You drive through once-bustling neighborhoods to find deterioration. Families once laughed in its rooms and couples grew old together. Then, the community changed.
The first visible signs of blight are the broken windows.
Malcolm Gladwell popularized a theory of crime prevention called “the broken window theory.” The view says if a neighborhood starts to decays, the broken windows become a silent signal.
Some argue crime moves into areas which have more broken windows. When a neighborhood starts cleaning up and fixing the broken windows, crime tends to fade away and find another suitable environment. (Not all experts agree with this theory.)
This theoretical discussion of urban blight sounds so distant from ordinary human daily experience, yet it bears further examination.
I stumbled across a similar view in Gordon MacDonald’s book Ordering Your Private World. He observed his own life that when his car (his public world) started becoming cluttered, he would ask, “what is happening in my private world?” Many times the outer life is the reflection of a deeper problem.
I found a practical application in a podcast by Gretchen Rubin. She referred back to the crime prevention theory but applied it to life.
Broken windows are the little nagging things, usually left undone. They don’t mean much by themselves. We notice them, but they don’t irritate us enough to do something about them.
Usually, these little “undone” things create friction and drag in life. A small alarm goes off in the subconscious, not enough to get upset, but enough to get a little notice.
Sometimes, they even speak the words I need to start” doing that.” They don’t usually break up marriages, but can cause” that hint of “why doesn’t he/she do something about that?”
For some, it is things like not pushing drawers or cabinets closed. It can be dirty dishes in ” the sink.”
Everyone has their personal and private list of “broken windows.” If you started to fix them, life gets smoother.
With this, I made a list of my broken windows. None are sinister, immoral, or illegal. They are merely the little-undone things that create a spiritual wince.
So what are my “broken windows?” Here’s the list (so far).
- I prepare my breakfast each morning. I wash the pans but leave them drying on the side to put up later.
- Clothes in the dryer that need folding.”
- Drinking coffee and leaving for lunch with the remains of the unconsumed coffee staining the cup.”
- Coming home and taking off my shoes and depositing them on the floor of my closet. (The next morning I have to work around my shoes.)
- Leaving coats handing on chairs.
- Using my inboxes as storage piles.
- Leaving notes, I had made and completed on the notepad on my desk.
- Letting a little clutter stay in my car.
I have lived my life for several years without any of these being a big problem. They were there as ” something to be done later, ignored, or as a “don’t worry about it.”
I didn’t worry about it, but neither did anything get better.
Somewhere, there was a nagging whisper in my life.
So I started collecting ” the shards of glass littering my life.
- I dry the pans and put them up in the morning before I go to work.
- I fold clothes before bed. (Usually, there’s something we both need the next day.)
- I look at my desk and see the coffee cup and clean It out and put it up.
- I hang up my coat.
- I put the shoe trees in my shoes when I take them off and put them on the shelf. (That takes an extra 10 seconds in my life.)
- I take time at the end of the day to clean out inboxes and decide what to do the next day.
Take the stuff out of the car when I get out of it. (Then I don’t have to make a second trip to the car.)
There is nothing earth-shattering about that list. Nothing on it puts me in the hospital or consumes a day off.
Cleaning my broken glass helps me feel better. I know that what should be done was done. I am at ease, and a little better about myself.
The writer of the letter to the Hebrews said we should “throw off everything that hinders.” (Hebrews 12:1) It is the stumbling blocks that trip life up. Shouldn’t you remove as many impediments as you can to live a more fulfilling life?
Make a list of the little nagging things and start repairing your life’s broken windows. See what happens. Your list might start growing, as mine has.