The Gift of Mess
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** This post is part of a 14 day series. To read more of my “The Gift of…” posts, scroll to the bottom of this post for links.
There is a hill by the closet door, built from winter boots of various sizes, with a pair of heels tossed in for good measure where I kicked them after church. The laundry room is dotted with jeans, hoodies, and lone socks; islands of clothing among an ocean of crumbling tile floor we intended to replace three years ago.
It’s a mess.
The dog, with his constantly leaking lip, has trailed water from his bowl all the way to the middle of the kitchen floor. He lies there now, sprawled out and completely unaware that everyone in the house must step over him to reach the fridge.
I see Legos. Scraps of cardboard. Strings of cooled hot glue.
Forgotten post it notes. Gum wrappers from pieces my children don’t think I realize they’ve taken.
This is my house. This is my mess.
Raising kids is a messy job.
Recently I saw a graphic online that showed each point of a triangle labeled with one of three phrases: sanity, kids, and a clean home. On the bottom of the graphic, was written choose two.
It’s pretty close to the honest truth. If you have kids and want to be sane, you may have to let go of your original definition of a clean home. If you have kids and want a clean home, you’ll probably have to sacrifice your sanity. And if you want your sanity and a clean home, you probably want to hold off on having kids.
The mess of raising children can sometimes drive a mama to the brink of madness. Those times when you feel like you’ll never be able to leave the house without taking half of it with you. When you feel like you’re doing nothing more than picking up toys you just put away. You’re wiping noses and wiping butts and wiping your brow because you’re not sure how a body so little can bring such absolute chaos to your life.
As the kids get older, the mess changes. It’s your schedule becoming a mucky mess of who needs to be where, when, and for how long. It’s hurriedly searching through the clothes, hoping to find a pair of khakis that still cover your son’s ankles because Great Aunt Rita just died. It’s the discomfort that comes during conversations when you discover that just because you share the same last name, you don’t agree on social issues.
Being a parent is messy. The business of helping to keep someone alive and breathing, fed and clothed, and somewhat well-adjusted to society is hard, messy work.
But so is Life in general.
Live life. Make a mess.
Poet Diane Ackerman once said, “I don’t want to get to the end of my life and find that I haven’t just lived the length of it. I want to have lived the width of it as well.”
A life of any length and width is sure to involve some mess. But when life is messy, it means you’re alive. It means you’re living.
When your children’s Legos and Barbie dolls and notebooks and power cords and candy wrappers and dance costumes and football cleats threaten to take over your home, remember—the mess is a gift.
The mess means your children are learning and doing.
The mess means your children are alive and breathing.
The mess is solid proof that your children are here on earth with you.
Life is messy—when the bills on your kitchen table are piled ever higher than the stack of money you have to pay them with. When the dishes need to be done but no one is home long enough to deal with them. When you’re almost sure your animals have birthed a furry dust bunny of their own in a forgotten corner of your home.
But you’re here.
You’re still around.
You’re making and accomplishing. You’re doing more than simply existing.
It’s not a mess. It’s proof of a life.
An out-of-state cousin once showed up quite unexpectedly when my home was in the depths of random chaos. I toured her through the rooms of our new-to-us farmhouse, ending in our finished basement where we kept our school things, my disaster of a sewing corner, and our pantry.
And then I did what almost all women do when someone drops by unexpectedly.
“I’m sorry for the mess,” I started. “I’ve been busy with…”
She held up a hand to shush me.
“Your house is lived in and full of love,” she said.
Yes. That. That thing right there.
It’s not a mess.
It’s a home that is lived in.
A home where love and life happen and there’s not always time to clean up afterwards.
When people visit your house unexpectedly, what is your worst fear? That they will see dust bunnies and dirty laundry and piles of dishes?
And if they do see that stuff, so what?
Laundry means you have clothes.
A pile of dishes means you eat food in your house.
Random dust bunnies mean your kids play and you have work that keeps you busy and that your priorities are in check.
I mean, on their deathbed, no one has ever said I wish I would have had more time to clean.
We know this in our heart.
But is that how we live?
The mess happens.
Glossy magazines with perfectly lit photo spreads may tease us into believing that the ultimate goal is a spotless, sterile house, but I tend to think they missed the mark.
Pinterest can suggest a million and ten brilliant ideas for how to better organize your home. We can read all the books ever written about decluttering. We can sort through our homes, piece by piece, to get rid of anything that doesn’t bring us joy. But at some point we would do well to accept that some amount of mess is a perpetual, unavoidable piece that comes along with the blood that pumps through your veins.
Yes, when life is hectic, the mess can threaten to pull us in to its gaping jaws and swallow us whole.
But what’s the alternative?
To not do life?
The mess remains.
Many years ago, months after my grandma died, I remember taking a rest in her bedroom while my parents visited with my grandpa.
I remember being completely struck by her dressing table. It still looked the same as when she’d been alive.
Folded laundry she hadn’t put away and would never wear again. Perfume bottles from Avon. A pump dispenser of Oil of Olay lotion that still, to this day, reminds me of her when I smell it.
Loose powder with a huge puff set on top.
Earring studs without matches.
As months went by and her things remained untouched, it seemed to me that Time had stood in front of her mirror with a hand full of dust, and gently blown it over her things. It had settled and muted the colors of her belongings with a gray haze. I always resisted the urge to run my finger along the edge of the dresser, as if the magical spell that suspended her untouched things would be broken, changing the memory of her forever, and I would be to blame.
Loved ones pass from this world to the next. Sometimes we rush to clean out their things, ridding ourselves of the physical baggage that ties us to them. But other times, we leave it.
We leave it exactly as it was.
We leave their mess. And it’s days, weeks, months, and years until we can move the empty mug they left on the end table. The sock under the recliner. The dog eared book shoved in the cushion. The blanket that was draped over them as they read.
And why do we leave their mess? Because it proves, beyond a doubt, that we didn’t imagine their existence or their hold on our lives. It proves they filled a space. Served a purpose.
They were here.
The mess is a gift. A wrapped up ball of chaos that serves to prove we’re still breathing and loving and creating.
We are here. We live our lives and, in the process, leave bits of ourselves.
Our mess proves we were here.
This post is part of a 14 day series, written across both sites that I run.
Gift #1 — The Gift of an Open Door
Gift #2 — The Gift of One of Those Days
Gift #3 — The Gift of a Dog’s Friendship
Gift 4# —The Gift of Mess
Gift #5 — The Gift of Our Silence
Gift #6 — The Gift of Routine
Gift #7 — The Gift of Community
Gift #8 — The Gift of Three Things Unsaid
Gift #9 — The Gift of Perspective
Gift #10 — The Gift of Being Real
Gift #11 — The Gift of a Bowl of Corn
Gift #12 — The Gift of Encouragement
Gift #13 — The Gift of Unanswered Prayers
Gift #14 — The Gift of Actually Listening