As parents, we’ve all been there. “How many times do I need to remind these kids to clean up their stuff?” I have to laugh at myself when I hear the discussion between my daughters and I – the same discussion I had with my mom some four decades ago. I’m guessing it’s probably the same discussion she had with her parents, and sounds identical to the one our daughters may someday have with their children. The rooms always end up a mess, and we adults always demand they be cleaned. Round and round it goes.
I’ve come to care a bit less about how tidy the girls’ rooms are on a daily basis. They can make as big of a mess as they like, knowing that eventually the place will need a good cleaning, and it’s their responsibility to do it. I think it’s vital for children to learn this at an early age, because this simple act reinforces a larger ideal. The concept is fundamental to being successful, and to being a good citizen. Each of us must hold ourselves accountable for the mess we make, and be responsible enough to clean it up.
Have you ever attempted to park while shopping, only to find a shopping cart blocking the spot? The inconvenience of finding another spot, or getting out and moving the cart represent the cost you pay, albeit minor, for another persons actions. Ever notice how many carts are left out? Or how often people leave garbage in them? The increased work-hours spent collecting, cleaning, and returning them to the store represent an expense for the business, and thus will be reflected in a higher cost (once again, to you) of the goods sold.
I often see frail older people essentially using the cart as a walking aid, or harried moms simultaneously trying to load their groceries and their hoard of kids into their minivan. These are instances when I’m personally willing to absorb the costs for their sake. In fact, I’ll volunteer to take the cart back if I’m headed to the store.
On the other hand, most of the carts are left haphazardly by completely able-bodied folks apparently too busy to be bothered. Perhaps they consider the increased cost incurred by their actions to be a convenience fee. Maybe they figure they’re creating jobs for some low-wage, entry level positions. Personally, I can’t help but wonder whether their parents made them clean their room.
Such evaluation of the costs/benefits of our actions is a big part of being civically minded. Taking the time to consider how our actions affect those around us makes us more aware of our role in our community. By striving to be better friends, neighbors, daughters, sons, fathers, mothers, and teammates, we can be a “force for good.” We can positively effect the communities in which we live.
“Leave no trace”
One of my favorite pastimes is backpacking. I love being out in the middle of “nowhere,” and the solitude that comes with it. There’s something very empowering about hiking two to three days into the wilderness, and knowing that it’s all on you; everything you need, from your water to your food, to your shelter, and even your first aid. You are solely responsible for taking care of yourself and getting yourself back out again.
You’re also responsible for packing out everything you took in.
Being completely surrounded by the sounds and smells of the mountains is an amazingly refreshing and rejuvenating break from the noisy hustle and bustle of our suburban existence. Even though there’s always a hint along the way of those who’ve come before, i.e. the trail, campsites, fire rings, there’s not much other evidence of fellow hikers. A large part of the ambience of the wilderness is this absence of human debris, and it’s a disheartening distraction when you come upon somebody’s discarded granola bar wrapper. Part of the ethic of backpacking is cleaning up after yourself, so that those who come after can enjoy the same “pristine” feel that nature has to offer. In backpacking we say,“Pack it in, pack it out.”
What’s in it for me?
There’s more to be learned from cleaning our rooms than a basic civics lesson. It also helps us develop the habit of holding ourselves accountable. For example, instead of a messy room, let’s say a person finds themselves a mess. They haven’t taken good care of themselves for a couple decades. They’re out of shape, overweight, have terrible eating habits, and along with the onset of middle age, they find out they’ve got high blood pressure and pre-diabetes.
Many folks find themselves in such a predicament and blame a plethora of external factors for their fate. Not only do they point the finger in every direction imaginable to lay blame, but they also sit around, waiting for somebody else to fix the problem. They never learned the lesson behind cleaning their own room. Because of this, they will never be able to achieve any level of success.
People who learn to clean their own room learn to take care of their own affairs. They learn to take responsibility for their actions. They acknowledge the mess they’ve created, and take steps to fix it. In the event they inherit a messy room not of their own doing, they don’t waste time pointing fingers. They get busy cleaning up the mess.
How clean is your “room?”
See you on the mats.