Keeping Your Room Tidy in 2018

“Sometimes when I consider what tremendous consequences come from little things, I am tempted to think there are no little things.”

Wars have started because of train timetables and poor grammar.

Every single life’s very existence is dependent on a billion little moments and decisions having gone a certain way for the past million years.

In the face of the unlimited, overwhelming importance of all the little things, the ephemeral ‘big things’ we spend time worrying about – the ANC, Trump, and your credit card – should tend to fade away just a little bit.

Probably the most important public intellectual of our time – anti-political correctness psychologist, Jordan Peterson – speaks about the advice he gives to young people about how to live their lives properly.

It’s a mere three words“Tidy your room.”

(The other pieces of advice he gives are equally brief – ‘Find the hidden treasure’, and ‘Slay the dragon’ – words of wisdom we’ll get into in later pieces.)

To sum up, Peterson reckons you can only take hold of, fix, sort out, what is in front of you. That’s quite a mystical thing. We grab infinity in the finite.

Elsewhere he puts it in a different way, alluding to Carl Jung – “The reason we can’t see God is because we don’t look low enough.”

Once you look at the little things, and straighten out your space, you create a kind of map or pathway to move through, and other things can begin to happen.

The challenge that Peterson doesn’t identify, though, is the fact that for many people they have never had a model or structure for them to use when working out how to tidy their own rooms.

The point Peterson makes is that a room has to reflect what you need to do with your life – the clothes you need to wear, the rest you need to get to have the energy to do the things you need to do.

Once you’ve got the functionality sorted, you can make the space have a kind of beauty, and if, as Dostoevsky wrote, beauty will save the world, a beautiful space to sleep and rest is surely a powerful asset to have in this world.

Knowing that is the hard part.

When I used to teach quite a few township boys who had no fathers in their lives, I often wondered how difficult it would be for them to grow up, get a job and a house, and live a routine, structured life, when they had never seen a father do that for them.

Tradition often gets a bad rap in our time – but the whole point of tradition is to secure the wisdom of the past. As GK Chesterton put it, tradition is ‘the democracy of the dead’. And the traditions you don’t understand are the only ones you should never destroy – because you never know what complex role they may be playing in the delicate balance of order within human society.

In other words, telling young or older people to reinvent themselves and find their passion may be some pretty unbalanced, and unbalancing, advice. Being human is not radically different for each person. We’re a species, and so we share an essence or form – indeed the word species comes from the Latin for ‘form’.

But if we have a basic structure, with the freedom to adapt within that structure, then we can see a path forward for our lives.

The first step to walk that path is to get our own space in order.

Free varsity fees, a few more percentage points in our GDP, aren’t ever going to affect our lives as much as trying to get our homes sorted and our daily routine positive and ordered.

But the point I’m trying to make was probably best said by that great historical character as he appears in the TV show, The Crown, Sir Tommy Lascelles, the royal private secretary.

Toward the end of the first season, the Queen wants to carve out a piece of her own identity amidst all the royal protocol by choosing Sir Tommy’s successor herself, and not going with the man next in line.

Sir Tommy disagrees. In fact, individuality is incredibly dangerous to a royal house, and is what led to her uncle’s disastrous abdication.

He explains:

I served your uncle, as you know. And it’s in the small things that the rot starts. Do the wrong thing once, it’s easier to do it again. Do the individualistic thing once, it is easy to do it again. Now, in the case of your uncle, it started with wanting to use Buckingham Palace simply as the office and York House as his home. Then he stopped attending church, decided he wanted to sell Sandringham. He dismissed courtiers who’d served under his father in favour of younger, sycophantic supplicants. Of course, no one saw the abdication coming then, but the ego, the wilfulness, the individualism, the rot had set in.

In her position, Elizabeth is learning that the great act of service is not to assert one’s personality. As her grandmother tells her before she dies, “To do nothing is the hardest job of all.”

Of course all of these ideas require context and prudence, but in our age of ‘being ourselves’ and thus captive to a manifold chance desires, finding a little structure, doing the small things well, can become a path to being truly free.