Sometimes, the perfect life looks a little messier than you might have expected. Shelli explores the surprising beauty of a messy house.
There are four baskets of unfolded laundry at the foot of your bed. The afternoon light streaming through the window is shining a spotlight on dusty floors. It’s almost time for dinner, and you haven’t even thought about it yet.
Other mothers are so much better at all this stuff. They plan meals, keep their houses clean, play with their children and watch prime time T.V. while snuggling with their husbands after the children go to bed. Maybe that is an unrealistic image, but other moms seem so much better at this.
You were never a neat freak by any means, but before the children came along, the house was at least tidy. Now the clutter, oh, the clutter that comes with children and—especially— homeschooling.
A new neighbor stops by with her son, and you look over your dining room before you answer the door. Only, it’s a not a dining room anymore. It’s been converted into the “school room,” and it is cluttered with all your homeschooling books, games, projects, and more. The mess is not pretty like the messes you see in parenting magazines. It is cardboard-dust, glue-stains, puzzle-boxes-dangerously-stacked, broken-crafts-crammed-onto-the- shelves messy,
You wish you didn’t always feel the need to apologize for the mess, but you can’t help it. You do it anyway, and you expect your neighbor to give the routine reply. “Oh, don’t worry about it! I completely understand.” (That’s what you always say.)
Instead, she stands there quietly, look- ing around, and she says slowly, “Do you know what this says to me?”
You shake your head. Messes can speak?
She says, “This tells me that you spend a lot of time doing activities with your children. I would like to do more of that.”
You feel something akin to light shining around your head. It’s more than a light bulb. It’s a new perspective. You would like to kiss your new neighbor, but you control yourself.
No mother is perfect, and every mother has her own talents. Some are good at cooking. Some are good at organizing. Others are good at being spontaneous. Some are good at creating structure. Some encourage messes because they know their kids are creating and using their imaginations.
Some mothers and fathers work full-time or part-time, and some of them do that while also homeschooling their children. Some spouses help out more than other spouses. Every household has its own way of splitting up the duties of making a living, keeping the house clean, and giving the children an education.
But listen to this: No matter how you slice it up, something has to give. You are either giving up time with the children, or you are giving up time to take care of yourself. Absolutely nobody can do it all.
Make a list of your priorities. What do you want to accomplish? What are the most important things you can do to maintain a healthy quality of life for yourself and family? Put those at the top. (You better put self-care up there. If you don’t take care of yourself, how can you take care of your family?) Now, what’s the least important stuff?
Think about this. What’s the least important thing that you can let go of? One of these things is surely keeping a clean house. If you are always worrying about the clutter in your house, then you have too much clutter in your brain. Let it go.
Make your goal more reasonable. Think “sanitary and livable” but not perfect. Dust bunnies, clutter, and glitter in the carpet can wait. You have more important things to do.
On the crazy days when you feel most overwhelmed, go back to your list of priorities. Have you maintained that top one? If yes, pat yourself on the back. When life gets the most harried, that’s what is most important.
This article was originally published in the spring 2014 issue of home/school/life magazine.
SHELLI BOND PABIS is home | school | life magazine’s senior editor. She writes about her family’s homeschooling journey at www.mamaofletters.com.