When you are forty years old, you may fondly look back on your teenage years as the last really “free” time you’ve had in your life. It was before the stresses of a full-time job, before bills to pay piling up, before diapers to change, before walking the floor with a crying baby or staying up all night to comfort a sick child, before having to worry about rising grocery prices, before having to deal with expensive home repairs.
But many teenagers don’t look at it that way. They see it as the time of worst bondage in their life. When they were little, their time was mostly their own, and they had few responsibilities. But now someone is always nagging them to get up to go to school when they are still tired, nagging them to do their homework when it’s late and they are tired again and would rather go to bed. They get nagged to clean up their room, ordered to fold their laundry or do the dishes or take out the trash or bring in the groceries from the car. They have to let their parents know where they are going when they leave the house, and they have to meet whatever curfew for returning home at night that their parents set for their activities.
Most teenagers dream of the time when they will be on their own and free to do what they want, when they want. I know I was that kind of teenager. I wanted to go from bondage to freedom!
And I got my wish at 18 when I went away to college. No more nagging to get up … I could sleep through any class I wanted to. No more nagging to do my homework. I could just not do it if that’s what seemed appealing. My dirty laundry could pile up as long as I let it, with no one to complain … except myself when I didn’t have the item I wanted to wear on any given day. My dorm room could turn into a pig-sty, and the only one who would complain might be my roommate. About the only rule I had to obey was getting back to the dormitory building before the 11 PM curfew on weeknights and 1 AM on weekends, when they locked the doors of our girl’s dorm wing. (Yes, this was 1964, back in the ancient days of what was called “in loco parentis” –the college attempted to “take the place of parents” in supervision of the students. Of course this didn’t last much longer… )
At the end of my freshman year in college, I got married, and started on the really “grown up life” I had always assumed was so full of freedom. Now I didn’t even have to worry about a curfew. My schedule was whatever I wanted to make it, any household chores were done whenever I felt like doing them, bills were paid whenever I got around to it. And laundry and dirty dishes and clutter and trash were free to pile up as high as I would let them!
As the years went by, I found my freedom was more and more limited by certain aspects of life. Yes, I HAD to change those dirty diapers on the baby, I had to walk the floor with a crying baby and stay up with a sick child. I had to pay bills at least vaguely on time or I wouldn’t have a telephone or heat. But for many aspects of life, I did still have freedom to set my own standards and my own schedule. Within limits I could let the dirty dishes pile up for up to several days … until there were no spoons or plates or glasses left. I could let the dirty laundry pile up until I had no more clean underwear. I could let the clean laundry pile up in baskets waiting to be folded or hung up until I actually needed something in the bottom of the basket (hopefully it was just a towel or underwear… shirts and skirts would be way past just hanging up, and would have to be ironed—a chore I hated more than laundry folding!) I could have a bedtime snack while watching TV in the living room, and get up and walk away leaving the empty potato chip bag and empty pop bottle sitting on the floor next to the couch. After all, I was tired. It would take all of a whole minute to pick them up and take them to the kitchen! Better to let it go until I was fresh in the morning.
There were, of course, times of regret that I would let things pile up—especially when the water pipes in the house would freeze for several days in a Michigan winter! If this happened JUST before I had planned to get caught up with those big piles of dirty laundry, or that sink and counter full of dirty dishes, I was obviously in a horrible bind.
But that didn’t happen often enough to put the fear in me. So it was quite a while—decades, actually—before it dawned on me that there were other repercussions of my procrastination in housekeeping.
For those born neat, what I say next may sound strange. I wouldn’t blame them. It sounds strange to me now too. But the reality is that I woke up one day and realized I DIDN’T like living in a pig-sty. Clutter had been subconsciously bothering me for years, leaving me feeling stressed and cranky. Dishes piled in the sink and on the counter, dirty clothes spilling out of laundry hampers, and empty chip bags and sticky bowls that once held ice cream and chocolate sauce sitting next to the couch were sapping the life out of me. But I misinterpreted my feelings as being caused by anything other than my cluttered environment. I don’t know what changed that one day, but I suddenly realized that instead of being “free” to do my housework however and whenever I felt like it, I was actually in physical and emotional bondage to my clutter.
