Learning to Love the Mess

If you stopped by my house today, unexpectedly, you’d probably find it very hard to believe that I used to be a neat freak. I was. My living space had to be immaculate for a long time. I think it was a coping mechanism I developed as a teenager. I shared a room with a couple other people and I would literally make a line between my area and theirs and mine was always spotless. My bed was perfectly made with my pillows and stuffed animals arranged carefully, and my decorations hung neatly on the walls in a specified pattern.  I could tell if someone sat on my bed while I was gone because the sheets would be “off”.

Then I got married, and while it was more challenging to incorporate the items and habits of another person I was still successful. My home was neat. You could drop in at any time and I felt comfortable and ready to entertain. I was a student in college and worked a part time job, but I could not SLEEP AT NIGHT if there were dirty dishes in my sink or clothes on the floor.  As a result, I may have been a little uptight about the fact that others who lived with me did not share my obsessive need for cleanliness. I may have, but I could sleep at night.

Then we had our first baby. At this point I was in school, and a mother, and working part time at Wal-Mart, and, I still had a clean house. We were in a spacious home with plenty of room and places to use for organization. I could still sleep at night and people could still pop in and not be disgusted by my home. I think I was probably pretty proud of that. I think it was probably a coping mechanism from a previously messy life, and not just messy in the areas of stuff and cleaning, but messy in the areas of actual living. Messy in it’s humanity. A neat orderly home signified it was safe, and quiet, and that people got along, and that there was peace here. I can’t place why or where I started linking the two but I did. I equated yelling, angry, dangerous people with messy homes.

It wasn’t til a couple kids later, when I realized a couple of different things at the same time. We were in a smaller home, with more people. Even when you don’t have lots of stuff, when you have lots of people with a little stuff, in a small area, it still looks like a lot of stuff.  It looks messy. Also, I was tired now. It wasn’t as easy to maintain the clean. People were literally coming right behind me undoing all the work I was doing. I was also learning in relationships with other people that neat homes, didn’t necessarily signify peaceful, well put-together lives.  People I considered neat and orderly, were letting me down. They were saying and doing things that were hurtful.

I realized that in my relationship, there were times it wasn’t quiet. That in my own learning how to live life with another human, that sometimes it got loud. Sometimes it got “messy”. We weren’t two well-formed humans who came in clean. We didn’t have perfect, spiritually well-rounded lives. We brought baggage and we didn’t like each others baggage, but we sure didn’t want to admit our own baggage was so bad. It’s a hard road, to learn how to accept another human being for who they really are. It’s all we want for ourselves, at the heart of it, to be accepted for who we are. I learned that while it was messy, and often loud, and involved way more disagreements than I had imagined, it wasn’t dangerous. I learned that loud and messy didn’t have to drive out love. I learned that neat and clean and quiet didn’t always invite love either.  I learned that a cold quiet indifference could hurt way more than the fire of someone who disagrees with you very adamantly about something. It’s a hard lesson to learn when you’ve wired yourself the other way. It’s a lesson I have to learn over and over again because like any human, I forget it and start to believe the lie again.

So today, my house doesn’t reflect perfection. It doesn’t reflect spotlessness. I likely won’t do that for a long time. Because even when I fall back into my old way of thinking and I try to clean and organize out the mess of life, it still creeps back in, and it does it so fast I don’t even have time to believe my own lie. This weekend, after working my nesting self into a frenzy cleaning and sanitizing on Saturday and paying for that with soreness and exhaustion on Sunday with a house that did not reflect the work I had done the day before, I just sat down. I sat down in the recliner where I tossed the laundry from the dryer. I just scooted it over and sat WITH the laundry. I didn’t even make a pretense at folding it.

Are the kids learning to clean? Yes, bit by bit, chore by chore. Will they all learn it all today? No. Will our house be immaculate by next year? Highly unlikely.  Will we be featured in a magazine? Outlook: not so good. (remember that answer from the magic 8 ball?)

The pretense is gone. The very real, very down to earth, slightly cynical man I married helped me strip away that lie. He taught me about a love that is real. A love that sees my baggage and says, so what, I still love you. A love that challenges me to do the same thing right back. He may argue with me all dadgum day about which couch goes better in our living room, but he’ll still cry when he watches that video about kids in foster care later. (don’t tell him I told you about that . . . . .) Those boys, all of them with their dirt, and boogers, and stinky bathrooms and apparent lack of regard for which room of the house they are in when the clothes come off, they taught me stuff too. That it might be more important to sit down in the floor and build a bridge with Jenga blocks than fold that load of laundry.

Have I learned to love the mess? No, I have not. But I have learned one thing, and that is to love what leaves the mess. It may drive me bonkers to see it all over, but in seeing it I know that there are people there to make it. People that I love. I would not trade that in a million years for the neat spotless home that I could have all alone.


