“But that day I stood there and came to the realization that by the time it’s all over and done with, this mess is going to be with us for eighteen years times 5. We have 15 years left. And then it’s gone. It’s a double-edged sword: On one side it will be with us for so long that it’s pointless to fight it, and on the other side, it will be with us for such a short time, that it’s pointless to fight it.”
The other day I walked up the stairs to the second floor of our home. This is a special place. This is where “the boys” live. It’s an interesting place, but it’s dangerous. You could trip and fall over just about anything you can think of. Sometimes dinner plates from the week before grow penicillin and other black-market antibiotics. Dirty clothes often inhabit every empty space that used to be. On occasion, a smell lingers and stings your nostrils.
I constantly tell them to clean it up. And it usually resorts to me uttering an emphatic “Nobody is going to flip or fish or do anything until that upstairs is clean. Don’t even say a word, don’t tell me who did what, just clean it!” And there we all go, cleaning the entire house. We pick up, we do laundry, we sweep, we mop, we wipe down.
But that day I stood there and came to the realization that by the time it’s all over and done with, this mess is going to be with us for eighteen years times 5. We have 15 years left. And then it’s gone. It’s a double-edged sword: On one side it will be with us for so long that it’s pointless to fight it, and on the other side, it will be with us for such a short time that it’s pointless to fight it.
Instead of going to find the three offenders, I walked downstairs and into my bedroom and changed from my suit into jeans and a t-shirt, taking some deep breaths. I walked from my closet through my bedroom and saw the 3-year-old watching Barbie on our bedroom TV.
She asked me as I walked by, “Daddy, will you lay with me?” My habit is to touch her and say something sweet like, “Sorry Baby, Daddy has to go do [INSERT ITEM HERE].” So that’s exactly what I do.
But as I walk away, I realize that in reality, I’m dismissing her. I’m taking precious and fleeting time with her for granted.
Be still. Be present. Be here. I hear that in my head.
“The condition of my home is not a reflection of who I am as a person.”
What is it that I’m going to do, anyway? Sometimes it’s work that can’t be put off. That’s a part of running a law practice and paying bills. Other times it’s doing what I’m doing right now: Writing. Blogging. Thinking of next week’s podcast, scheduling guest interviews, updating the website, looking for music, thinking of ideas.
But many times it’s that good ole’ cleaning or keeping the house and property up. A house with seven people living in it gets dirty the same day it’s cleaned. There’s no way Faith can do it all herself. The kids are assigned chores but we aren’t trying to make slaves out of them. So I help as much as I can.
I am obsessive. About everything. But mostly about organization and functionality. Put it this way: I can handle a sink with hair laying around it, but I absolutely cannot deal when it comes to having to walk around a pile of laundry. A few dishes on the counter? No big deal. A sink full of dishes? People better run. The inside of a cabinet should be organized in such a way as to allow an individual to open the door, grab needed item and close the door. There should not be a struggle to keep things from falling out or having to move one thing to get another. The garage is for storing items needed for weekly or monthly use. There should not be one thing in your garage that isn’t used within a 6-month period.
Since I was about seven years old, that’s been my internal dialogue when it comes to organization and functionality. My friends in middle and high school had a blast coming into my room and moving things or rearranging things or making a mess. They laughed as they watched me impulsively clean it up.
Moving in with a much freer spirit back in the late ’90s changed all of that very quickly. No longer could I have my orderly arrangement in life. Instead, there was a woman and a hair-shedding cat in my bed, as well as all her stuff loitering around my efficiency college-days apartment. Next it was bigger apartments and then finally houses. I learned to let go of some of my obsession.
When the kids came along I let go even more. But I could never fully “let go.” I still have a very hard time doing it. And I have accepted that I always will.
A clean house is important for several reasons. And, studies show that a clean house actually contributes to more overall happiness.
But life is about BALANCE. Sure, a clean house may make you happier, but kids don’t ONLY need a parent who has to have the cleanest house. Kids need a parent that is present. I’m more inclined to agree with what Elizabeth Broadbent had to say about it:
“Insisting your house is dirty speaks to clinical delusion, your misunderstanding of small children, your secret desire to make me feel guilty, or maybe your desperate need for reassurance. Probably all of the above. Seriously, stop it. You can either have a sense of shame or small children, and I’ve got three boys under 5.”
As an adult, much of my dialogue has also included, “The house needs to be presentable at all times because you never know who will show up at the door.” Or something like, “Our house is open to all, but only if it’s clean.” Or maybe, “God, I pray nobody shows up today or CPS and HAZMAT will both be in the driveway within the hour!”
Simply put, I cared too much what any of you might think about me individually or as the leader of my home if you saw it in the usual shambles.
So instead of being still and present, Faith and I are constantly on the move trying to keep the home out of condemnation. And to her credit, she does it more for me than she does for herself. She’s the free spirit. She doesn’t see clutter like I do. And to be honest, I’m jealous that she lives in that place. And I feel terrible that for years I have made her feel like she has to care about something that shouldn’t really matter.
But that day it hit me not once, but twice. What you or anyone else thinks of my home won’t matter in 20 years, or even in 3. But what my kids think of me will echo into eternity. Our children need our affection. They need our hearts. They need our time. They need all of that much more than they need a perfect house.
Be still. Be present. Be here.
So friend, I’m letting go. And I invite you to join me. If you have lived a life worrying about what your house looks like because you’re either obsessive or you are concerned about what people will think of you, LET. IT. GO.
Keep it organized and functional? Sure. But obsess over everything about it like it’s going to matter in a year or 20? Hell no.
The condition of my home is not a reflection of who I am as a person.
I invite you to my home. I invite you into the reality of what a home looks like when people live in it and don’t focus more on the home than they do really pouring into their marriage or kids.
The mess will be there again tomorrow. That day with my child won’t.
I pledge to live differently. I’m forgetting what anyone else thinks of the condition of my house or my garage or my yard. Instead, I’m going to focus on the condition of my kids and their mother.
Because this mess only lasts 18 years. Then it’s gone.
Thank you for stopping in.
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