Thursday, March 24, 2011

Reggie's Top Ten (Little) Rules for Keeping It Together

Reggie recognizes that there is but a thin line for many of us between managing the myriad challenges and responsibilities of day-to-day life and having it all careen out of control into one big messy collapse.  After all the years he has been on this planet, stumbling about, Reggie has learned that when he keeps on top of the little things in his life—at least the ones that are in his control—he is better equipped to also manage the bigger challenges that inevitably come his way.

Over the years Reggie has come up with a list of ten (little) rules that he endeavors to follow in his daily rounds, and which he finds are helpful in "keeping it together" when managing his day-to-day existence.  They are, you will agree, very basic rules, and ones that many of our mothers taught us when we were children (or in the case of Reggie's mother, MD, drilled into him, because he was—admittedly—a rather slow learner of such things).

Herewith, Dear Reader, I share my list of top ten (little) rules in the hope that you will find them, at best, interesting or, at worst, mildly diverting.

1.  Make Your Bed
Every morning before I get on with my day, I make our bed.  It doesn't take much time, and I feel more in control of my life when I do it.  And you will too.  The bed doesn't have to be made with military precision or gussied up as if for a photo shoot for a decorating rag—just pull up the sheets and blankets, plump the pillows, and smooth out the covers.  It is far more pleasant and satisfying to walk into a bedroom at the end of the day where the bed has been made than to be confronted with an unwelcoming mess of tangled sheets and wrinkled pillows.

This young Miss knows that making her bed is a good daily
habit and can be done in a jiffy, too!

2.  Wash and Put Away the Dishes
I find that keeping a tidy kitchen is quite satisfying, and it is one of those (rare) tasks where I actually see tangible evidence of my efforts—something that is often lacking in my workaday life.  A kitchen that is chronically full of dirty dishes and unwashed pots and pans is a sure sign of depression and despair, of a life out of control.  It is okay to go to bed without finishing washing every dish and utensil, but I try never to leave the house the next day without having done so.  It is far better to come home to a tidy kitchen than to a messy one.

Washing up after a meal can be a pleasant way to spend
"quality time" with one's loved ones

3.  Hang Up Your Clothes and Put Away the Laundry
It drives me crazy when clothes mount up in our bedroom, whether clean or dirty, as it makes me feel out of control.  When I change my clothes I hang them up, put them away, or put them in the hamper.  Furthermore—as far as I’m concerned—laundry isn’t finished until it’s been properly put away.  Also, I endeavor to be a good citizen, mindful of the environment, and I return the wire hangers our dry cleaning comes home on when I next drop off clothes at the cleaners.

One really does feel so much better
when one's clothes are properly cared for

4.  Tend to the Mail
It is alarmingly easy to let the mail build up, accumulating in stacks scattered around the apartment or house.  Don't let that happen!  You’ll feel a lot better about it (and yourself) if you buy a basket or canvas bag to keep it all in one place, and then sort it at least once a week, segregating bills from periodicals and personal mail, and then putting the rest into recycling.  I hate it when my unopened mail uncontrollably piles up.
This is the unfortunate consequence of
allowing one's mail to get out of control . . .

5.  Get Your Hair Cut
It is important to stay on top of one's appearance, and one's hair is a critical aspect of doing so.  Being a "hair-challenged" fellow, I endeavor to get what hair I have left cut at least every two weeks, and I am unhappy when I procrastinate doing so.  Don’t let yourself go too long between haircuts, gentlemen, because it looks slovenly.  Also, for those of you with more hair than Reggie has (and this applies to both men and women), please rethink the appropriateness of your hairstyle every now and then.  Look at yourself in the mirror with a gimlet eye from time to time and check and see if that hairstyle that looked so good on you when you were in high school or college remains flattering today.  It most likely doesn’t anymore.

These men know that appearances really do count!

