Why order gets a bad rap

“Pick that up!”, “clean up this mess!”, “how many times do I have to tell you!”, “come on, don’t be a slob, wash those dishes”.

These are the type of things I notice I say to myself sometimes, and I’ve heard from others when I was small … and yes, I have heard come out of my mouth … which I’m pretty sure most parents would have in some moments of exasperation and overwhelm.

Since learning nonviolent communication, negotiating domestic life has been a big space for learning. Firstly, I invited myself not to do anything that I couldn’t see was fulfilling needs of mine. So a lot less dishes and laundry got done … although it didn’t stop, and I found myself doing it more mindfully – observing body sensations, naming emotions like resentment and disappointment, and then connecting with my underlying longing needs which I found were often support, support, company and care. Once I became attuned to those needs, I’d often find other ways of giving those to myself – such as phoning a friend to chat, asking one of the kids to chat with me, changing meal plans to something simple, or laying in the hammock with a book.


Secondly, I’ve been working on making it more comfortable for kids and hubby to say no to my requests for specific tasks. This is still a “learning edge”. Sometimes it hurts a lot when I hear them say – no, not now … especally if some emphatic teenage language might come along with it too. Self-empathy to the rescue.

Other times, I’ve learned a lot by being able to really stay and listen to the ‘yes’ behind their no.  We often find solutions together, such as they’re willing to do it in ten minutes time – or they want to be heard for something they’re finding unfair. If they’re not willing right now and I’m feeling too resentful to do it myself … I’ve discovered that I can live with a messy kitchen and loungeroom … and I’ve also discovered that folding and wiping and sorting can be a beautiful calming gift when I’m willing.

I’m wanting to give myself the gift of not measuring my parenting by whether my kids “do as I say” … but whether we understand each other, and whether I feel empowered about finding many different ways to meet my needs for order, or delay it for a while and rest and play instead.

What’s housework got to do with Van Gogh?

This journal page is a response to the visual meditation about order and creativity.

Looking at Van Gogh’s art of the neatly arranged flowerbeds, I found myself appreciating a couple of people in my life who consciously create order – and engage the support of others to fulfil their vision.

Supporting a young person to create order in their world

The first person on the journal page is my teenage daughter, who (strongly!) encouraged me to help her repaint her room. Now, everytime I go in there, I breathe a sigh of pleasure. She has it set up with such calm – a bubbling fishtank, winking lights across the bedhead, a soft lamp, a desk … lots of clear surfaces. When she told me she wanted to paint the back wall black, I baulked. After discussion over some weeks, I was comfortable enough. Now I’m celebrating her leadership in inspiring us to support the vision she had in mind. When she’s not home, I sometimes pop into her soothing retreat to record one of the visual meditations.

Savouring the order that someone else creates

The second person who comes to mind is my younger sister. I stayed with her recently. One morning, I woke and listened to her moving through her morning routine. Washing on, bread out of the baking machine, dogs outside, dishwasher rattling, coffee machine gurgling. I sensed a need for order – and pondered how she was starting her day with that gift to herself first and foremost, although of course her family benefits. Finally, she settled down with a coffee on the back deck. I sensed that order helped her settle into savouring the beautiful backyard and quiet reflection over warm frothy coffee.

Beside her was the great big bath which she envisioned becoming a water garden, with gold fish glinting orange beneath the lilies … and she has realised that picture. Above, flap the gentle prayer flags, sending their goodwill in threads out into the world. Given our shared childhood home, I know how precious and conscious her choice is to create a haven of calm and beauty and love.

Here is a picture of me later that morning (sorry about the wrinkling nose!) enjoying a cup of tea with her on the deck. It’s a photo that reminds me that when we gently and joyfully express the visions we have for peace in our lives in any way, other people – especially those close to us –  benefit too.


Order as a gift, not a demand

Finally, Fergus came and napped beside me just now as I drew.  He reminds me of the way I want to contribute and experience order – not as a demand of myself or in resentment to others. I want to only create order where it is fulfilling for me in some way – such as when I’m feeling tender and wanting to contribute to someone else’s wellbeing, or when I’d enjoy creating some calm and ease in the kitchen or at my desk.


Keeping perspective … trusting life within us

I’m still nibbling my way through Mary Oliver’s poems. Her words are etched into the journal page. She marvelled at nature, creatures and plants living out their course and actions. She notes: “not with any assignment from us … everything that needs to be done is done”. If I’m feeling overwhelmed and like “too much” depends on me … I want to remember those words, and stretch out like Fergus the cat, sip tea beside the water garden, and trust that if it needs to be done it will arise out of me, others, life – with joyful and purposeful energy.

I live
in the open mindedness
of not knowing enough
about anything …

How quietly
and not with any assignment from us,
or even a small hint
of understanding
everything that needs to be done
is done.

Mary Oliver, from ‘Luna’

Who inspires joyful order for you?

Can you share an example of one thing that someone has done that helped you experience order as a joyful quality in your life? I’d love to read your comments in reply.