As a young boy, Mark Twain took a steamboat trip down the Mississippi River. He was a typically curious lad, and his wanderings led to the engine room. He had never seen a dirtier place in his life. Slimy oil and bilge water covered the floor around the bottom of the engine. Dirty, greasy rags were strewn about the floor, and grease that had been collecting for years covered the engine. The sight of that room was unforgettably repulsive to him.
Years later he happened to be on the same boat again and retraced the steps he had taken as a boy. Once again he visited the engine room. This time an incredible contrast met his eyes. Gone from the floor were all the oil and bilge water. The filthy rags had disappeared. All of the grease had been wiped from the engine; the brass and copper parts had been polished until they gleamed!
Sitting next to the engine was a man with one of the most pleasant expressions Mark Twain had ever beheld.
Commending the engineman on the tremendous improvement that had taken place, Twain asked how such a startling contrast could be accounted for. The old engineman replied, “Mr. Twain, I’ve got a Glory.”
His glory, he said, was having the finest engine room on the Mississippi River. Without doubt, he had succeeded.
Think what could happen if every member of the Church had a glory in and around his home.
The First Presidency recently felt impressed to send a directive to all members of the Church which said, in part:
“We earnestly call upon members of the Church everywhere to clean up and beautify their homes, surroundings, farms, and places of business.
“Our homes and our buildings are showcases of what we believe. They should be attractive and give every indication of cleanliness, orderliness, and self-esteem.”
The Church leads the way for us through its attractively constructed and beautifully maintained buildings and grounds. Our temples and their accompanying visitors centers throughout the world are a delight to the eye as well as an inspiration to the soul. The handsome Church administration buildings in Salt Lake City with their lovely surroundings—brilliant flower gardens and lush shrubs and trees, all meticulously maintained—are a compliment to the entire Church. Certainly they cause many visitors to “open the package,” so to speak, to see what’s inside. These are some of the fruits by which others begin to know us.
Few people, comparatively speaking, however, will ever visit our impressive main office buildings. But almost everyone knows where the members of the Church live in his neighborhood. When our homes and yards reflect the spirit of industry and progressiveness, which is part of the gospel plan, friends and neighbors can’t help being attracted. Conversely, neglected, run-down dwellings turn people away.
In our great concern to share the gospel with the world, it’s important to remember, however, that missionary work begins at home. The best candidates for conversion are our own children. They, too, must like what they see. The gospel has to work as far as they’re concerned, or they’ll look for something else.
So a home should serve each family member effectively, as well as present the gospel in action to the neighborhood, whether it be a family of one or a family of many.
It doesn’t matter if the home is old or new, large or small, an apartment or a mobile home, rented or owned, surrounded by 40 acres of farmland or with just a window box as a garden.
Maintaining a home and garden well does not necessarily require money, but rather interest and ideas, time and effort, and tender loving care on everyone’s part. For example, what many yards need is a consistent plan for mowing, edging, trimming, and weeding. Yards that have become overgrown can be improved when some of the shrubbery is cut back or pruned. In some instances it should even be completely removed. Other yards that haven’t yet fully developed can be greatly enhanced with appropriately arranged trees, shrubs, and flowers. Neighbors are usually very happy to share some of their perennial flowers with you as they thin them from time to time, and learning to plant from seeds is money saved over purchasing plants from a nursery. Frequently nurseries have seasonal and holiday sales that make plantings available at substantially reduced prices.
How does your home look to the passerby? Is there a fence, a garage door, or a window screen that needs mending? What about any trash that should be hauled away?
If you live on a farm, is there an old shed or some obsolete equipment creating an eyesore? Would a new coat of paint be helpful in some areas? Speaking of painting, we know a man who meets the challenge of keeping his home painted by painting one side of it each year, thus completing the job every fourth year. He enthusiastically recommends this plan because it avoids an overwhelming outlay of time and money in any one year. And his home always looks good.
The insides of our homes need to reflect the gospel at work, too. It has been impressive to us on a number of occasions to observe what clever, creative, ambitious newlyweds often do to make a house into a home. With very little money, they work wonders. Old, worn furniture is transformed through refinishing and retouching. A large container such as a cardboard box suddenly lends cheer to the room when a bright piece of fabric is thrown over it and a floral arrangement placed on top. Cheerful curtains, colorful toss pillows (both of which can be homemade), selected items from Relief Society work days, and lush indoor plants lend a great deal of charm. Interesting, well-arranged wall groupings give a home personality.
Maintaining a home is, of course, everyone’s job, although generally speaking, it’s the man’s job to make a house livable and the woman’s task to make the living enjoyable. But it has to be a joint effort. A woman finds it much easier to keep her home neat, for instance, if her husband builds the needed shelves or storage area.
And if you add cooperation and assistance from children to the parental effort, you have a remarkable team at work.
A home should be much like the old-time apprentice shop where young people learned skills from masters through working side-by-side with them. This accomplished two things: the masters received some helpful assistance and young people gained some valuable skills. Certainly we need our children’s help in maintaining a home and a garden, and they need to learn the skills, procedures, and self-discipline they eventually will use in their own homes.
It’s fortunate for everyone when children help with the daily routine of the home and yard. This isn’t difficult if they’ve been given early and consistent teaching by wise parents so that it’s their habit to be clean and neat. They should grow up putting away their toys and books, hanging up their clothes, making their beds, and leaving their rooms in order. (At our house, children don’t leave for school or begin to play until this has been done.) It should also be part of the children’s day, as they become old enough to do so, to assist with such duties as kitchen cleanup, bathroom cleaning, vacuuming, dusting, sweeping, emptying wastebaskets, and lawn mowing and edging.
It’s also important that children assist with special projects and assignments. Regular family “work-ins” can be fun as well as beneficial. A “work-in” might be a closet- and drawer-cleaning project, heavy housecleaning, painting, window washing, planting or harvesting a garden, building a fence, laying a brick path, or building a picnic table.
The game “Twenty Pick-Up” is one way to get a family team into action. If the family room is cluttered with toys and game pieces, everyone picks up 20 things. Or if the yard needs weeding, all family members, with spades and bags, converge to pull 100 weeds each.
A “Family-Fix-It-Night” several times a year is what every home needs. Dad and the boys handle repair jobs while Mom and the girls mend clothes or assist the men.
It’s a good idea if all of these occasions are topped off with rootbeer floats, popcorn, or some other treat. Successful families work together and then play and grow together.
Maintaining clean, orderly, beautiful homes and surroundings does much more than just make good impressions. When a home reflects tender loving care, everyone benefits. One’s self-esteem is enhanced. Children who see that their parents do their best and excel in their work are usually motivated to do likewise. (And it follows: parents who are slothful and lazy often produce children who are inclined to be that way.)
An orderly home can encourage creativity—supplies are easily located, work surfaces and areas are available, and there is a general feeling of progress and excellence permeating the household. Pleasant physical conditions bring out the best in people—patience, thoughtfulness, courtesy, and love are common results. Perhaps Sir Winston Churchill had some of these things in mind when he said: “We shape our houses, then our houses shape us.”
It is our responsibility wherever we go to teach the world—and our children—about the gospel of Jesus Christ. It’s our responsibility at home to show them that it works.