“DING-DONG!” The sound of an unexpected doorbell ring sends me into a small panic attack.
“Who is at my house?” I wonder, and more importantly—what if I have to let them inside?
My fear of unexpected guests isn’t just my introverted personality getting the best of me. I dread the surprise sound of the doorbell because my house is a huge mess. We’re not talking family-sitcom-TV-house messy. It’s a straight-up disaster zone. Don’t believe me? I’ve got the pictures to prove it.
I’ll own up to being a disorganized person, but I’m really not a slob at heart. My husband most definitely isn’t. In fact, when we were expecting our first child, I’ll never forget when he confessed his most deep-seeded fear of impending parenthood: he didn’t want our furniture to get sticky.
Thirteen years and five kids later, I’m sorry to report that his fear did in fact come true…and then some. Our furniture is not only sticky, but covered in crumbs and numerous other mystery substances. Mountains of laundry, both clean and dirty, can be found in every room of our house. Toys litter the floor, dishes fill the sink, and piles of paper stack high on our countertops. We have six (six!) junk drawers overflowing with who-knows-what. The mess is so overwhelming, sometimes I look at it and feel like crying. Even if I had time to scrub and clean, I wouldn’t know where to start!
Until very recently, I blamed my husband and myself for the sad state of our house. We should be doing better, I thought. We are failing our kids by not showing them how to take care of their living space! We are lazy/procrastinators/have poor time management skills! We are so bad at home decorating and DIY projects! The house is the missing piece–if our kitchen counter was spotless we would be so much happier!
And that’s when it hit me: the “we would be happier if…” statement.
It’s something we tell ourselves a lot, isn’t it? The key to happiness lies in something other than what we currently have. I’ll be happier when I lose 10 pounds. I’ll be happier when I make more money. I’ll be happier when my kid outgrows this phase he/she is in. And while sometimes getting the things we want might make our lives easier, it’s usually temporary.
Would I really be happier if our house was cleaner? Maybe. Things might be easier if we could stay more organized. But if I really think about it, I’m not so sure a spotless house is the key to a stress-free family life.
Besides, the way I see it, the mess and chaos represent more than people who can’t pick up after themselves. It’s the trail left behind by a busy family of seven. It’s the sign of a home occupied by five creative children. That clutter on the counter is more than just scattered paper. It’s the homework and art projects our kids pour their hearts into. All the stuff you have to navigate to get through our living room? It’s mostly the baby’s toys and equipment. The messy rec room in the basement is a warehouse full of our kids’ creative projects.
And before I know it, the day I am dreading as a mother will finally come. The pack-and-play will be taken down for the last time. I won’t feel that sharp, distinctive pain of Legos underfoot. No more worksheets on the counter or sippy cups in the dishwasher. Someday, the laundry will be contained to just two people.
Our house will finally be clean, but it will also be empty, except for my husband and me.
So when I start beating myself up about the mess, I remind myself that it’s temporary. We clean as often as we can, and lower our expectations of how we think our house should look. I take comfort in the fact that we’re probably not the only family who struggles to keep things in order.
And maybe the next time that bell rings I won’t panic. Maybe I’ll invite my surprise guest in instead of using my body to block the view of our living room.
And I’ll remember to enjoy every moment of our messy, chaotic life as a family.