I’ve never been on the shortlist (or anywhere near it in fact) for World’s Tidiest House – living with a self-confessed hoarder makes tidiness an almost impossible dream – but I do love a bit of hosting and so have always tried to maintain some order and some sort of version of ‘presentable’.
This wasn’t too difficult until the day Boy 1 arrived and turned our lives upside down. Suddenly our lovely open-plan house meant there was just NOWHERE to hide the endless sea of duplo, wet wipes, cuddly toys and stacking cups (always with one permanently missing in action – the baby version of tupperware and socks). Or enough time left in the day to ever come close to actually winning the battle. Time and time again my (amazing) mother and (super-supportive) other half would tell me to stop worrying about tidying up and just enjoy my time at home with my son – that old adage of ‘enjoy every minute, they grow-up too fast’ (so stop bloody tidying up all the time!). But it never really sunk in.
I tried, believe me – I sat in my house with Boy 1 asleep on me and tried desperately not to twitch at the sight of piles of washing up, unswept floors and alarming mountains of laundry. But I just found it almost impossible to relax in The Mess. And heaven help us if we had anyone coming round – this would mean sacrificing precious grown-up time during naps and in the evenings to dust every corner and squirrel oddments away out of sight.
Then guess what? Boy 2 arrived and things just continued to escalate. Even more mess. The Mess was unstoppable. Still I spent every spare moment picking things up, shoving stuff under the sofa and realigning cushions.
Then mastitis hit, developed to sepsis and suddenly I was dangerously ill. I could have died. I know what you’re thinking here: a lightbulb moment of clarity! Finally, a realisation that I should be enjoying every minute and leaving the discarded banana skins and crayons all over the floor! Nope. I did gain a newfound appreciation of life, it has to be said, but it didn’t really make me admit defeat and give up the long-running battle with The Mess.
Then, in the space of a few weeks, two things happened. First, in a Whats App chat with friends about how exhausted we were by life with small children, I posted a pic of my living room as an illustration of just how dreadful things had become. The first response read ‘Oh Ju, I love the fact that your living room looks so happy and that I would never be able to tell from that pic whether you had boys or girls’. Now THIS worked. As a vocal supporter of all things gender-neutral, finally someone (unknowingly) had said exactly what I needed to hear. I could have hugged her (but had to make do with a kiss emoji instead, since she lives at the other end of the country).
Then I read one short article that also, suddenly, made me see things differently. I only remember the crux of it: that if we all keep tidying before other mothers come round to visit and persist with trying to keep up this domestic goddess (with small children attached) facade* then it all just becomes a vicious circle, heaping more and more pressure on our friends to ‘measure up’ (and then back round on ourselves). A-ha. Another point I could definitely get on board with, and that went round and round in my head for weeks after.
Isn’t it funny how you can be told one thing over and over for years but never really hear it until it’s put into another perspective? These two little stumbled-upon comments actually did the trick – somehow they hit home harder than anything else I’d read or been told in the years before. I gradually started to let go, little by little, until I got to the point where I would deliberately make a point of not tidying up before friends visited.
It’s been a seemingly never-ending battle over the last two and a half years, but I think I’m finally ready to embrace my inner undomestic goddess and admit that I am learning to love The Mess. Well, maybe not love it exactly, but at least I feel that The Mess and I have a much healthier relationship these days. And to my mother and other half: I admit it, you were both right.
*I should say here that I know for some people it really isn’t a facade, but it my case, it most definitely was.
Originally published: Jul 21, 2016