When Mess Becomes a Marker of Success

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When I asked Eli at the end of last year if there was one thing that he wanted me to do more of, I really couldn’t have predicted his answer.

“Clean more, Mummy.” He said. “This house is a mess!”

For anyone who is well acquainted with my slightly cleanliness obsessed ways, it is pretty clear that our house is not often in the ‘messy’ category. Every night the chaos of the day is returned to a semblance of order – toys are sorted back into boxes, kids’ rooms are tidied and the hum of the dishwasher and washing machine are a well established part of the soundtrack of our evening.

Even during the day I have had to really stop myself from trailing the kids and packing up items that offend my orderly sensibilities. ‘Rage cleaning’ is a real thing in my world – if everyone is needing me at the same time and the reality becomes overwhelming, I have been known to direct all my energies in a frenzy into the only thing that I can exercise some control over – the poor, unsuspecting items that are out of their rightful place. Of course, this is usually accompanied by a lot of muttering, swearing and huffing about how everything is always such a mess and it is always me who has to clean it up. Ahem.

I’m not sure whether to take Eli’s impassioned response as a sign that my proclivities have now been embedded deep within the next generation, or take it as a sign that I am getting better at prioritising what really matters, thus leaving an uncharacteristic trail of chaos in its inevitable place.

A habit that I have been adopting recently involves setting an intention for the day. From ‘presence’, ‘peace’, ‘thoughtfulness’ or today’s option of ‘essentialism’, I have found that having one simple word to emulate and focus on is helpful in reordering my priorities in the little moments that make up the day.

We had one of Eli’s friends over for a playdate today. In the past I have struggled a little to know how to ‘be’ when looking after other’s kids. Do I let them just sort everything out themselves, do I jump in every time there is a chance of disagreement, do I set up activities for them to do or do I just leave them to their own devices? Often I just find myself trailing a little aimlessly around the house, unsure whether to plunge into an activity when there is the possibility that I might need to intervene or right the dynamics at any moment.

Today’s intention of ‘essentialism’ became remarkably helpful. It forced me to examine what the ultimate goal is in having my kids’ friends over. For me, I want to get to know them and appreciate them, to be the type of parent who is present and interested in their stories and interactions. The realisation enabled me to figure out activities that would involve all the kids – strawberry picking, play-dough making, dress ups – and everyone seemed (mostly) happier as a result. Plus, I figure the span of time when they are actually happy to have me around in their playtime is such a fraction of their entire lives, and I’m setting up my reputation as a parent in every little interaction that takes place.

It is a little difficult for me to ignore the obvious noise of mess and chaos sometimes, but I feel like the principles of Essentialism are giving me a solid basis upon which to construct a life that is both enjoyable in the moment and satisfying in hindsight. If I stop to take a breath, ask myself what goal I want to achieve for the day, interaction, outing, it helps me so much in figuring out which little actions then become important.

Even yesterday when I was starting to go into a familiar tailspin over how I would fit all the tasks of the day into the time we had left, I paused, asked myself the ultimate question ‘What’s Important Now?’ It turned out that a quick nap to replenish an overhanging sleep debt was the best way to proceed, rather than construct an elaborate dessert for our guests coming over that evening. I woke up refreshed, we spent the early evening at the beach and then I was still able to whip up the same dessert (albeit without the two hour chill time) when we had put all the kids to bed. No one was any the wiser and we had such a meaningful and enjoyable time hanging out together.

I’m finding such freedom and delight in this approach to living, constantly reorienting myself to what actually matters.

So sorry, Eli. I’m afraid I will be unable to fulfil your hopes for a cleaner home this year. We had all just better get used to a little more mess…

I’m spending this month thinking a lot about ‘organisation’ through my Year of Discovery themes for 2017. Check out the book ‘Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less‘ by Greg McKeown if you want to understand more about this incredible philosophy on living.  

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