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In praise of housework
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In praise of housework

Take it from no less than St. Augustine: “Peace is the tranquility of order.”

If you knew me in my earlier 20s, well, I’m sorry. You might remember one of my key personality traits was being a huge mess. My nickname for my car was “my subconscious.” On any given day, books, makeup, receipts, clothes, and all manner of mess lay strewn about the passenger area haphazardly. People on TikTok have since named this sort of thing “rat girl aesthetic.” Fair.

Between then and now, I had three babies (in three years!). I’ve since learned that people are very strangely open about their vasectomies. Anyway, the spirit of anti-natalism is definitely in the air, but of the comments I get about my little litter, most are not coming from a genuinely Malthusian sentiment or judgment. Instead, I sense a sincerer attitude of personal deficiency or incapability.

I couldn’t handle that. How do you manage?

If they only knew! I am still very early on in my motherhood journey, and in many ways I’m still a big mess. But if there is anything I’ve realized over the past few years, it’s that personal organization, cleanliness, and structure are the bedrock of a happy life. So … how do I manage?

To be frank, I’ve become rigid in all the ways I once flew by the seat of my pants. I schedule every day according to my “rule of life.” (More on that another time.) Every hour of the day has a purpose, whether that’s prayer, playing, cleaning, cooking, or writing. And while I have to remain flexible, because babies are complicated, simply knowing what to expect and holding myself to a high standard has a tremendously positive impact on the entire home.

Therapists have recently rebranded this as “executive function.” For America’s founders, it was “self-government.” I prefer the Augustine quote: “Peace is the tranquility of order.” In Latin, tranquillitas ordinis.

In Augustine’s view, to borrow the words of Canadian philosopher and theologian Donald Demarco:

Human beings have lived disorderly lives ever since they were wounded by Original Sin. Their souls became “restless.” This restlessness (inquietum) created a longing for peace. But peace would always remain elusive as long as it is regarded as a direct object of choice. We cannot choose peace the way we can pluck an apple from an apple tree. We must choose something else before we are eligible to experience peace. That something else, Augustine tells us, is order. But there are many different kinds of order. What is the specific order that this great saint has in mind? It is an order of virtuous acts that lead to God. Augustine’s most celebrated phrase appears in the beginning of his Confessions: “Our hearts are restless and will not rest until they find rest in You" (cor nostrum inquietum est donc requiescat in Te).

Ultimately, these little decisions made every day — to make the bed, to check off your to-do list, to cook healthy meals, to reset the kitchen before sleep — aren’t for their own sake, at least not entirely. Without a sense of eternity, it’s difficult to see why “executive function” matters aside from being a clear boon to mental health.

The knowledge that we are refining ourselves for higher purposes — ultimately, communion with God — adds a profundity to household tasks that makes them simultaneously more urgent and more enjoyable. And in so doing, we prepare our homes and hearts to welcome the King of peace.

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