A while ago, I read this great post from Judy over at Raising the Curtain about embracing mess in your life. Aptly titled “Cleanliness May Be Next to Godliness but Mess is Next to Joyfulness“, her piece made me consider how I, like many of us, avoid mess to the point that I miss out on some great life experiences. After all, life is messy. As Judy puts it:
“We learn from an early age that mess is to be avoided. We spend a lot of time ensuring that our children make as little mess as possible and teach them (mostly through chiding) that mess is bad…Are we to deny our children the joy of playing in the mud because it creates physical mess that we will have to clean?”
It occurred to me that that is exactly what I do. There are many fun things I don’t allow, or at least don’t encourage, because they are too messy. Silly Putty and stickers are banned in the house, painting is something they only do with watercolors (and with the babysitter!), and jump in mud puddles? I cringe just thinking about the footprints they’ll track across my floors.
I should clarify that I don’t suffer from OCD, and my house is not so clean that you could eat off the floors and walls—far from it. But I do try to keep some semblance of order in it. I just don’t function well when there are piles of stuff everywhere. It’s distracting. It’s the opposite of serene. And with four children—9, 7, 4, and 2—you can imagine the chaos that collects every day.
Still, I love Judy’s advice to embrace the mess. My children should enjoy their childhoods, to have the kind of fun I used to have. (That is, the childhood fun I had, not necessarily the kind I had as a teenager. That’s a whole other sort of mess!) I encourage them to “use their imagination” instead of allowing them to put on yet another episode of “Good Luck, Charlie!”—yet, I limit the tools they can use in their imaginative play. What am I thinking? Is it really so horrible to have to dry their wet footprints off the floor? Or to sweep up bits of craft foam or scrub dried glue off the table? When the littlest ones comes inside, their hands grayish-brown from digging for worms and thick streaks of dirt in their hair from what I can only presume was a lively mud fight, I can have them in the bathtub in under five minutes. So what’s the harm?
I think what it boils down to is my issue of control. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a control freak; I don’t micromanage or need to do absolutely everything myself. But I do like to maintain control over certain areas of my life when I can. To a certain degree, mess is something that can be contained. I can keep it out of my house so it doesn’t add to my daily battles. I can decide what is acceptable mess. If I allow the kids to leave a trail of debris behind them, I’m relinquishing some of that control.
I’m also relinquishing some of the joy that comes with making a mess. Ever watch a toddler try to stir chocolate cake mix, or a preschooler crack eggs over a bowl? The look on their faces is joy in its purest form. And sometimes I miss that because I’m too busy wiping counters down and making sure the apron is tied tightly.
I can’t make any promises, but I’m going to try to let go a little and follow Judy’s advice. Puddle jumping? Here are new rainboots. Digging for worms? Use my trowel. Glitter? Don’t forget to vacuum. Stickers? Not on your life. (I have hardwood floors and stickers are hazardous to their care—and my sanity—so I’m not budging on that one.) Silly Putty? Maybe–if they promise not to smoosh it into the chair cushions again.
I love the sound of their laughs, the giggles bouncing off the crayon-streaked walls. Inviting in a little more of the mess may mean adding to the bedlam already living here, but it also means inviting in a little more bliss.
That’s not such a bad trade-off.