The Organized Heart
A Woman's Guide to Conquering Chaos
“Packs a gracious punch, full of insight about our disorganized hearts and lives, followed by the balm of gospel-shaped hope.”
– Carolyn McCulley, author, blogger, filmmaker
“Encouraging & uplifting rather than guilt-driven, it can help women who know that adding a new method is not enough.”
– Matt Perman, Former Dir. of Strategy, Desiring God
“A fresh new approach, and one I recommend”
– Aileen Challies, Mom of three, and wife of Tim
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Description & Excerpts..SHARE..
The fight against chaos is universal, whether it be the outward chaos of disorder and frenzy or the inward chaos of fear and self-criticism. Even if we already know how to do better, something falls apart between our good intentions and getting it done.
Most books on organization just add more rules to your life, whether it be another plan, another calendar, or another method. This book will show you a different, better way that is grounded in the grace of God.
Jesus taught that true change doesn’t come by the addition of more rules, but from the inside out, with a change of the heart that only the gospel can bring. When you identify the heart problems behind the chaos in your life, lasting change can happen. This will not only reduce the stress in your life, but help you be more effective in your service to God.
About the Author
Staci Eastin is a writer living in Missouri. She and her husband, Todd, have been married since 1994 and are the parents of three children.
Table of Contents
1) Our Story
6) Special Circumstances
7) Where to Begin
CHAPTER ONE: OUR STORY
Just two days before Christmas, and I was terribly behind. We expected to leave town in thirty minutes and I had just started packing. Todd, my husband, went to get gas, hoping that by dividing the chores we could still get away on time. Meanwhile, I frantically dug through baskets of clean laundry, hoping to find enough matching pairs of socks to see my preschool-age son through the week. Each glance at the clock revealed that I would not finish in time.
I began a mental list of all the reasons I wasn’t ready. I don’t remember now what they were, but I’m sure I drew from the stock of excuses I always used: unexpected events, needy children, unreasonable demands from others. But as Todd returned, conviction washed over me. None of my excuses were lies, but I wasn’t being completely honest. Because while my week had brought a few surprises, I had still managed to find time for plenty of other things—less important things.
When Todd returned home and walked into our bedroom, I looked him in the eye and told him the truth. I was running late because I hadn’t prepared. It was all my fault.
I must have eventually finished packing, because we did make it to our parents’ homes for Christmas that year. And Todd, who has always been incredibly patient with my slap-dash housekeeping, spent the rest of his vacation cheerfully helping me return the house to order.
I wish I could say that my story of holiday chaos was just that—a season, and an unrepeated one—but I can’t. One year later I was running errands and half-listening to a Christian radio program about New Year’s Resolutions. Listeners called in and listed the changes they wanted to make in the coming year: lose weight, quit smoking, spend more time with their families. At each stoplight I glanced at my to-do list, checking off anything recently accomplished, but also adding new tasks as they occurred to me. As the uncompleted items piled up faster than the completed ones, I once again felt the pressure of too much to do and too little time to do it in. Suddenly I heard the host ask the radio audience to think of our own resolutions, and I tearfully whispered, “I want to be more organized.”
You may think I was being too hard on myself. Christmas is a busy time, and it’s only normal to feel stressed and rushed then. But that season simply placed a spotlight on a constant reality. My problem with disorganization seemed more apparent during Christmas, but the problem was always there. In fact, my entire adult life could be described as a series of unfinished good intentions: notes and cards never sent (or even bought), dinner parties never thrown, kind words never spoken, calls never made, help never given.
So I come to you as someone who must fight to stay organized every day of her life.
In Pursuit of an Organized Home
My mother and my grandmothers were industrious women who showed me that organization is possible. They managed to keep clean houses, work, volunteer, and still have ample time for family, rest, and leisure. In an effort to be more like them, I have read countless books on home organization, and I own more planners than any person could ever need. I’ve tried lists, notebooks, note cards, and filing systems; I’ve posted schedules and spreadsheets; I’ve bought drawer organizers and closet systems. While all these things helped for a time, none brought the lasting change that I sought.