6.  Men Over Forty: Shave
Just as it is important to stay on top of one's hair, I believe men over forty—such as Reggie—really should shave every day, like it or not.  That's because there are few of us on the far side of forty who actually look good in a stubble.  Contrary to what you might tell yourself, gentlemen, that grizzled mug of yours makes you look more like an escapee from an ICU, or the neighborhood drunk, than the village heartthrob.  Leave the sexy stubble to the boys under forty or to the rare movie star who can still carry it off.  If you don’t like wet-shaving on weekends, buy yourself an electric razor.  And use it.

A clean-shaven man has a decided advantage
in getting ahead in today's cutthroat world

And here's an alternate rule for the ladies:

Women Over Forty: Pay Attention to Your Roots
Nothing says “I’ve given up” like an inch of gray roots when the rest of your hair is (or once was) dyed chestnut brown.  Ladies, do yourself (and us) a favor and either keep up with coloring your roots, or let your hair go gray.  It's one or the other.

7.  Wear Clean, Cared-For Clothes
I endeavor never to leave my house or apartment wearing dirty, unkempt clothes.  While this is hardly shocking news, I am routinely surprised by the number of people I see out and about wearing filthy jeans, stained shirts, and—in the winter—grimy or soiled outerwear.  One can be forgiven for wearing inappropriate or threadbare clothing, but never dirty clothes.  The sole exception is when one is wearing garments that have become soiled by one's honest, dirty labors, such as from gardening or cleaning out the garage, and where a quick related trip to the local garden center or hardware store is required.  Reggie is not saying that he believes one should only be seen in public wearing one's finest, but rather that one must endeavor only to wear clean clothes.  And yes, that means doing laundry.

A freshly laundered and well-ironed shirt attests to the
upstanding character of its wearer

8.  Take Care of Your Shoes
Shoes are the first thing that most people look at when sizing up their wearer, and nothing says "slob" more than badly cared for, unpolished shoes, worn down at the heel.  Good leather shoes are expensive, so take care of them!  Also, please put your sneakers through a wash cycle every now and then, and replace them when they are worn out.

It is important to inculcate our children
with good habits when they are young

9.  Keep Your Car Clean
A dirty, ill-kempt car full of trash, detritus, and junk does not reflect well on its driver, to put it mildly.  I take pride in taking care of our cars, and that means keeping them clean and tidy.  I have ours washed and vacuumed regularly, and I don’t allow their interiors to become filled with empty water bottles, food wrappers, or refuse.  A clean and neat car—whatever its age, make, or model—says that its driver is in control of his life; a dirty one announces that he is not.

This man knows that when it comes to his automobile,
appearances speak volumes about its owner

10. Be on Time
I make a point of aiming to arrive on time for my appointments, both professional and personal.  That doesn't mean that I seek to arrive early or am weirdly obsessed with being punctual, but I do make the effort to arrive when I say I will.  That's because I believe it is a sign of respect for the person I am meeting with and the commitment I have made.  It's okay to be five or ten minutes late from time to time—life happens—but people who are chronically late are in one of two camps: those not in control of their lives or selfish souls lost in their own worlds, oblivious to the lack of respect that such tardiness shows for the persons they have agreed to meet.  I feel better about myself when I am on time for my appointments.  And if I know I'm going to be more than five minutes behind schedule I call the person I'm meeting to let them know I'm running late—it's the least I can do.  (Note: this rule does not apply to attending most private parties where it is acceptable—if not actually preferred—to arrive fifteen-to-thirty minutes after the appointed start time.)

A minute passed is a minute that is gone forever 

And so, Dear Reader, you have Reggie's Top Ten (Little) Rules for Keeping It Together, which he endeavors to follow to the best of his abilities in his routine daily life.  Of course Reggie is human and slips up on some of them, and some more often than he cares to admit.  But I do try and stay on top of them, and I do stay at it.  For I find that when I am successful in keeping on top of these "little" tasks—such as doing the dishes or keeping up with the mail—I am better equipped to meet the bigger challenges in my life as they come along.  And I cut myself some slack when they do.

