Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

4 Nissan 5765 - April 13, 2005 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly









Produced and housed by
Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Shema Yisrael Torah Network











Home and Family

By Chedva Ofek

Part I

Many of us are convinced that we are orderly but still want to straighten up the house before guests come. Why is external order so important for people and how does it influence one's behavior and success in life? What is considered tidy - inside cupboards or the cleanliness of the living room? And most important, what is at the root of the pedantic or messy housewife and how can we tame her extremity? Professionals make order out of chaos and offer helpful tips to keep the perspective on keel.

Housewives are, without question, the police of order in the house. And even if the house does not undergo a thorough cleaning every week, they carry the burden of the character and appearance of the house. If so, neatness and organization of the house, however technical, and a regular routine, require proper organization and an investment of time and attention.

Image and Order

"A person's image is built on a number of characteristics, among them, the way his environment looks," emphasizes Mrs. Naomi Tal, image consultant. "Disorder, dirt and neglecting one's surroundings transmit the message that the lady of the house neglects her other concerns, as well. It is important to note that people are visual (80 per cent of human perception goes through the eyes, not the ears) and we judge people by what we see," clarifies Tal. "This appraisal takes no more than 30 seconds or less.

"In 30 seconds, we grasp how the person in front of us looks, as well as form an opinion about the environment in which she lives and functions. The image is engraved in our memories and greatly influences how we judge that person. Moreover, people who function in a disorderly environment project not only that they aren't organized but also their way of thinking and logic isn't disciplined, orderly or organized.

"In contrast, when you walk into an orderly and well-groomed house, even if it's small and modest, the feeling is that the lady of the house cares about her house and also herself. The appearance of a neat and well-kept house generates a pleasant atmosphere and gives the lady of the house a secure feeling, one of self-esteem, that she is in control of her kingdom and she conveys that to the rest of her family.

"Most people enjoy being in a clean and orderly environment but not everyone enjoys creating one. We should also remember that maintaining a clean and well taken care of house has an educational benefit. Children who grow up in an aesthetic environment will strive to emulate it in their own homes. Giving children cleaning chores creates a feeling of cooperation, commitment and responsibility."

Order - A Means, Not an End

"The need for order is a matter of personality," explains Tzahala Meinart. "Every one of us has a different need for order: There are some for whom order exists only when the shirts are arranged in the closet according to color, and if they are merely folded, then, in their eyes, it's a mess. There are women whose serenity is disturbed by speck of mud and others whose Shabbos dishes can wait until Sunday."

Three housewives who were interviewed emphasize the differences of the order in their homes.

Tamar from Bnei Brak, a teacher and mother of seven: "It's important for me to have a feeling of space, what one would call having light in your eyes, and that includes a minimum of things and a minimum of decoration, easy access to everything functional and a place for everything. If I didn't work outside the home, I would invest more in my home. Now, I have to compromise.

"Every evening, I go through the house and whatever is lying around is returned to its proper place (of course the next day it's all over the place again). Towards Shabbos, I do a thorough straightening up. When Shabbos arrives, I yearn for it to be like this all week, but I just can't do it."

Even in arranging the house there is an order of priorities. Tova from Ashdod, a kindergarten teacher and mother of one daughter, says: "I'm thought of as a friend to disorder. Even when I fix up the house, cleanliness doesn't stress me out. For example, if there are dishes in the sink and I want to read a book or go to sleep, first I'll read/sleep and only then will I straighten up. Most of the time, I'm not pressured. As the mother of one daughter and the wife of an avreich who comes home late at night, I can use the afternoon hours at my leisure even if there's chaos around me. But when the time comes for me to do something, I do it. With time, I've come to the conclusion, that when I'm under pressure I work better."

Rabbanit Y. from Jerusalem, a mother of a full house, says, "Order and cleanliness have to be a means, not an end. When things are in their place, the house is neat and tidy. It is one of the conditions that help us in serving Hashem. I heard at a lecture one Erev Rosh Hashanah that we ask Hashem to give us, in the New Year, the ideal conditions to serve Him. I see this subject in that category.

"You don't need a wild imagination in order to visualize how a chaotic house hampers advancement: resentment and complaints against those who make a mess; losing time trying to find lost items; difficulty in getting to things; feeling rejected or loathing from members of the family or guests. Also, when the level of cleanliness is low, it could be a health risk, the opposite of safeguarding your health. This situation leads to a general feeling of uncertainty or instability.