The systems, after all, require implementation, but my disorganized heart can corrupt a perfect rule and refuse a generous teacher. I can shove unfolded t-shirts into beautiful closet shelves or justify fudging on a sensible daily schedule. But the systems I tried don’t get to the heart of why I do that. Most of these books and tools assume that disorganization stems from lack of skill. If I would just follow a certain system, I could enjoy a life of organized bliss. I could float through my spotless house, sail to all my appointments on time, and never feel stressed or rushed again.
Other books blamed my disorganization on childhood traumas or family dysfunctions. Surely my parents had loved me too little (or too much), had praised me too little (or too much), or had disciplined me too little (or too much). If none of those things applied, perhaps I had a chemical or hormonal imbalance. Regardless of the cause, it certainly wasn’t my fault.
Other books tried to tell me how lucky I was to have a house to clean. Housekeeping could be such fun; I just didn’t know it yet.
I’ve come to see my disorganization as no lack of skill or knowledge. I know how to keep a home, as I watched that done well all through my growing-up years. And since I already lacked the self-discipline to organize the tasks I knew needed doing, the additional task of filling out a chart or planner just became one more thing to distract me from my priorities. Failing the system seemed inevitable.
Pop-psychology didn’t help either. Blessed with a happy childhood and loving parents, I can’t blame anyone else for my failures: I know my parents taught me better. Nor could I blame any physical problem, for I am in the best of health, and I’ve always managed to find lots of time, energy, and ability to complete tasks I want to complete.
As for housekeeping being fun? Some of my friends like to vacuum and others enjoy ironing. I have one friend who thinks cleaning out a closet is a fun way to spend a free afternoon (I worry about her). I’ve always taken great satisfaction in dusting—as long as I don’t have to clear clutter beforehand. Pleasure in housekeeping seems subjective, then. It is a necessary task, and some enjoy some pieces of it but simply do the rest. Just as we have different abilities and talents, we will always find some tasks more interesting than others. Why cleaning the toilets must be fun is beyond me, but they still must be cleaned, and organizing my days so that such tasks can be accomplished is important.
So the real question is why I don’t organize my days to do what I believe is important and what I do, in fact, have the skills and training to do. The answer is that I have a motivation problem. I do what I do not want to do—and I do not do what I want to do.
In Pursuit of an Organized Heart
Naturally organized people gain satisfaction from getting their work done quickly without procrastinating. They have learned to budget their time so that they don’t take on more commitments than they can handle. They can easily whittle down their possessions to fit the amount of storage in their homes. When unexpected things come up, they prioritize between the urgent and non-urgent.
And then there is the rest of us. We know we shouldn’t put required tasks off until the last minute, but something more pressing (or more fun) always seems to come up first. We know we shouldn’t take on yet another commitment, but everything seems so important, and we don’t want to let anyone down. Our closets, drawers, and garages overflow with extra stuff, but when we try to clean out, we can’t part with any pieces. Some of us may even have spotless homes, but we’re exhausted. We feel like we work all the time without any free time to relax and enjoy life the way other people do.
Secular psychologists tell us that we do these things because in our minds the pay-off for disorganization is greater than the benefit of organization. We procrastinate because we don’t want to do what needs to be done now. We over-commit because saying “No” hurts. We gain excess possessions because we prefer the certainty of having too much to the possibility of not having enough. We seek perfection because contentment feels like compromise. In other words, despite the fact that our lives are spinning out of control, in our twisted minds we believe that living this way is more pleasurable than taking steps to fix the problem.
I think those psychologists are partly right. The disorganization in my life was not due to lack of knowledge or skill and it was not due to a problem in my childhood. Rather, it’s a broken belief system: a heart issue, a sin issue. At the end of the day, it’s idolatry.
That may sound awfully harsh. You want this book to help you organize your life, not lay more guilt and shame at your feet. Being disorganized may be unhandy, but it’s just your personality, right? It’s certainly not a sin.