There are, of course, other (and more important) rules that Reggie strongly believes in, such as cherishing one's loved ones, following through on one's promises, and living within one's means—just to name a few.  However, those are not the subject of today's essay.

Tell me, do you have any (little) rules that you follow that are not on my list?  If so, I'd love to know what they are.

All photographs, except of woman holding shirt, from LIFE Archives; photograph of woman holding shirt courtesy of Getty Images


  1. I absolutely agree with all of what you say. Luckily for me I have someone to take care of 1, 2, 3, 8, (and 9 when I had one). In spite of that, we ensure there are no dirty dishes lying around when our delightful maid is not on duty, (such as at night and during the weekend). When we lived in UK briefly I "kept house" much as you describe, and I think it's important to know how to do these things, and good for the soul to know how to clean a lavatory.

  2. I totally agree on your top ten!!!! It is rules to live by!

  3. In my experience, fingernails speak volumes about the level of chaos/order in one's life. My eyes are always drawn to longish, dirty or ill-kempt nails. I've never had a professional manicure, but I always keep them trim and dirt-free, leaving me with a feeling of being in control.

  4. Columnist: Thank you for your comment. Reggie admits that he doesn't do all of the numbered chores you note all the time (we have help several days a week who fortunately change the sheets/do the laundry/etc.), but he is responsible for doing said chores on the days when there is noone else to take care of them for us. He fully acknowledges that there have been and sporadically continue to be periods in his life when he is responsible for doing all of them all of the time.

    Martha: Thank you.

  5. Anon 8:16: I couldn't agree with you more!

  6. I would heartily second all of these! And I agree with anonymous about nails. I always try to get dishes at least washed and in the drainer before I go to bed.

    The one area where I fall short is in keeping my car clean, but it lives outdoors (no usable garage) and as soon as I wash it, it's dirty again!

  7. Good advice top to bottom! Although on weekends with no plans I occassionally will skip the shave to let my neck have a break from starched collars and scraping....

  8. In full agreement on every count, in particular that of making one's
    bed, which I take a step further when there's time enough, by ironing
    the sheets directly on it. It's a bother, but somehow worth it.

  9. What I have found in my own life, and I think it applies to most of Reggie's Rules, is that when one's visual landscape is tidy and clear, the mental landscape is freer to focus on the Big Matters.

  10. These are good! I believe I must make a copy and post it on my board. Thanks! We all need a little reminder of these simple ways of keeping some order in our already hectic lives! :)
    All the best to you!

  11. i agree especially about the shoes. my father polished his shoes at least once a week and brushed them out every morning before work. he often told me if a lawyer came into his courtroom with shabby looking shoes he considered it a sign of desperation and disrespect.

  12. This is a marvelous list, Reggie, and I too do all of these things for the reasons which you state. What is the most challenging for me is the hair part, as I am the one who gives the males in the house haircuts, a la the 1940s, in a wooden chair, in the kitchen, with scissors and never clippers. I especially appreciate (and agree with) your comment about dirty clothes and honest hard labor.

  13. Reggie,
    I have serious suspicions we were seperated at birth. I have a housekeeper who comes twice a month, and does a fanstastic job, but even so I abide by the same rules and have always been perplexed by those who don't. I too function best when domestic order is in place.

    As far as personal grooming? My personal pet peeves are: badly kept nails on men and women, men with unshaven hair on the back of their neck, people (especially women) who wear baseball caps in an attempt to mask dirty hair. And wearing work-out gear in public. It's gross when you've just come from the gym and laughable when it's your selected outfit for the day!

  14. Hello, Reggie-

    As Flaubert--'Be regular and orderly in your life so that you may be violent and greative in your art."

    cheers, DIANE

  15. If society as a whole took these rules of basic gracious living to heart, the world would be a much happier place! That being said...I fall a bit short on the keeping the car neat and tidy. I'm a traveling art teacher and am forced to keep a whole class room of art supplies in my vehicle....much better than hauling it all out daily and then putting in all back in the morning. I do try to keep it organized and clean but it's a daily battle, And the weather here is a daily battle too...thank heavens the sunny season is right around the bend....less mud and leafy things.

