The Eighth Letter: Messy Houses & Being Real

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Dear Daughters,

When I was a little girl, I spent a few days each summer at Grandma and Pappy Lehman’s house. I walked in the morning with my grandma and her TOPS friends, learned how to weed a garden, played UNO in the evenings. Each summer, we’d spend a few hours cleaning her spoon collection. I slept in the purple bedroom at the end of the hall.

One of the best things about visiting Gram and Pap’s was getting to go to work with Gram because Gram was a cleaning lady.

I loved going into those big empty houses. They were never very messy or dirty, but that’s probably because Gram cleaned them regularly. My favorites were the ones that seemed like mansions to me at the time, the biggish homes in upper-middle class suburbia. The master bedroom beds were all incredibly high, which always seemed so fancy to me. I have friends who live in those kinds of houses now.

I don’t know if visiting Gram is when I learned to clean or not, but I sure did learn to clean early on. Cleaning—vacuuming, mopping, dusting, toilets, sinks—and doing dishes and sorting laundry and stripping the bed and remaking it: I don’t remember not knowing how to do these things.

Of course, I still know how to do them.

But I rarely do them. Only when absolutely necessary.

Or so it seems.

We bought this house in 2010, so we’re in our fifth year here, and I’m pretty sure it’s only been cleaned thoroughly twice—both times by your grandma, immediately following one of your births. By “thoroughly,” I mean that the baseboards were wiped down, the windows shined up, the closets sorted through.

It just isn’t a priority for me.

Don’t get me wrong, it isn’t that I don’t prefer a clean house. I like things to be picked up, and I don’t like the mess. I hate feeling the dirt under my bare feet and it annoys me when I find the shirt I want to wear in the dirty laundry basket.

In fact, having the house a wreck really does bother me and stresses me out. Just ask your dad. I especially freak out about the house being a mess when we are about to have people over.

Part of this is because I was raised in an exceptionally clean house with a bathroom that got scrubbed down every week, and this set the standard a bit too high for my own mental health.

And part of this is because I’m embarrassed to let people see my mess.

I wish the latter weren’t the case, but there you have it.

I distinctly remember visiting a friend of mine in Texas and walking into her kitchen to get something to drink. The sink was piled so full of dirty dishes that I couldn’t use the faucet to fill my water glass. I thought to myself, Wow, I really wish I was relaxed enough to have people over with this big of a mess in my kitchen. And then I thought, No, I don’t.

That was before I had children.

Girls, having you in my space perpetually disrupting things and making a mess—for example, pulling the books off a bookshelf I’ve just restocked—has chilled me out a little bit. A very little bit.

If I know people are coming over, I tend to do a quick once-over of wiping up crumbs, throwing all the loose toys into the nearest box or bin, putting the dirty dishes into the sink, if there is room in the sink. Sometimes I even look into the toilet bowl just to make sure it’s been flushed. Sometimes.

But you know what?

Sometimes people stop by unexpectedly. And the house is a mess.

That is life.

Recently, our friends stopped in with their new baby. Of course, I invited them in. I had to step out of the room for a minute when the nine-month-old woke from her nap, and when I came back in, our friend said, “I was just saying that I really love that your house isn’t picked up. It makes me feel so much better.”

That, girls, is profound. People need to know that life isn’t perfect. That it’s messy sometimes, maybe even most of the time.

If your friends—and heck, strangers—only ever see you with your hair done, with your car clean, your books in alphabetical order on our bookshelf, your life all put together, then they’ll never be able to be real with you. And real life is so messy.

So go ahead and disinfect that toilet bowl and throw your dirty clothes in the washing machine. I’m not saying you should be a bum. But I am saying you should be real.

And sometimes the ring inside the toilet bowl is what’s real.


Your Momma