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.