my design sense leans more toward warm eclectic than clean modern. But I crave order; I take comfort in the sorted tubes of beads in my studio and clearly labeled containers in my pantry.

This is no real epiphany to those closest to me. My husband realized it years ago when I pronounced a newly installed shelving unit “the most thoughtful gift anyone has ever given me” — and really meant it. My friends probably got the idea when my tour of our newly remodeled kitchen centered around all the great storage space. And those who saw me so eagerly anticipating the grand opening of our local Container Store might have suspected. :) It’s how I got on this path that might be a bit of a surprise.

The truth is that I spent most of my twenties cleaning up for other people. Anyone who’s lived with toddlers knows that they are capable of a sustained campaign of destruction, seemingly for years at a time. But my problem wasn’t ever who I was cleaning up after, it was who I was cleaning up for. Every time company was coming, I transformed into a temperamental, tidying tornado, shoving toys into closets and dishes off the table. Given a little notice, I could transform any cluttered room into a clean one, but it never lasted. Once the daily business of parenting and homeschooling reclaimed my focus, my cleaning standards inevitably downshifted again. Then one day we were picking up in the living room and my then-eight-year-old son asked, “Who’s coming over?” That stopped me in my tracks.

I realized that I was unwittingly reinforcing the exact opposite of lessons I worked so hard to teach him: that loved ones come first; that we shouldn’t judge others by appearances; that the point of this life is peace, not perfection. I also finally recognized that cleaning for others generated so much stress for me, in part, because I yearned for that same organized, welcoming space every day. I was on a slippery slope that found me valuing others’ opinions above my own heart’s cries. And I believe that whether our souls ask for order or spontaneity, companionship or quiet, our efforts to honor those needs are never wasted.

I wonder sometimes if God gave me a gift for organization — the ability to find and appreciate order — because He knew how unpredictable my life would become. Even as chaos threatens in the form of daily questions about my health, there is a special grace in being able to appreciate a precisely arranged bookshelf or an ordered row of kitchen spices. There is also grace in knowing that there will be times when those books are in disarray and someone else put the groceries away, and that’s okay too. Peace, not perfection. We have chore charts and family rules around here, just as we have days when the dust bunnies outnumber us 10-1. But when we clean, I am confident my children understand it is for us, not about what someone thinks of us. And I am thankful every day for the order in this world, for the things that remind me that there is a purposeful, intentional, loving Plan with a capital P.

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