"In contrast, under the right conditions, we provide the members of our household with the pleasurable setting and background for a pleasant life and spiritual advancement. In one of the Mussar books, there is an alphabetical list of character traits and behaviors that should be fixed, positive versus negative. Among them, confusion of mind and possessions are opposed to order and discipline. And that's in the same list as pride versus humility, worry versus security etc. You know the story of the rov who went to visit his son in a far away yeshiva and satisfied himself with a glance at his room, his bed and his things. When he saw that they were in order he returned to his city, satisfied. The story illustrates how close this subject is to our spiritual lives and we have to joyfully fulfill the obligation of order and discipline as a means to the end of `worshipping Hashem with an ordered mind.'"

What is Order? Internal or External?

For Tova from Ashdod, an ordered house means the living room, not the closets. "My drawers are organized and instinctively I return every thing to its place," she says, "but it's the external things that cause the disarray, like: throwing the bag in the hallway or the tissue package wandering around the rooms, the markers that are always strewn in the children's room or clothes that haven't been returned to the cupboards. The task of keeping order is defined for me as organizing the area of the house which doesn't demand a lot of time or effort but appears to be under siege."

Tamar from Bnei Brak, the mother of young children and a teacher who devotes many hours to teaching, is hard-pressed to complete all the household tasks. "There's what you want and what you get," she says. "I plan to get to the cupboards on my day off but generally I don't succeed. I've arrived at the conclusion that when the house is very clean, it's a pleasure to straighten up, but when it's dirty, however much you clean it, it will look a mess and it won't give you a good feeling. Before Pesach is a very stressful time for me where I have to gain control of the interiors (which are generally neglected) and maybe when the kids are grown, I'll be closer to attaining perfection."

Rabbanit Y. from Jerusalem makes do, as the mother of a family blessed with many children, with a general tidying up of the house every day. "In the morning, I straighten up and during the day the things scattered around are for me like decorations that testify that here live active, emotionally and physically healthy people. Towards evening, we start arranging the house. First, the younger children clean up their toys and before they go to sleep, they straighten their rooms. There is a turn of duty for cleaning the main room and the kitchen. I'm primarily concerned that the room in which my husband studies is clean and neat before he returns home."

The image consultant, Naomi Tal says, "Order is an oversimplified concept. Everyone has their own order. I know people who have a pile of papers on their desks drowning them but at the same time when they're asked to extract the needed one, they'll find it immediately. But when all is said and done, an organized house is one where things aren't thrown on chairs and whatever is worn finds its way back to the closet; the children's toys are put away at the end of the day in the toy box; the beds are made every day; the dining room table is clear of glasses, coffee cups or the remnants of food.

"A clean and orderly house is one where the housewife clears away the cobwebs, the bathrooms are clean and that there isn't the feeling of walking on sand. A clean house is one in which the kitchen, which is the heart of the home, is organized and there aren't dishes piled in the sink."

She suggests devoting free time first to straightening up the living room and only after, the cupboards. Tal says, "You know the saying: a guest sees the mess. Therefore, before getting to the closets, it's preferable that the living room be neat and tidy." And as to that, she gives a small tip: It's best not to empty out all the contents of the closets in one go and then doing them. Do each drawer, shelf or section separately. Whatever you do, don't attack the whole thing in one shot because if you want/have to stop at any point, you'll be left with a big mess.

"Organizing and putting the house in order has an exhausting element," Naomi is convinced. "The exhaustion stems from an inability to find a place for everything and the never-ending daily routine of straightening up the rooms, which is generally not appreciated by everyone. The pleasure, in contrast, is short-lived until the mess begins again."

Tamar complains about the fact that after her efforts towards a well-groomed home, in a short time, her house turns into "The overturning of S'dom." The most pleasant work for her is sweeping the house, while the kitchen for her is the most exhausting.

Rabbanit Y. states her opinion:, "I don't have such a concept as work that is `difficult' or `exhausting' when it comes to cleaning or organizing the house. All we're doing, for ourselves and for those we're helping, is serving Hashem. If we do it happily and with love for the purpose that unites us all, then, the simple activities will be received by our Creator like an incense offering. In Eishes Chayil, it says, 'And her hands work willingly.' Although the work of a housewife is menial work, hard physical labor, the praise she gets is deserved because she does it 'willingly' - with joy and heart."

[to be continued]


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