Ben Franklin’s 13 Virtues: Week Ten, Q1

Cleanliness: “Tolerate no uncleanliness in body, clothes or location.”

Personal notes:

  • For me, this also includes how I dress. Go with the 007 mantra. Look like bond – when going out at least 😉
  • While I don’t think it’s necessary to wear a suit around the house, I should dress up, get out of PJs, don’t look like a slob, aim to look like an adult with style.
  • Pick up little things laying around the house. We leave little piles everywhere and it drives me crazy!
  • Maintain front of the house & garden (more so during summer).
  • Fix what needs repair.

Cleanliness is a week I enjoy but don’t always know what to write about. I guess if I had to distill why I enjoy Cleanliness, I would have 3 reasons: First, and now I know I’m getting old, when I am physically cleaning, my mind falls at ease. Second, when I improve my state of appearance, sometimes even marginally so, I simply feel better about myself, more confident. And finally, piles of mail, clothes, whatever, are little land-mines waiting to set me off and it’s important to clear them from my life.

It’s true, small, insignificant clutter can drive me insane and ruin the day of not just me, but everyone around me. Example: the other day I was making Saturday morning breakfast for the family. The bacon was sizzling, coffee brewing, music playing, the sun was out, everything was great, but then I began to set out the plates, and there in front of me was a giant pile of mail. I was so annoyed laying out the breakfast spread that a moment later, when my wife asked me a harmless question, I was short, abrasive and set of a spiral that ruined the morning. That little pile of mail might as well have been a pile of dynamite.

It’s amazing how insignificant it all seems in retrospect but the cluttered counter space sprung a well of annoyance and anger. Why even let these piles accumulate if I know they’re going to have a negative effect? To be honest, I have no good answer; laziness I guess. The weird thing is though, I don’t mind cleaning. In fact, when engaging in big or little projects, I enjoy cleaning, clearing, working. In that moment I can shut off my mind and disappear into a task.

In the case of my yard, I spent hours removing a tree stump and couldn’t care less what was going on in the world. Working in the dirt, physically laboring away, feeling the sun and knowing I was making our yard more enjoyable allowed me to disappear into the present. I looked at that stump a million times thinking how difficult it would be to remove, setting up obstacles and preventing its removal. Don’t get me wrong, removing the stump was a bear, but once the process began, time flowed and the labor was its own reward. I walked away thinking, why do I let mail piles become tree stumps?

This week, I also upped my wardrobe and did my best to look like an adult. Don’t worry, I didn’t remove the tree stump wearing a three piece suit, but quickly remembered that it feels good to look your best. Feeling good, who doesn’t like that? No one; but writing about it here, I think of it a little bit more complexly. Yes, we know all the cliche “dress to impress” and dressing well helps with promotions and social interactions, all of which make you feel good, but what about when you’re alone? Safely in your home with no strangers, no meetings, no social pressure, how do you feel then to dress your best? Surprisingly, I found you feel pretty good.

It all stems from my wife and I’s experience on Sundays. Many times we’d stay in our PJ’s all day, being lethargic, hanging out, rolling around with the kids. Winter kept us on the couch, gray and sleepy. But we always felt bad at the end of the day, sluggish, detached, never really embracing what was before us, until we started dressing up a bit.

We did it to see if we felt better and you know what, we felt the benefit almost immediately. We felt better about ourselves, got more accomplished during the day, engaged more with the world, began attending church again, got the girls away from the TV, it was an all around improvement. Was it all tied to the clothes, probably not, but it was a part of the small steps we took to change our psyche.

There are days when we’re still in a rough place, but overall our outlook has vastly improved, and it all stems from little, simple changes. I guess it goes back to our theme, these little incremental pieces all add up to a larger benefit. It doesn’t have to be a tree stump, small actions like wearing a pressed shirt or cleaning up a mail pile have dramatic consequences. One of the best things we ever did was change our sheets on a Sunday night. Now we do it every Sunday night because climbing into clean, cool sheets on Sunday night is a simple way to vastly improve your Monday.