Jun 27, 2014

Cleaning Your Room as a Spiritual Exercise

By Allison Kieselowsky

If the adage, “Cleanliness is next to godliness,” were included in Holy Writ, it might keep me out of the kingdom.  I read Cheryl’s post that mentioned her drive for organization, and imagined an enchanted castle glittering with pixie dust in a faraway land where items are placed in proper order and maintained by fairies.

To be precise, things in my house actively resist specific storage locations. They land near, but rarely in, the allotted receptacle; or they attempt to escape when my back is turned, resulting in a slightly creepy ottoman with doll eyes peeking out from under the lid. I do wash dishes, sweep floors, wash fingerprints off walls and windows, scrub bathrooms, and do laundry, but I hear myself repeat something my mother would say as she stared forlornly at the cluttered counter: “I used to be organized.” I’m sure there is a mathematical formula that takes the number of people in a household, their ages, and square footage of living space and calculates a reasonable amount of clutter. Anyone?

I’m not even a person who likes things. Well, that’s not entirely true, because I love my double stroller with a passion usually reserved for major sporting events. I also like books, the old-fashioned kind that take up shelf space. And I love my piano, the rocking chair my daughters gave me, wooden shoes from Amsterdam, and . . . what was I saying? Oh, yes. I’m not attached to my possessions.

My daughters take thing-attachment to such epic levels that they suffer every time I make them clean their room. They avidly collect rocks, shells, sticks, papers, paper clips, stickers, pencils, live bugs, dead bugs, shoe laces, coins—really anything in this world with a count greater than one. It is torment for them to part with any of it. Learning to distinguish between worthy and worthless is harder than it seems, and usually means sobbing and pleading over treasures that look like bits of trash to me.

Such loss is not a tragedy. True, children may sorrow over losing things that seem worthless to parents, and they need a little space to deal with the loss. But after a few minutes of drama, I lose my patience (I think it’s gone in the pile of debris with my other earring). After all, making the decision to keep it or heave it is only a passing heartache, a brief moment in which we are forced to practice losing something with grace. Parting with physical collections requires us to set aside our own desires to make room for something nobler, such as Mommy’s sanity.

We all need to practice letting go in order to let someone else’s will prevail, so sometimes a session of paring down possessions is good discipline. Setting aside one’s will is where the Christian begins all things. We pray, “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven” and with Christ, “yet not my will, but yours be done” (Luke 22). We pray that our will would be set aside and that the Father’s would replace it. We pray this now so that, when a time comes when we must give up something so precious that we question God’s goodness, our mouths form the words that our hearts need to hear.

Possessions aren’t all bad. Luther mentions possessions often in the Small Catechism, showing us the balance between keeping and losing. He reminds us to defend our neighbor’s reputation and possessions and to recognize our Father’s good will in giving us house and home, land, animals, and all that we have. It’s a relief to know that the belongings which regularly rebel against my order are not evil per se—just mischievous. Our Father delights in graciously giving us more than we need. On the flip side, though, stands the First Commandment and Luther’s explanation of it: “You shall have no other gods. What does this mean? We should fear, love, and trust in God above all things.” The petition “Thy will be done” also includes the addition or removal of all sorts of stuff for our benefit, and our willingness to let go of belongings becomes an article of faith.

God wants you to clean your room, not because godliness depends upon your ability to pair your shoes and re-shelve books. I don’t think He’s personally offended that your sock drawer has fallen into disarray. You need to clean your room so you will ask, “Is this item important?” We are not commanded to live an austere life devoid of meaningful objects, but we are commanded to keep all those things in their proper place of preference. Cherish Christ Jesus’ gift of salvation, forgiveness of sins in baptism, and His presence with us in His Holy Supper as your great inheritance, and everything else gets bumped down the list of importance.

Like so many other tasks in our vocations as women, cleaning barely ranks on the list of fun, exciting, interesting things to do. I rank it as mildly interesting because cleaning sometimes unearths long-lost treasures, a moment that can really thrill the soul. Usually, though, cleaning ends with a happy feeling of accomplishment immediately followed by dismay when I turn from one room only to see toys escaping from the hall closet, a dish towel on the floor, and bits of toilet paper stuck to the side of the tub.

It’s hard to accept that life is actually quite mundane, punctuated with brief bursts of excitement, but we serve God and love our neighbors through these regular duties. We regularly re-evaluate our activities, our belongings, and our desires to determine priorities, even when it doesn’t feel like we are doing anything special. It might help if we remember that when we accept our responsibilities in faith God uses even small tasks for His glory and for the good of those around us by ordering our lives and our minds to seek Christ above all things.

So the next time you pull out a box you haven’t opened in ages, say, “For God and neighbor,” and dig in. Maybe you’ll find a treasure; maybe you’ll throw the whole thing away. Either way, you certainly will have practiced the discipline of comparing its worth to the gifts we have in Christ Jesus.


Allison Kieselowsky lives in Springfield, PA, with her husband Rob and their four daughters. She has been a daughter and sister for nearly forty years, a wife for nearly fourteen years, an English teacher and reading specialist for nearly ten years, and a mother for nearly seven years. She currently works at home as the general manager of household affairs, short-order cook, laundress, and teacher.

Title Image: "Scullery Maid" from the Dutch school, c. 1660


  1. Allison, this brings back memories of childhood cleaning sessions, in which Mom brought a garbage bag and made us thin out the incredible collection of objects that we had somehow accumulated on our bunkbed shelves. There were some tears there too, of course, but who really needs a collection of stale corn chips wrapped in toilet paper "just in case I get hungry in the night?"

  2. Allison KieselowskyJune 27, 2014 at 2:49 PM

    I think every child has that monumentally important and yet utterly worthless collection! Letting possessions go can be a lifelong struggle for some.

  3. I attach a lot of memories to objects -- "This is the bottle of lotion we bought at that Whole Foods by the hotel when we were house-hunting and the baby got chapped skin from the wind when we went to the museum, so we stopped and got this lotion." This makes it really hard for me to let go of physical objects. I've learned that two or three times a year, a fey mood will envelop me and I will have a much easier time putting things in the box for the thrift store or pile for yard sale, or even the trash, and that I need to take advantage of those moods to sort through the belongings that litter our home.

    It's really helped me to remember what you're saying here, that these things are blessings from God and therefore not in and of themselves a problem, but that my attachment to them can become a problem. And so I don't need to keep every single thing ever given to me by this or that friend -- keep a few things that hold very meaningful memories for me, and if the other things are just clutter, it's okay to give them away or sell them. Or even throw them away if no one else would ever find any use in them.


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