26 comments on “Learning to Love the Mess

  1. mrswrangler says:

    I am like you I like order but Wrangler has taught me if I am exhausted do only what is absolutely necessary and the rest will wait. My house is never that bad but o me it is.

  2. 4kidsonemom says:

    Right there with ya! Which is why I love you so much. Real. Truth. I don’t live in a perfectly clean, anthropologie ad looking house, either. Nor would I want too. Where’s the mess of living?! Where are all the books you’re reading to your children. Their finger painting masterpieces. Their mud pies. The flour on the kitchen floor from baking cupcakes? I don’t know that I believe homes with kids – minus all those items get the true meaning of living. You know?!

  3. Rebekah says:

    Amen to this. It drives me nuts sometimes still as well, although I was never classified as a neat freak, but kids takes clutter and mess to a whole new level. I think one part that frustrates me with it all is the fact that it is so out of my control. It doesn’t matter how hard I try or what I do, it is still a mess. In fact, as I am typing this, my boys just squished their bananas and peanut butter sandwich crumbs into the carpet. Guess that’s my cue to get off the computer for now. Lol. Thanks for sharing.

    • I like to hear that. Is it sad that I’m happy about your banana and peanut butter sandwich mess?? Yeah probably but I’ll feel better the next time I clean up an unidentifiable substance from the carpet, haha!

  4. Reblogged this on stephensmustang….'Set free' and commented:
    From my friend, Beth. I think that there is MUCH wisdom in this post. Well said, my friend, well said.

  5. Kim says:

    I grumble all the time about the messes… maybe I should learn to just love the mess!
    I tell you what I can clean all day and the very next day looks like a train wreck….. I never thought of myself as “the neat clean” one, but I do like it straightened, I up just wish the children would catch on to it, I think the day they do catch on then they will be wanting to move on out, and my husband reminds me ALOT that I will miss the mess and the children, some days I think he may be wrong I’ll miss the children BUT NOT THE mess!!
    Great post I like!

  6. This was so good, I reblogged it. Thanks for sharing.

  7. Carmen says:

    Sweet blog post.

  8. So good! I really like a clean orderly house too, but three little kids later and it’s just NOT going to be perfect all the time. To love the ones who make the mess, even if the mess drives me crazy – YES!! That’s exactly it. 🙂

  9. Humor_Me_Now says:

    I was that way at work. My office was always neat. Now that I am retired. I will not go to bed until the dishes are done, anything in the dryer put away, and all looks clean. I am more of a neat freak than my wife. I became a househusband when I retired and started doing more household jobs..

    We all learn in life—one thing is to relax. lol

  10. sistermae says:

    I use to be a crazy neat freak but since the cancer thing happened I am a mess and oh well I just do what I like doing

  11. wildflowersp says:

    For your first issue of Houses People Live In: my mother says when she was a kid her mom got a magazine in the mail so she sat down to read it after lunch. The doorbell rang so she stuffed the tablecloth and all the dirty dishes in the oven. And she forgot until she turned the oven on that evening.

  12. Luci says:

    Awesome, Beth! You rock.

  13. Shanda says:

    absolutely! I’m strange, though, because I never cared about a spotless house more than I do now. LOL I think the fact that it’s a losing battle makes it all the more desirable. I yelled out today, “I think I”m just going to start throwing the legos right into the garbage b/c I’m tired of seeing them EVERYWHERE!!!” LOL Truly, some days are better than ever but you know what it’s like when 9 people share a house and 7 are children. Children don’t see mess, at least mine don’t. 🙂

  14. carmen byler says:

    Wow! This is so good Beth!! So good. So challenging. Because sometimes I feel like I put my housework before the children/family….and they feel that. I know they would so much rather have a messy house and a mom who is “present”, then a perfect house and a mom who is snappy and “too busy”. It feels so hard sometimes to know where the balance is… Thanks for this wonderful challenge!! You are amazing in so many ways lady!!

  15. Love this! I am in that one kid stage right now where the house mostly stays clean… 😉
    I love your heart, open for change and a different way! I can learn a lot from you!

  16. jennie z says:

    This is good!! I admire you so much. I love your heart.

  17. Tessy @ Divine Moments says:

    Awesome Post. I spent the whole first part of it puzzling over how anyone could be like that. On the show friends, Monica always freaked me out a bit. I am not anywhere near an organized person at all. I do like to organize drawers and things that are not important that can’t be seen. I call my house a “clean” messy.

    My fav line and I adore it was this: “Have I learned to love the mess? No, I have not. But I have learned one thing, and that is to love what leaves the mess. ” Loved that!

  18. Christy says:

    “Have I learned to love the mess? No, I have not. But I have learned one thing, and that is to love what leaves the mess”. PERFECT. Yes, this is my life, too.

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