At that point I began a struggle to try to overcome a life-long habit. More years went by … I devoured every book I could get my hands on regarding my problem: Clutter’s Last Stand, The Messies’ Manual, Sidetracked Home Executives, and many more. Each one helped a little. They particularly helped me in learning to let go of unneeded “stuff.” But I still struggled with the daily need to “keep ahead” of the mess. The temptation was always there to postpone even the smallest little chore until tomorrow.
I can’t tell you that I have overcome to the extent that Good Housekeeping will be featuring my home in a photo spread any time soon. But I can tell you that a few years back I had a breakthrough. It didn’t come from a book, it came from a sudden Ahah moment I experienced, when I discovered the Principle of YesterMe.
I used to exclaim sometimes, when getting up in the morning to a towering stack of dirty dishes in the sink, “I wish I’d done those yesterday!” But it never occurred to me that yesterday there was a YesterMe that made a conscious decision NOT to make sure all the dishes were done before going to bed. I guess I had some vague notion that it was sort of just “fate” that those dirty dishes were still in the sink this morning. But one fateful day, in my mind’s eye, I saw YesterMe. Standing in front of the sink eyeing the dishes … and then turning and walking away. And it dawned on me that SHE was leaving them for ME to do! What a thoughtless brat!
I don’t know how long the next step in my thinking process took, but eventually I had an even greater Ahah moment. I could see FutureMe in my mind’s eye! She was looking at a pile of dirty dishes and griping about YesterMe and how selfish she was. And then it dawned on me … the YesterMe for the FutureMe was … ME! Today! Whatever careless or selfish or stupid decisions I made today would tomorrow come back to bug FutureMe.
It was a confirmation of Pogo’s famous saying: “We have met the enemy and he is us.” I looked in the mirror and saw that selfish YesterMe.
I have no idea why this was such a powerful metaphor for me, but from that day on I began making more and more conscious decisions to not “put off until tomorrow what I could do today.” It was no longer just a pious platitude. I could see the consequences. And the consequences, whatever other outcomes they led to, also were going to directly affect Me.
Now when I wander into the kitchen around bedtime and see that there are a pile of dishes left in the sink, I literally envision myself standing in front of that sink tomorrow morning—resenting that selfish YesterMe. Realizing how grateful I am today that yesterday’s YesterMe took care of chores, I am much more inclined to grit my teeth and take a few minutes to finish up the dishes and wipe the counters before heading to bed.
If you have any of the same issues about housekeeping, maybe you will find my metaphor of use to yourself in turning over a new leaf.
But what if you don’t? What if you have had a streak of neatness since childhood that keeps your home ready for that proverbial Good Housekeeping photo spread at all times? I have a surprise for you. The Principle of YesterMe works for situations far beyond physical household chores … on into the emotional and spiritual realms of our lives.
Consider two snippets of scripture: “Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry.” And “ … each day has enough trouble of its own.” Enough “stuff” goes on in any given day to keep us busy dealing with our attitudes and emotions. If we bring into any day worries and concerns about tomorrow … OR troubles we haven’t truly dealt with yet from yesterday, we are burdening ourselves with more than we may be able to handle in one day.
For instance, if I was angry yesterday about some real or imagined offense by someone, and I didn’t deal with it and let it go before going to bed last night … I am inviting my anger into today to add to today’s emotional burdens.
This same concept works with all sorts of issues. Perhaps you realized yesterday that you had hurt someone’s feelings unnecessarily, and meant to contact them to make amends. But the thought of the stress of talking to them and admitting your error caused you to put off dealing with the situation.
What you did was shove the problem forward for FutureYOU to deal with. And FutureYOU is going to look back on YesterYOU and be frustrated that the problem has been shoved onto FutureYOU’s shoulders, adding to the burden of FutureYOU’s day.
It is YOU, today, who should deal with the current problems that come up during the day. Paraphrasing an old saying … “The person I will be hurting most by procrastinating on dealing with today’s problems is … FutureME.”
Yep. The ME of today is going to become tomorrow’s YesterME. I have been striving for years now to take care of today’s emotional, spiritual, and physical obligations as much as possible while it is still today … to give that YesterME a good reputation!