Or is it? Disorganization steals your joy. It causes you to go through your life frazzled and stressed. It causes friction with your husband and makes you snap at your children. It makes you perform ministry tasks grudgingly. It prevents you from developing friendships, because you’re always rushing from one task to the next. You don’t feel like you’re doing anything well, let alone to the glory of God.
The Bible is clear that as Christians, God has appointed tasks for us to do (Ephesians 2:9-10). We should do everything we do with all our heart because we do it for the Lord (Colossians 3:23). As women, we are instructed to care for our homes and families (Titus 2:3-5). Whether we want to refer to our disorganization as personality quirks or sin, we must fight against anything that interferes with our relationship with God.
We never conquer sin by adding more rules. That’s what the Pharisees did, and Jesus chastised them for it. Jesus is interested in more than just outward works; He wants us to perform good works from the overflow of a loving and pure heart. My attempts to get organized always failed because I tried to change my habits without letting the Holy Spirit change my heart. It was only when I saw the sinful motivations behind my bad habits that I could see lasting change in my life.
Starting to Start the Pursuit: Naming the Idols
This book will be different than any other book on organization that you’ve probably read. I have no schedule to offer you, I won’t tell you what day to mop the kitchen floor, and you don’t need to buy a timer. Your standards for an organized home and a reasonable schedule will vary with your personality, season of life, and the needs and preferences of your family.
What I hope to do is to help you examine your heart and discover things that may be hindering your walk with God. My goal is not necessarily for you to have a cleaner home or a more manageable schedule—although I certainly hope that is the case. Rather, my hope for this book is that it will help you serve God and your family more effectively, more fruitfully, and with greater peace and joy.
I can’t promise that the change will be instant or total. The salvation we receive when we accept Jesus as our savior is instant and total, but sanctification—the process of becoming holy, or more like Christ—is a life-long process. Christ’s death on the cross saves us from the penalty of sin, but we still have a sinful nature that we must battle daily. We shouldn’t fall under the impression that holiness will automatically come to us while we sit and watch television. Holiness is something we must strive for (Hebrews 12:14), and we must start in the heart. Identifying the heart issues behind your disorganization will enable you to repent of them. Through the strength of the Holy Spirit, you can rid yourself of these idols (Romans 8:13).
It’s unfashionable these days to talk about sin, and it’s even less fashionable to talk about idolatry. The world likes to tell us that we’re beyond that now. When we honestly discuss the sinful attitudes behind our actions, we are often shushed: “You’re not that bad! Everyone does those things! You need to have better self-esteem!”
But the human heart is the same now as it was in biblical times. We don’t have to bow down to a golden statue to worship idols. When we trust in anything other than God for peace and happiness we are essentially practicing idolatry. Only when we see the idols yet in our hearts can we truly “put off the old self” and “put on the new self” (Colossians 3:5-10).
In this book, I have identified four idols that seem to particularly hinder women from serving God effectively. They are leisure, busyness, perfectionism, and possessions. You may find that you only struggle with one or two, or you may discover that your problems have their roots in all four. I will examine all of them so that you, by the grace of God, can identify where your weaknesses lie, and begin to experience a more joyful walk with the Lord.
1) I’m going to step out on a limb and assume that if you are reading this book, you struggle with staying organized. Which of these areas describe your problem (more than one may apply):
__Lack of knowledge (not knowing what to do)
__Lack of skill (not knowing how to do it)
__Lack of action (just not doing it)
2) In Romans 7:18-20, Paul discusses how he desires to do what is right, but is unable to carry it out. What does he say is the cause of this struggle?
3) We tend to think of idols as physical objects or even literal statues that we bow before. In Colossians 3:5, what else does Paul refer to as idolatry?
endorsements & reviews..SHARE..
“Staci Eastin packs a punch with this short book. But it’s a gracious punch, full of insights about our disorganized hearts and lives, which is immediately followed by the balm of gospel-shaped hopes. It is ideally crafted for use with accountability partners and small groups. In fact, because of our common tendencies to either dismiss the obvious or obsess over failure, I’d definitely recommend reading it in tandem with a faithful friend. Because of the Holy Spirit’s active presence, there is always hope for change. Open this book with that great truth in mind and you’ll find much to ponder!”
