Thursday, July 22, 2010

Helaman on Maintaining Possessions

But behold, our armies are small to maintain so great a number of cities and so great possessions. (Alma 58:32)
The context of this verse is one of war. Helaman the prophet-general is writing to Captain Moroni about his efforts to reconquer and maintain the cities and lands of the Nephites from the Lamanite armies. Helaman afterward asks for more men so that he can do it with greater ease. However, the concerns that he expresses about his army’s ability to maintain a large number of possessions and cities are immediately applicable in home organization.

Too many possessions

In the case of Helaman’s army, the number of cities that they had exceeded the capability of their army to protect. They could have split the army up and sent a mini-army to each city, but each mini-army would have been inadequate alone to protect against the innumerable Lamanite army. Likewise, to bounce between cities depending upon where the Lamanite army threat happened to appear would leave all the other cities unprotected if a second Lamanite army happened to come into the land.

In the case of home organization, we do not know where breakage will occur among our possessions. The more possessions we have, the thinner our attention and time is spread to enjoy them and the less money we can devote to maintaining each of them. For example, our family has a budget that we use for the purchase and repair of all forms of our transportation. We use it to care for two cars, two bikes, and one motor scooter. Recently we just bought a car and sold our oldest one because it was needing repairs more and more frequently and those repairs were increasing in cost. The frequent repairs were taking away from the amount that could be spent on our other car, which also was needing repairs more frequently. Further, the repair costs were drawing down our budget and slowing our saving toward a new car!

Through all of this, my husband has wanted to buy another scooter. I have not been supportive of this because our scooter needs repairs even more often than the oldest car, though scooter repair costs are about a third of a car’s. I see that if we have two scooters, we will essentially double the number of visits to the scooter repair shop and double the expense of scooter upkeep. I knew this would also make it harder to save for a new car.

Too great possessions

In the case of Helaman’s army, great possessions, though they are great, are not simple to protect. They are complex and require many different lines of defense. The more great and complex they are, the more manpower is required to maintain the same level of defense as something smaller and simpler. Large cities require more men for the same functions.

In the case of home organization, the more complex and elaborate our possessions, the more difficult it is to maintain them because there is a greater probability of one of the systems failing. Also, the day-to-day maintenance increases in size and scale so that it takes much more time and energy to do a simple task to the point that there won’t be as much energy left for the other tasks. For example, it takes a certain amount of time and energy to vacuum the carpet in a 2000 square foot house. It takes twice as much time and energy to vacuum the carpet in a 4000 square foot house. After vacuuming the 2000 square foot house, it is not so bad to go and clean the 2.5 bathrooms, but in the 4000 square foot house, after vacuuming twice as much carpet, there is much less energy left over for cleaning the 5 bathrooms. (Yes, larger houses have more bathrooms so that people still have only 30-40 feet to go to find a bathroom from wherever they are in the house.) (Disclosure: Our house is a little over 1000 square feet and only has 1 bathroom… and it still doesn’t get cleaned very often.)

Possessions in too many different locations.

In the case of Helaman and his army, the greater number of locations they had to protect, the thinner their time and energy would be spread, the more difficult it would be to remember what resources they had at each city, and the more they would spend their time traveling instead of actual fighting. If they left one city with plenty of piles of rocks to sling at the enemy, they wouldn’t be able to count on that being there if they had to return to save the city. (The inhabitants would have used those supplies up to a certain extent in trying to hold off a Lamanite invasion.)

In the case of home organization, if you have multiple homes, that means you have to stock that home with the basics of what you need when you get there, and essentially you have just doubled the number of stocking and cleaning tasks you will need to do. If you keep things at different locations besides your primary residence, you will tend to forget what you have and where it is—I know a woman who has this very problem—so you will increase the searching time it takes to find something, unless you can implement some kind of inventory tracking system. Travel time and expense becomes a consideration. (Disclosure: Our family does not own a second residence, but I have made these observations of those who do.)

On the scale of a single home, there has been a trend among organization experts to advocate buying multiples of what tends to get lost. For instance, they say that if the scissors tend to get lost, buy multiple pairs and you will never have to worry again because then you can place a pair everywhere you tend to need one and then they will always be there. I have found that this advice fails in an epic way to take into account the organizational skills (or lack thereof) of the person who complains they can’t find the scissors. I have seen this in action. The person is always using the scissors far away from wherever they are stored, and they never put them back when they are done. They may cut out their sewing patterns using the kitchen scissors in the living room and then shove the scissors out of sight under the couch. They next need scissors in the bedroom to clip some tags from clothes they bought, so they go to the den for scissors and when they are done, they leave them on the bedroom dresser. Then two days later, junior needs the scissors for a school project and can’t find them and everyone has to look for the scissors because none of the pairs are where they are supposed to be. (Alternately, you have one neat person trying to cope while surrounded with a family of messy people in which case they simply need to keep their stuff locked up in one place so they can always find it, otherwise it will always be carried off by the messies who always will want to use the neat person’s stuff because they never have to search for it first.) I have seen similar scenarios play out with reading glasses, writing implements, tape, screwdrivers, and flashlights, to name a few.

From another perspective, multiple things at home mean that space is unavailable for other stuff or other activities. The bigger these objects are, the more of a problem they cause. For instance, in our family, the computers end up in multiple places—den, living room, and dining room. That’s THREE places where computers are in our house. That’s far too many places. (I’m not even getting into why we have this many computers..)

Another example of this multiple-locations-for-things-at-home is that of TVs. Multiple TVs take up space that could be used in other ways. Also, it is impossible to monitor what everyone is watching all at the same time if there are multiple TVs (and/or computers) in multiple rooms in the house. This has some grave implications for the quality of media consumption in families.

In summary, having too many possessions, too complex possessions, and too scattered possessions makes it difficult to maintain them, whether for Book of Mormon armies or for us today. The important lesson we can learn from the above single verse is that it is important to limit our possessions to a number, complexity, and location that will make it easier for us to manage and maintain them.


Roger and LeAnn said...

I think you should write a book. I am amazed at your interpretation of
of the scriptures. I really enjoy reading your thoughts; keep this up. I am learning much!
Blessings to you! LeAnn
PS. I one one of the messes and I don't put things back where they belong. I related to the losing of eye glasses; I'm there.

Michaela Stephens said...

Thanks for your kind words, LeAnn, I'm actually working on a book right now (which I am polishing) on some of my best posts on Christ. I also plan on doing another book of my best Book of Mormon posts.

As for putting things back where they belong, there are two parts to that. First, it helps to give stuff that is used most often a more convenient place that is close to where it is used. Second is learning self-discipline to put things back immediately when you are done with them, even small things. I'm sure you'll figure something out.