Or how I manage to survive in a home with a messy wife and kids
LEGO are the bane of my existence.
Sure, they look like a great gift idea for my two boys. Who wouldn’t want to give a LEGO angler fish to a five-year-old boy? It’s the perfect gift!
That is until you lose a piece here, you break off a fin there, the directions are lost in the rubble, and the kid is left with a fresh new pile of LEGO to scatter about.
If I had my way, every time one of my boys received a new LEGO set, we’d promptly build it then place it on a high shelf for all to admire, never to be played with or destroyed.
“Daddy, can I play with the angler fish?” they’d ask.
“No son,” I’d reply, “it’s much better to sit and look at it. But don’t sit too long, I need to vacuum.”
It should come as no surprise that I’m a bit of a neat freak. I like things organized and put away. However, I’ve come to appreciate a small bit of untidiness in my life. I should have expected it.
When I first met my eventual wife, we were both in college. She was the messiest person I ever met. Her dorm room resembled the wreckage of Hiroshima but without all the loss of life and radioactive decay.
She was (and still is) cute and we were young, so I was willing to look past all of her sloppiness and hope one day she’d catch on to Marie Kondo.
Twelve years later, I still live with a woman who leaves clothes on the floor, dishes on the table, and half-eaten granola bars in her purse. She also had the audacity to create two humans who are hellbent on winning the Let’s-Drive-Dad-Mad-By-Dumping-All-Of-Our-Toys-On-The-Floor award.
And yet, I wouldn’t have it any other way.
What I’ve given up in tidiness is paid for by the love, joy, and growth we experience together as a family. Sure, I wish things were a bit more organized around my home, but that would mean the endless pursuit of a hopeless cause.
Rather, I let my kids be kids. They make messes, they play to their hearts’ content, they imagine without fear or consequence. Why?
Because as much as I love tidiness, I’d rather live a life full of happymess.
What is happymess?
You might be tempted to think I’m advocating that everyone give up personal hygiene and cleanliness for the sake of focusing on more important things. I’m not.
Happymess does not mean you live in a home that is unsanitary. It’s clean, but with bits of clutter here and there. It’s livable and manageable.
Think more Loreli Gilmore, less Betty Draper.
The biggest question you may be asking is Why? Why live life with extra clutter and disorganization when a “clean home is a happy home?”
The answer is simple: time.
We live in an entropic universe, meaning everything is bent toward chaos and decay. It takes vast amounts of energy to create and sustain order in our universe. I’m not talking metaphorically, it’s literally written into the rules of physics.
When it comes to keeping an orderly home, time is the necessary ingredient. The more time spent cleaning and organizing, the less time you have on more fulfilling activities. The problem only becomes worse the more people you have under your roof.
Old school thinking
Jordan Peterson is a tell-it-like-it-is kind of guy. He says things like:
“My sense is that if you want to change the world, you start from yourself and work outward, because you build your competence that way. I don’t know how you can go out and protest the structure of the entire economic system if you can’t keep your room organized.”
The idea stems from this notion that our environment is an extension of ourselves. The conventional thinking is that when your room is clean and organized your mind is also clean and organized and thus able to focus on more important things.
But this simply isn’t true.
For many people, a clean home is a distraction. It’s something else to focus on besides the internal mess raging inside. Time and energy are exhausted to keep a home impeccably clean while bigger problems continue to mount.
Peterson assumes people with clean rooms are capable of tackling much bigger world problems. I argue they’re the least qualified.
Instead, it’s all about finding the balance.
The best time to clean up a mess is right after you make it. That’s what they all say. (You might even be nodding your head in agreement right about now.)
But what about that time you made a delicious pot pie for dinner? The kitchen is a mess. You and your special someone are polishing off the final crumbs and downing your second glasses of wine and she has that look in her eyes. Her foot gently nudges yours under the table.
“Sorry honey, the best time to clean up a mess is right after you make it,” is not what she wants to hear.
Living a life of happymess is all about balance. It’s knowing that you’re putting off the chore of tidying up so that you can focus on something much more important. However, you have to be careful. Procrastination and laziness can easily sneak in and spoil your happymess.
That’s why I like to have one Big Clean once a week (sometimes twice). The majority of this cleaning time is spent reorganizing the playroom in the basement — which we let fester throughout the week — as well as the other typical household chores: sweeping, sanitizing, and vacuuming.
This leaves the rest of the week open to enjoy family time, reading, writing, and cooking.
Speaking of cooking, what I haven’t mentioned about my wife is that when she cooks, she leaves a trail of destruction in the kitchen (which I end up cleaning up). But I don’t mind at all. To me, a messy kitchen means a delicious meal. My wife is an excellent cook, my favorite cook, and when the dishes pile up I am almost certain I’m in for a treat.
So Mr. Peterson, I have to disagree. A clean room isn’t a prerequisite to accomplishing bigger things in life.
What does your happymess look like?
“So what you’re saying is that I should leave my bed unmade and focus on more important tasks?”
Yes, that’s exactly what I’m saying.
Give me the unmade bed, the flour-stained countertops, the nose-smudged window. Give me the little clutters, the paper stacks, the half-drunk mugs.
Give me the worn-out books, the unmatched socks, the crooked house plants. Give me the mess of life enjoyed, in all its un-orderliness, in all its deluge.
Give me actualized happymess, not sanitized happiness.
We place too much emphasis on the orderliness of our physical spaces and yet ignore our internal mess. Happymess means investing more time back into ourselves. It means using the objects in our home (even if it means we have to clean them up later). It means seeing your home for what it is: a space for you to learn, love, and grow.
We may want the perfect home we see in all the catalogs and Pinterest boards, but I’ll take a messy, yet happy, home every time.