“Unless we understand the spiritual dimension of productivity, all our techniques will ultimately backfire. In this book, Staci Eastin has provided that all-important spiritual perspective. Instead of adding new rules, she explains how to keep leisure, busyness, perfectionism, and possessions from becoming idols. Encouraging and uplifting rather than guilt-driven, this inside-out approach can help women who want to be more organized but know that adding another method is not enough.”
Matt Perman, former Director of Strategy at Desiring God, blogger at whatsbestnext.com, and author of the forthcoming book, What’s Best Next: How the Gospel Transforms the Way You Get Things Done.
“Organizing a home can be an insurmountable challenge for a woman. The Organized Heart makes a unique connection between idols of the heart and the ability to run a well-managed home. This is not a step-by-step how-to; instead, Eastin looks at sin as the root problem of disorganization, and strives to help the reader understand biblically how to overcome this problem. She offers a fresh new approach and one I recommend, especially to those of us who have tried all the other self-help models and failed.”
Aileen Challies, Mom of three, and wife of blogger, author, and pastor Tim Challies
“The first and most important book…”
“I dare to say that this is undoubtedly the first and most important book any Christian woman who wants to start living a disciplined and organized life should read.
Through its easy and very engaging prose, the author, Staci Eastin, deals with the issues of the heart that are behind the scenes of the chaos and disorder in a woman’s life. At the same time, she encourages her readers to apply the gospel to the real problem we face when our house seems a mess, and the drawers are upside down and there has been no milk or juice in the fridge for several days: Our sinful nature.
This is a book that starts to deal with a very practical problem the way we should always start dealing with any issue of our daily life: Seeing our sinful nature and applying the good news of the Gospel to every aspect of our life.
Staci Eastin knows the Word of God and applies it to her writing. She knows that we can’t conquer any sin in our life apart from God’s grace. She says,
We never conquer sin by adding more rules. That’s what the Pharisees did, and Jesus chastised them for it. Jesus is interested in more than just outward works; he wants us to perform good works from the overflow of a loving and pure heart. My attempts to get organized always failed because I tried to change my habits without letting the Holy Spirit change my heart. It was only when I saw the sinful motivations behind my bad habits that I could see lasting change in my life.
Holiness is something we must strive for (Hebrews 12:14), and we must start in the heart. Identifying the heart issues behind your disorganization will enable you to repent of them. Through the strength of the Holy Spirit, you can rid yourself of these idols (Romans 8:13).
Staci Eastin points that the real sin behind a disorganized life is a heart issue and one that at the end is idolatry; it is from here that she deals through her book with four idols we have made and more that often bow to them:
In this book, I have identified four idols that seem to particularly hinder women from serving God effectively. They are leisure, busyness, perfectionism, and possessions. You may find that you only struggle with one or two, or you may discover that your problems have their roots in all four. I will examine all of them so that you, by the grace of God, can identify where your weaknesses lie, and begin to experience a more joyful walk with the Lord."
This is a short book (it has only 108 pages), and I would suggest that you read it with your journal at hand, because every chapter closes with a section entitled “Explore” in which the author interacts with her readers posing a few questions and pointing to several passages of the Scriptures (that you need to look up, another thing I appreciate) to dig deeper into the Truth that can set us free.
So, be encouraged, my friends, to read this book before the other one that teaches you “how to organize your closet in 24 days and live happily ever after.”
“Different from any other organizing book you’ll read.”
This is the review in which I tell you to run, not walk, to get this book. I can tell you with great confidence that it’s different from any other organizing book you’ll read. Why?
Because I’ve read most of them.
I have a stack of how-to-get-organized books on my shelf, but you’d never know I’m applying the methods. These are the books my son kids me about, “Is that another book about organizing, Mom?” “Uh, yes, ” I chuckle. Every time I come across another book that promises to show me how to unclutter my life, I’m convinced this will be the one.