    Two things I do that aren't on your list though they do fall into some of your catagories, is to daily tidy up the bathroom with a quick wipe up of what ever is needed, and also, every evening I do a declutter walk to put the 'little things' away that have either entered or wandered aimlessly, it helps tremendously.
    Thank you for such a motivating list Reggie, it's always good to have a refresher in such things!
    xo J~

  16. I follow all your rules religiously except for #1. I don't make the bed, unless we have visitors. The rumpled all-white linens are romantic.

  17. I must admit that I don't manage to obey most of these but I always brush my teeth twice daily.

  18. Reggie, I'm on time, with purposefully going gray hair. The rest is good enough. However, I find that staying on top of the administration of my life, taxes, health insurance, wills and trusts, leaky roofs, clean furnaces, is equally as important.

  19. Lovely posting and an excellent list! Yes indeed -- another one here was learned the same set of rules from my parents. In fact -- some of my fondest memories are when my parents would stay up into the wee hours of the morning to do clean and do the dishes after one of their parties. They could not stand to wake up to a dirty kitchen! I could them laughing and talking and felt that "All was Right with the World" My late father was always described as a "natty" and "sharp" dresser -- and his person, clothes and hair were always carefully managed. His hat and overcoat were brushed, shoes shined, and pocket hankies were monogrammed and pressed. His pet peeve were men with overgrown neck hair ... and I must say that still bothers me too! LOL!

  20. I also must confess to not keeping the car as clean as I should.

  21. Reggie this is such a great post and I wanted to make a few salient comments; however, I need to make the bed, wash and vacuum the car, get a haircut, manicure and wash my clothes before doing so. I hope you understand. Spring cleaning doesn't leave much time for online socializing. I'll check in when I don't feel guilty.

  22. I am a bit of a car slob. I hate to admit it, but it's because I travel a lot. I have to say that it does feel better to have a clean car. The rest of it, I totally agree with, and those things really do simplify your life and make you feel better. After reading your commentary, I'm now challenged to do better with my car. Thanks.

  23. Note to self: Move to a place where there is a good shoe repair shop within a fifty mile radius.

    Agreed on all counts, although being an antique dealer makes a mockery of the car one...

  24. A very good list.
    I would add: "Reset" the rooms you'll see upon waking up to before heading to bed. There's nothing worse than rising to an unkempt living room for a cup of morning coffee. (We live in a measly 600sqft, so the entire place is visible, and MUST be tidied before bed!)

  25. Reggie: Marry me.

  26. Our maid is lazy and I suspect she drinks a bit too much, but my husband loves me, so I get to stay!

    All excellent rules - one to add - take out the damn trash, all the way out to the trash can, not just hidden from view. Not that I, er, the maid, would ever do that.........

  27. Could we not inch back the threshold of shaving to "at whatever age facial hair appears" for the males? And a note to women concerning coloring their hair: silver (even in your 30's) is very attractive. Do not cover it with silly coloring. Confident men like confident women.

  28. Oh, what a great list of reminders, Reggie! I saw a friend for lunch today and thought to myself that she's a woman who can and should afford to color her hair more often than she does. Hair grows 1" per month (which translates to 2" of gray showing at a part). Women (or men) with a full head of gray hair should not, repeat should not, color their hair a dark brown. Even one week of growth shows in stark contrast to the dye.

  29. I'd just add: always respond as promptly as possible to correspondence from the important people in one's life (friends, family, colleagues), even if only to acknowledge receipt, with a promise of a fuller reply to come. (And yes, I realize there are instances in which a response isn't necessary or even desired, but those are usually self-evident.) Also a sign of respect.

