The Messy House

Friends are coming to visit today—thankfully a frequent occurrence in our home.  But it also means I have new eyes to see the mess, and I’m inwardly cringing—also, unfortunately, a frequent occurrence.

The house is sanitary—I cleaned the bathrooms two days ago, Ben vacuumed over the weekend, and other than the spot in the fridge where the spinach bag is leaking, the kitchen is mostly clean.

But the house is far from magazine-cover-worthy.  Baby toys litter the floor, with the loudest ones somehow positioned right at the entrance.

A princess teacup set is scattered over the library books on the coffee table, and a diaper bag hangs over the banister just beside the dish towel.

Some of the couch pillows are awkwardly arranged; the rest are piled on the floor as the remains of yesterday’s fort, along with favorite blankets and a few books.

Half the dining room table is consumed with David’s art project.  The rest of the dining room shows signs of being Ben’s storage area as he refinishes our deck, as well as our greenhouse as it’s the best place to put plants indoors and still get sunlight, and our schoolroom with all David’s current workbooks and craft supplies.

The waffle maker is out in the kitchen from this morning’s breakfast.  Jars of homemade pickles are on the counter, beside the Similac container and the rack of drying baby bottles.  Two highchairs crowd between the counter and the island.

I could go on, but you get the idea.  There are moments, like right now preparing for guests, when I look around at all this and despair.  I am, believe it or not, a neat freak.  I’m not skilled at interior decorating, but I do like a place for everything, and everything in its place.  If I lived alone, my home would look very different.

If I lived alone.  Do I want to?  Okay, sometimes I’ll admit, but really?

Each member of my family brings their own mess to the table (literally).  Ben works from home—his office is one room I just try not to worry about!—and he loves to do projects inside and out.

David is an avid reader.  We’re home schooling him, and in addition to his bookwork, he loves to do arts and crafts, build pillow forts, and play with legos, transformers, and trains—sometimes all at once.

Elanor loves to set things up even more than she likes to play with them, I think—the tea set, the little people, the kitchen toy, sometimes all intermingled, and her favorite place to play is often on the floor right in front of the kitchen sink.

Our foster baby is crawling and loves to scatter toys far and wide, open cabinets, and leave disaster in his wake.  He’s also responsible for all the baby food jars and bottles in our kitchen, and he’s the reason you’ll find odd placements like the bathroom trash can safely stowed on top of the toilet instead of on the floor.

Sharing home with these people has made me rethink what our home is all about.

It is not about me being in control.  It’s about me loving other people.

It is not about creating a space that is perfect.  It’s about creating a space where other people can thrive.

It is not about impressing other women.  It’s about me prioritizing my husband and children, and welcoming our guests.

It is not about displaying wealth.  It’s about me opening my door to the needy.  (Though I may not feel wealthy when I look at our budget each month, compared to the rest of the world I know I am rich!)

In my home I need to push back the chaos—but I also need to foster creativity.

I need to clean up the mess—but I also need to keep my joy when the mess is made again.

I need to be okay with toys underfoot, because that means toys are being played with.  They’re never being played with when they are put away in the basket.

I need to be okay with library books on the couch, because those are the books that are being read.  They’re never being read when they’re on the shelf.

I need to be okay with the math book and markers on the kitchen island, and the dinosaur flashcards beside the paints on the dining room table, because David is learning and making art.  He’s never going to randomly pick up and learn from something that’s in storage.  (On a side note, I originally envisioned our school room being in the basement away from our main living area, and though I still hope to do that someday, it doesn’t work for this season in our lives.  David needs to be doing school right where the rest of us are living.  It’s working great for his education and not so great for our interior design, but I need to choose my priorities.)

I need to be okay with the waffle iron on the counter and the dishwasher being full again, because that means we had an amazing breakfast.

I need to be okay with pickle jars on the counter and tools on a shelf in the dining room, because that means my husband has space to do his projects and feels like this is his home, too.

I need to be okay when a friend comes over and sees my mess, because that means I’m more concerned about being authentic than being impressive.  Maybe it means I spent more time praying and planning for our conversation than I spent cleaning up.  Ultimately I want a welcoming heart more than I want a spotless home, and sometimes (often?) I need to choose between the two.

I still have those cringing moments, like today, when I’m preparing for guests and realizing how far my home is from the pages of Better Homes and Gardens.  But I am learning more to replace that cringing with confidence.  My home is a place where children thrive.  My home is a place where life and learning happens.  That life and learning makes a mess, but I want it to be a happy mess I’m willing to share with others.


  1. I'm reminded of Wesley Hill's comments about how real-life, "messy" hospitality has meant the most to him (as a single man):


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