Bless This Mess: How leaving my house a mess has improved my life
I am in love with design. I have more than one piece of handmade wood furniture that was made for me in exchange for a maker video. I carefully picked out my beautiful white couch from New York’s favorite design mecca, ABC Carpet, before my kids were born. And I’ve blogged about design from international design fairs in London and Italy. I have a carefully honed collection of ceramic pieces and other objet d’art that mean the world to me and prints from my travels I’ve spent a small fortune to frame. I have mobiles I sewed by hand in my kids bedroom. I like light, wood, glass and everything in its place. But that order and cleanliness, as divine as it felt when I was in it, was starting to chip away at my life — cutting into my time as a writer, the time I was putting into exercise, and the time I needed to get my professional life to where it was pre-divorce and pre-babies. So I stopped.
I stopped cleaning every day or even every week. I stopped letting laundry rule my life, letting some of it pile up in the clean laundry baskets unfolded that I now often pick through it in the morning before school. I stopped picking up the toys from my kids’ playroom. And I let myself step over strewn socks and shoes and dog toys on the way to kitchen. Yes, I still clean and put away dishes and reload the dishwasher. I still make sure that there is no food out or left sticky on plates and counters but aside from the very basics of cleanliness in the house, I let it all just stay there off kilter, out of order, and in a state of chaos most of the time.
I am now writing every morning for at least 40 minutes and I work out 5 days a week. On top of yoga, I am doing strength training and Zumba and anything else that comes up that challenges me and gets me out of breath and sweating. I feel muscle tone where I’d never felt muscles in my legs and there’s a well-defined dip rising in my shoulder where my arm muscles are taking shape. I am noticing as my abdomen starts to have dimension, and not the rolls of fat kind, and I am watching my words become clearer and my brain becoming sharper as I get further ingrained in an unshakeable morning writing habit.
I just recently went through a break-up. Not your run-of-the-mill, ‘oh well, it didn’t work out’ kind, but the after 4 years of painful long distance and more than a few betrayals, moved to a new city and into a house with a man and his son and my two daughters 3 weeks after my beloved father died kind. A move that turned regrettable as soon as the last box was unpacked and the last dish was put away. One filled with instant tension that quickly turned to stinging barbs and epithets aimed my way and then fear, confusion, and panic on my part.
My first instinct moving into the home, which was messy in a single guy kind of way, toothpaste smeared on the mirrors and sweaty gym clothes in a heap in the corner, was to nest. I asked first, item by item, but I merged our things and made order — starting in the kitchen, keeping the best of his things and the best of mine out and making a pile of redundant items we might want to store. Then I turned to the playroom, merging our kids’ toys and making marked sections, cars/trucks, legos, and so on, incorporating a craft cart and leading craft sessions with all 3 kids. I wanted to create the peaceful loving surroundings, the building blocks on which to build a blended family. The change was difficult for my partner, or just a lot all at once, and the order, anyway, quickly fell apart.
Three 5-year-olds who already knew and loved each other made for a non-stop slumber party, basically three banshees running around terrorizing the place — and us. As we let order slip, or explode like an atom bomb, and we tried to keep up with it, we stopped focusing or never began focusing on ourselves. Only in the quiet of the day, him at work, and me at my home office, was I able to shut the door on the chaos and get to work. And when he finally left, packing his last bag to move in with his brother leaving me in the big rambling home with the three kids (I stayed due to the school zone. His was in a magnet school elsewhere) and with my kids away with their father for a week, I took the time to personalize the home, decorate my kids’ walls, and get the new downsized and relocated playroom into order with rugs and bins and cozy nooks. And I got a puppy to find something new for us all to love.
Within hours of my girls return, the house was back in disarray. The long narrow downtown cottage with its addition to the original 20s arts and crafts cottage structure was never right for three, and probably never right for five. I could have woken up every morning and reassembled order as I tried to reassemble my spirit but instead I played with the dog, pushed all the strewn toys aside, closed my office door, and started to let the words pour out. Then I hauled my ass to the gym and jumped up and down and sweat and never left a class early even though the first few weeks were grueling. I came home to a mess and I woke up to a mess and I looked for a new home, and didn’t find a new home. And I looked for work, and found almost no work. And I kept going.
Most of these articles end with ‘and now I’m happily in love and unruffled raking in millions’ or something similar but that is not the case. I am still in the ‘becoming’ and the jury’s still out on what I will be — but I am not stagnant. I am not going to bed wondering what I got done that day. When I’ll find time to write or pitch an editor. Wondering why I’m still eating carbs and drinking a nightly beer forgetting that I’m raising twins, cooking them meals from scratch and picking up after them without help for the 5th year in a row. I’m not doing that because now I feel the shape of my body and my skin improving, even as my heart and soul is often in tatters with jolts of memories of the awful words and callous actions of my partner and memories of the good times and thrilling moments when we were without the kids, the times we escaped to a concert or a cabin (an unrealistic life and not one I was truly living as I am a very proud mom of two amazing joyful girls I waited years for.)
I had to make a choice. It wasn’t going to be sacrificing more time with my kids to clean or to continue to put my writing life on hold or take care of my body even as my heart felt compromised. So I let the mess go. Maybe I haven’t yet gotten everything I ever wanted but I got back the building blocks of a life I want and deserve.
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