Annabel Crabb once wrote, “If as a mother, there’s one little tip you can pass on to your daughter that might help her enjoy a productive, happy and neurosis-free life, I reckon it’s this: don’t tidy your room.”
And I wish I’d taken a photo of my living room yesterday afternoon so you could see the incredible ‘gift’ I am imparting to my children; my daughter so that she doesn’t feel it is her responsibility to be the “tidy-up-er” and my sons so they don’t expect to marry one.
Instead, here is a photo of their bedroom. It should be noted that we had new blinds installed the morning this was taken and so I had actually picked some things up off the floor before taking this photo. In other words, this is not as bad as it gets.
I am not a naturally tidy person (those who know me, you can stop laughing now!) but the state of my house is not just a result of this. While my threshold for tidy is definitely quite low, even I have to work at not freaking out at the mess, to consciously embrace the idea that a messy house is ok.
Before I sold my business, back when I was raising three babies and working 30-40hours a week with minimal daycare, I wouldn’t have blinked at a messy house. As a basically full time working mum AND a full time ‘sahm’ Mum (my working day began between 4-4.30am in case you are trying to do the maths on that) housework was the bottom of my priority list and I felt, justifiably so. For a while, we had an (amazing) nanny a couple of afternoons a week and were able to keep on top of things thanks to her stellar efforts.
When I first sold my business I had this overwhelming sense that I should do a better job around the house, that with all this “free time” (which in fact turned out to be not so much actually, given I just stopped getting up at 4 am!) and so I tried. But honestly, not only am I crap at it, I HATE it. It feels like a colossal waste of my time to spend day after day tidying and cleaning; a merry-go-round that has no end and nothing to show for it.
For me, this issue is tied into the purpose of our being, and our values as a family. As much as we (my husband and I, the kids don’t seem too fazed!) might appreciate the calm that a tidy house can bring, actually doing the (hours and hours) of work required to have one doesn’t reflect our values; but a community-oriented life does.
I have always believed that our communities only work when people in our communities DON’T work. When there are people around to form a village, to spend time with people who are sick, have newborns or just need some company. Our world, and more significantly, our local communities need volunteers (and yes, partly at school but also in the community or NFP organisations more broadly). But I fairly quickly discovered the trap of a ‘family mindset’; of spending your days just doing things for your family and in your home. I’m still trying to work through this and discover what it means to contribute meaningfully to our community; it’s not easy to be so other person focussed when you find you have quite a bit of time on your hands – all of a sudden that time equals opportunity. It was oddly, much easier for me to do this when my time was limited. I think being “time poor” gave me a greater ability to prioritise how I spent it.
We have a fairly ‘open door’ policy around here and at least 3-4 times a week there is either another family or one or two of the kids friends her for an early kids dinner. It’s not uncommon for us to be squeezing 7 little bottoms onto 5 chairs around the table, and it is CHAOS…of the best kind.
In our very little, very un-renovated home with no dishwasher somehow we have found ourselves part of a community. And if you were to have visited me a few years ago I would have done my best to tidy up for you and muttered an excused about why the house wasn’t tidier. But if you were to visit me today then I’d just say “Welcome, come on in.” What’s the use in telling you that I “ran out of time to tidy up” when the next time you come over it’ll be exactly the same? So, no excuses, just chaos….and I like to think, chaos of the best kind. And I can’t be that far wrong because people keep coming back.
Now, I do do some tidying. I like our bedroom to be organised and neat and I like the kitchen to be under control. The rest of the house gets tidied up once a week, usually on a weekend. And yes, the kids do their own room! But I think they have better things to do during the rest of the week than spending it tidying their room up. If they don’t care then I am not going to make them, that would be hypocritical. But, I am also not going to do it for them! They spend an hour (or more, if they are being lazy) in the room they share, getting it tidy on a Sunday arvo. How long it stays that way is up to them.
One of the things I have come to notice about modern living is that people seem quite hesitant about having other people in their homes. Just the other day an acquaintance remarked, “It’s too stressful to have people over.” From dinners to birthday parties, so much now happens in a park or a cafe. But there is something wonderful about being invited into another person’s home – to share in THEIR space, not just a neutral one. To be invited into the chaos, whatever that looks like for each family. Maybe people want to avoid the mess, or are worried their house is too small, too old, too much of one thing or too little of another? All I can say is that people actually don’t care (and if they do, you need new friends).
I have long considered it a great character flaw, that I am so untidy. It remains something that I wish was part of my DNA. And I had always hoped that with parenting I would have the time to become tidy (are you laughing manically at that idea?!) But thanks to people like Annabel Crab, I have come to see that my untidiness can be a positive thing, that it can open up the gift of time to be used for other, relational, pursuits. And I’ve also come to see that by opening my messy home to others it may bring about an unburdening for them too. That’s why I have chosen to bare it here, to perhaps unburden a fellow “domestic disaster” and to encourage us all to extend the gift of hospitality not entertaining and to open our home to others.