I know it’s slightly ironic to talking about embracing the mess after I just shared how I’m getting rid of clutter, but it’s a little of both. We need to learn to live with less AND embrace the messes our kids (and we) make.
“GUYS! Come clean up the table!”
“Honey, you need to clean your room before you can go to your friend’s house.”
“$#@&!!! Come get your shoes out of the middle of the hall!”
There was a time when my kids loved to clean. No, seriously. But my kids are no longer happy little helpers. The kids that loved to Swiffer alongside their towers of blocks or clean the toilets while leaving gobs of toothpaste on the bathroom counter are gone. They’re now all tweens and teens. Cleaning up after themselves is still not a habit no matter the fact that we started them on those habits at a young age.
“Clean up, clean up, everybody, everywhere. Clean up, clean up, everybody do your share.” I think I sang that song for 100 years. Maybe I should try it now? It might annoy them enough to clean…
Now instead of simple routines our days are filled with homework, practices, activities, screen time, and making sure all the checkmarks are checked before we fall into bed and do it all over again.
My friend Jessica shared a picture of the space after her daughter went off to play on Facebook. She left behind an apple core, an empty yogurt container, a glass that was emptied, a book turned spine side up to hold her place. She was nowhere to be seen in the photo. Most likely off making another mess. I nodded my head and smiled knowingly. Yep, I’ve been there.
From the table after breakfast this morning.
I think there are six messes like that from my oldest daughter right now (her room is currently in an extra explosive stage due to the influx of fabric and craft supplies a teacher gave her). There’s sewing on the chair. A bag of buttons in the other room that’s half spread out on the giant work table. Scottie dog duct tape on the floor. Dishes of leftover frozen fruit from her after school snack.
And she’s just one of the people leaving messes behind. There’s the Disney Infinity characters lined up on the side table, the Magic the Gathering cards in piles and boxes on tables and dressers. The small side table in the dining room holds boxes of cereal (all left open!) and several books.
I shake my head when I look around at the mess. It’s in my face all day as I work from home. It’s unsettling to me-the chaos that’s left behind by everyone. Not enough that I feel obsessed to clean up everything they leave behind, but enough that it’s a sore point between us each day.
Seeing Jessica’s picture a light bulb went off. That’s not just our kids, it’s me, too. I looked around. I leave a trail of papers, notebooks, and plates and glasses behind. I throw my clothes on the floor and don’t pick them up sometimes. There’s a growing pile of clothes in the corner of my bedroom that no longer fit. A sign of victory, and a sign of the chaos I leave in my own way.
I think back to a time when I was younger-the child in the house and the many, many messes I leave behind. They were often miraculously cleaned up or as my 9-year-old says-‘it must be the cleaning fairy.’ Nope, it was just my mom. (She still cleans up after everyone, by the way.)
I can’t always abide by the chaos and messes because I feel out of control when I see the list of tasks that come after picking up the dinner table. It’s too much-there’s always more to do tonight.
I’m good at making messes, and good at cleaning them up, but living with messes other people make is not my strong suit.
I remember my room as a kid and teen. The piles of things, the stuff would get cleaned up, but usually shoved into drawers or piled under my bed. Then there was the ownership I needed to take over my spaces. To make them my own. As a teen I would tape phrases, articles, or photos I had cut out of magazines on the WALLS. I know, the adult in me cringes. Despite the admonishment of my Dad to never use scotch tape on the wall I always did. I even used puffy paint on the closet door once! (sorry, Dad) It must have driven my parents crazy at the time.
Unlike those creative messes I made as a tween and teen my messes now are not happy messes-they are messes I make when I’m busy, being careless, or just tired. My messes mean something else now.
Applying the same logic it might mean my kids make messes that mean something to them as well. But what?
When I look at them I see carelessness, entitlement, and work-either me cleaning it up or telling them to pick up each and every thing they left behind. That seems like a lose-lose.
I thought about it a bit, and came to the conclusion that their messes mean they feel safe. This place-this home, however imperfect, our love-it’s something to count on. They feel like they can be who they are in the spaces they call home and it will be okay.
It was like a switch went off.
Now when I look at that mess on the chair I see a girl who is learning to create, who will make a space in the world for herself. Clear out of the way, people. She needs to create. When I see LEGOs strewn across the floor I also see them learning to solve problems and figure things out. They will face challenges, but they’re learned to build solutions. Even the laundry seems less annoying. Okay, not really.
I know one day I will miss the messes. I will look for the leftover dishes and the crafts supplies, and the clothes on the floor and wonder where they went.
Though in all fairness I have told the kids when they have their own houses I may come over and leave dirty dishes on the couch and draw my name on the wall. I mean, it’s only fair, right? 😉
The perspective doesn’t mean I won’t be after them to clean up still, but it does mean I’ll be more careful about my reaction-and if they need an extra hour to read or sew or play a game then the mess can wait. It’s certainly not going anywhere…at least for a few more years.