    And on days when one simply can't cope even with grey roots or scuffed shoes, the most important thing is to make sure one's most vulnerable and unconditionally loving dependents are safe, happy, clean, comfortable, in good health, and well-fed, well-exercised, and well-loved. But then, perhaps that's so obvious it need not be stated explicitly.

  30. Thank God I don't own a car anymore! Otherwise, I find myself following the suggested rules most of the time. I have a few of my own, the most salient of which is keeping the closet clean. Bringing order to chaos can be most satisfying.

  31. I read with dreaded anticipation because I knew it would be in there - number 4 is the bane of my existence. Try as I might, I have never been able to gain control over this one area which consistently prevents me from keeping it all together!

  32. Reggie...I flunk ALL of these. Butcept the bed making. Oy. Oy again.

  33. On all 10, I'm a complete failure; I can offer a great disposition, though, but am Edie Beale [either one of them] at heart. I can't figure how a gentleman such as yourself would know how to make a list like this unless you'd snuck a webcam inside my house, where is it, I want it OUT.

    Gasp! The pinups behind the proper little Miss making her bed!

  34. Dear Reggie,

    Maybe this list can serve as inspiration for me! Fun to see that you and your sister don't tend to things the same way! Did you read Highlights for Kids growing up? I loved reading about Goofus and Gallant. You are truly gallant! I am going to try harder, Reggie!

  35. My father-in-law always says "If you can't be on time, be early." Good advice that when I practice it serves me well.

  36. Dear Reggie, what an excellent post. I agree with it all.

    I have a habit of tidying up before I go to bed because I can't deal with any chaos in the morning.

    I do have a cleaner and a dishwasher and I'd have a fit if it went wrong. I totally agree with making the bed, it's so much nicer.

    I need to work on my time keeping. Everyone that knows me lies about what time they want me somewhere - I know it's always 30 minutes earlier.

    Have a wonderful Sunday xx

  37. One rule that has served me well, and that was instilled in me by my father in my long-vanished youth, is to dry your washbasin after every use. (He would tell me to do this, saying "remember, your mother is not a maid".) It does the soul good to examine one's visage in the mirror while in the presence of clean porcelain and gleaming chrome. The same rule can be applied to kitchen sinks, too.

  38. Reggie, I agree entirely.
    I'm off to dye my roots!

  39. ohmylord, i'm guilty of not upholding a majority of your rules. except for making the bed. a mascara wand is handy for covering those roots. and shaving. (let's hope i don't need to shave....)

  40. Am I the only one who thinks it unique -- not that there is anything wrong with it -- that the Bobby Soxer has girlie pin-ups over her bed?

  41. the best rule is 'cherishing one's loved ones'

  42. You are so right on all counts!
    I love a beautiful.
    What is the point of living in a mess?

  43. Off to sort the mail!

    Fabulous and sage advice, Reggie.

    E + J

  44. Excellent list, Reggie. I resolve to do better on those rules where I've failed. Such as the clean car rule.

    Regarding the pin-ups in the room in which the young girl is making up the bed..........

    I suspect the LIFE photographer had her making up the bed in her brother's room.


  45. Clean and floss my teeth...write thank you notes, call my mother, and keep up with the laundry!

    My car however...needs a makeover...needs a wash, wax and a vacuum!
    We cannot do it all Reggie!

  46. If only they taught this in public schools in our Republic. However, we can't have that can we, judging others?

  47. #2 Reminds me of Annette Funicello on the Mickey Mouse club singing:

    Beauty is as beauty does
    That’s what wise men say
    So if you would be beautiful
    Do this every day
    Stack up all the dishes
    And do them in a wink!
    No one can be beautiful
    Beside a dirty sink!!

    I’ve solved that little problem by not hanging out next to my kitchen sink, because there are always dishes in it.

  48. Hear Hear bravo or is it here here bravo. I Have made my bed today-- on to the sink I sadly admit it has been neglected. My hair, yes I will cut my hair for the holidays -- much easier to date a photo by a new hair style don't you agree?


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