Yet I still battle piles of papers, lost socks, and poor use of time. I lose keys and receipts and forget that one item after driving 40 minutes to the store. I start well but don’t maintain. I fail repeatedly to get to the heart of the matter. And this is exactly what Staci Eastin addresses in her book.
Think of The Organized Heart as the primer for an organized life. None of these other methods will stick if you don’t paint these principles on your heart first.
Grounded in Scripture and packing quite the punch in the fewest of words, Staci’s book sets the foundation for lasting change.
Addressed are four areas that cause us to stumble in our search for the organized life:
Staci asks the hard questions. Just where is the balance between excellence and perfectionism? Are you wearing busyness as a “badge of honor” while neglecting your priorities? Are you ruled by wisdom or fear when it comes to your possessions? And many, many more.
I devoured this book, exclaiming, “That’s me!” or “Ouch,” and most of all, “God bless you, Staci!” I was exhorted, admonished, convicted, and inspired by her words. Most of all, I was encouraged to know that my case is not hopeless, and I can conquer the chaos!
This isn’t a magic bullet, though. As Staci reminds us:
“Sanctification is a process. The habits that cause chaos in your life are deeply rooted. You probably won’t conquer them instantly. If you find yourself sliding back into old habits, it doesn’t mean that change is impossible. Christ frees us from the penalty of our sin, but the roots of sin will remain in our hearts, needing to be battled, for as long as we live. But though the presence of sin will linger, you can never exhaust the mercy and grace of God. Every day brings a brand new opportunity to start afresh and bask in His love.”
That’s just one of the many grace notes that fill the pages of this book.
Who should read this book?
The newlywed and the new mother. The seasoned homemaker who is weary and discouraged by her disorganized life and methods that don’t last. The mother and daughter who want to learn together. And even the Born Organized. Because who hasn’t battled the temptation to rest when she should be working, to hold on to things that she really needs to let go of, to waste minutes in mindless activity instead of tending to her priorities?
But I warn you. This is also the book you’ll want extra copies of because you’ll keep giving away yours to your friends. Yes. I’ve already done that.
“I cannot put into words how much this book spoke to me.”
“If you know me, you know that I do like order. BUT to obtain that order and organization in my life is yet to be seen. I want it, but can’t seem to get there. My husband, Brian, makes fun of me all the time because of my list-making tendencies. I love to make a list and check it off when it is completed. I really do desire to be organized, but it just isn’t happening.
I have been reading a book titled The Organized Heart, written by Staci Eastin. I really feel that she had me in mind when she wrote this book. Seriously, I cannot put into words how much this book spoke directly to me. She focuses on 4 different areas of organization; perfectionism, busyness, possessions, and leisure. Staci puts it all out there and really makes it about our hearts that causes us to be dysfunctional in these areas.
So, I am challenging myself to obtain an “organized heart”. I am not going to come up with a new way of organizing my life, but I am going to work on my heart and relationships. It really starts with our relationship with God. I have a relationship, but I want a deeper one. I remember when I was growing up, my dad would always have a quiet time in the morning. I would come downstairs in the mornings and dad would be on the front porch with his Bible and coffee. I want to be that disciplined to set aside a time to spend with God.
I am not a morning person, but I am willing to try to be. I think that I could be if I really wanted to be. The reason that I want to do the mornings is that I want my kids to have an example of a relationship with God. Most of the time right now, I spend time in devotion or reading at night after the kids go to bed. I am realizing that I am missing an opportunity to be an example for my kids as my dad was for me. So, first thing on my list is that this week, I will get up at 6 AM everyday and spend time in God’s word.
On my way to organization…beginning with my heart."
“After church I had to tell the ladies about it.”
In the past twenty-four hours I have read a short book. After church I had to tell the ladies about it, and even one man is going to get it for his Kindle.
Pure Excitement I have for this book by Staci Eastin—The Organized Heart: A Woman’s Guide to Conquering Chaos, published by CruciformPress.com and released in March of this year. This is the kind of excitement I get when I discover something in Scripture that speaks right to my heart. I have needed her book.
