The ringing went on and on, and Jamie finally opened his eyes. He rolled over and shut off the noisy alarm. He wanted to stay in bed, but he knew that if he didn’t get up, his mother would come get him. He needed to clean his room this morning. He swung his legs out of bed and jumped on the floor.
“Ouch!” He had banged one of his big toes on a red racing car that was on the floor. He looked around at the clothes on the floor, his train and blocks by the door, and the books on the floor of his closet.
“It just isn’t fair,” Jamie thought. “My room is always messy.” He felt frustrated. “Why can’t I keep my room clean?”
He knew that his big sister, Jill, would ask him the same question. Jill was nine, and it seemed like her room was always clean, her clothes were never on the floor, and her toys were always neatly put away on her shelves and in her toy box. Jamie couldn’t figure out how she did it.
Last week in family home evening, Mom and Dad had talked to the family about goal-setting and asked each person to set some goals for the new year. Jamie decided that his goal would be to keep his room clean. Well, it was the first week of the new year, and already he was failing. He tried and tried to keep his room clean, but it got messed up every time he played in it.
After breakfast, Jamie went back to his bedroom to clean. He decided to drive the toy train around the room to help pick up some toys. He added some blocks and toy cars to the train’s load, then he stopped by the toy box and dumped them all off. Then he stacked up a few books to make a bridge for the train to cross. Before he knew it, he was busy creating new bridges and pathways for the train. By the time Mom called him for lunch, he still hadn’t finished cleaning his room. In fact, it looked worse than it had before! There were even more toys out, and his pajamas had joined the other clothes on the floor.
Jamie walked slowly into the kitchen, dragging his feet and sighing. Mom looked at him. “Jamie, is something bothering you?”
“Mom, I can’t keep my New Year’s goal,” Jamie admitted. “I can’t keep my room clean. I guess I am just too little.”
“Do you mean that your toys are too heavy for you to put away, or that your dresser drawers are too hard to open?” Mom asked.
“No,” Jamie answered, “I’m just too young to keep my room clean. I don’t know how Jill keeps hers clean. She must not play in it very much.”
“I don’t think that’s it.” Mom thought for a minute. “Jamie, I think you need to learn a little bit about how goals work.” She got out a box of graham crackers and a bunch of grapes, then sat down at the table next to him.
“Jamie, what things need to be done to have a clean room?”
He thought for a minute. “Well, my toys need to be put away, and my books should be on the bookshelf. My bed should be made, and my clothes should be in the closet.”
As Jamie named each item, his mom placed a graham cracker on the table. The crackers formed a line.
“And when all of these things are done, your room is clean. Right?”
“Right.” Jamie answered. Mom placed a grape at the top of the line of graham crackers. The graham crackers looked like a pathway leading to the grape.
“OK, Jamie, pretend that the grape is your goal—keeping your room clean—and the graham crackers are things you have to do to reach your goal.” She took one of the crackers away. “What happens if one of these things isn’t done?”
“The crackers don’t reach the grape anymore.” Jamie thought for a minute more. “And I can’t reach my goal.”
“That’s right. See, all it takes to reach a big goal is doing a bunch of little tasks all together. But it’s hard to accomplish your goal if you don’t know what little steps you have to take.” Mom picked up all of the graham crackers and handed them to Jamie. Then she helped him decide what he needed to do to keep his room clean.
“I can make my bed as soon as I get up in the morning,” Jamie said. He put down one cracker. “I can put my books away after I read them.” He put down another cracker. “I can put my toys away after I finish playing with them.” He added another cracker to the line. “And I can put my clothes away after I take them off.” The graham crackers now reached the grape.
“If I do each of these things, one at a time, soon I will reach my goal!” Jamie said excitedly. He grabbed the grape and tossed it into his mouth.
After lunch, Mom and Jamie made pictures of the things he had to do to keep his room clean. They hung the pictures on the back of his bedroom door to remind him. Then Mom helped Jamie clean his room.
The next day, the pictures helped Jamie remember to make his bed before breakfast and to put away his pajamas instead of leaving them on the floor. Jamie smiled. It was nice to have a clean room, but it was even better to know that he could keep it clean all by himself.
“Set … goals that you can reach. … Pray for divine guidance in your goal setting.”
Elder M. Russell Ballard of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, “Keeping Life’s Demands in Balance,” Ensign, May 1987, 14.