Periodically I blog organizing and de-cluttering on this blog. But on my way to organizing the clutter and chaos at home, we had that crash I wrote about last December. After that with sore back and painful hands I could do less about the clutter issues. I did want to. I admire Dolores and others who have their act together at home and they are able to be that caregiver to their husband with an orderly home. Now that I have been released by the chiropractor, I am going to the gym and doing more.
Mrs. Eastin puts heart and faith into what I needed to read. Where does she start? Mrs. Eastin’s book is not about a system. She writes that she had a motivation problem—not a problem of whose system to use. Eastin in this short book deals with four idols. Here are some quotes:
The disorganization in my life was not due to lack of knowledge or skill and it was not due to a problem in my childhood. Rather, it’s a broken belief system: a heart issue, a sin issue. At the end of the day, it’s idolatry… . We never conquer sin by adding more rules… . My attempts to get organized always failed because I tried to change my habits without letting the Holy Spirit change my heart. It was only when I saw the sinful motivations behind my bad habits that I could see lasting change in my life. (pp. 11, 12)
The Idol of Perfectionism
Perfectionism prevents us from living our lives. It prevents us from enjoying our families. It robs us of joy. And most of all, it prevents us from basking in God’s grace and serving in the strength that only he can give. God knows our talents, our energy level, and our resources. He alone is perfect, and he can work mightily, so we can trust him. (p. 31)
The Idol of Busyness
Just because you can do something doesn’t mean God has called you to it… . Fear of man indicates that we find our worth in pleasing others rather than pleasing God. Instead of working to bring glory to God, we hope to bring glory to ourselves… . God is not sitting helplessly in the wings, hoping we’ll come through and help him out. (pp. 35, 36, 39)
My book, Getting Off the Niceness Treadmill, deals with some of these issues of the fear of man and learning to give God the glory. Eastin puts it simply: God is not glorified in the amount of things we get done, the number of spaces we fill on our calendar, or the length of our to-do lists. God is pleased when we serve him with sincere hearts. (p. 41)
The Idol of Possessions
I have tried to study couponing. Eastin points out that it can all lead to hoarding. Mmmm. She writes: Excess possessions will rob you of your peace, add unnecessary stress to your life and hinder your ministry to others. (pp. 51)
The Idol of Leisure
When everyday life is a race from one urgent deadline to the next, we withdraw from open fellowship with God and submission to his will… . The procrastinator loves to hoard her time for herself rather than work diligently on the errands and tasks God gives her… . Many women are addicted to TV, social networking sites, shopping, reading, and other hobbies. While none of these activities are necessarily evil in and of themselves, if you indulge in them to the extent that they prevent you from doing what God has ordained for you to do, they are sin… . Are you a wise steward of your time? Do you prayerfully schedule your days for what God has called you to, including appropriate time for real rest? (pp. 66-69)
In her chapter on difficult circumstances, she doesn’t deal with the Alzheimer’s caregiver. But the author does point out both our responsibility and God’s sovereignty. God, the divine Caregiver, will work things out and we can therefore be content. Unlike FlyLady who has an elaborate system, Staci Eastin at the end of the book gives principles to use after the idols of your heart have been dealt with.
What has this short book done for me? It has freed me to not worry excessively about FlyLady’s lists, couponing or another system from one of my books or magazine articles. If I can pray over my schedule, serve my husband in his lonely journey in Alzheimer’s, serve others as well, and (without guilt) schedule time for my own leisure, then I can have peace and know I am bringing glory to God.
It has always been that one day in heaven, I want Him to say, “Well done, Carol. You knew you could trust Me as your divine Caregiver to take you through your earthly caregiving adventure.”
Staci Eastin blogs at Writing and Living. I am going over to her blog now and thank her.
Carol Noren Johnson, Plant City and Friends
Puritan Performed Theological Seminary has included The Organized Heart in its list of recommended books for seminary wives.