There’s a war that’s been happening in my house. It’s been going on for years now – since about the time my daughter turned one. You might think of it more like a cold war than a violent one. Each side has been building up arms, testing out bombs in remote areas, but not a full-scale bloody war… yet.
On the one side we have our stuff. It piles up and quietly sneaks beyond enemy lines. It starts out in well-intentioned organized boundaries and then sneakily ends up covering every surface in the house. It’s toys, crayons, crumbs, scarves, coats, backpacks, you name it.
On the other side is me. I build up my arsenal – toy bins, shoe racks, a hand vac, and even a soldier (aka my housekeeper). I wage little battles here and there, quietly filling garbage bags of items to donate and bits of old art projects to recycle. Our housekeeper comes in every other week and throws all of the toys and junk into bins around the room confusing the natives as they search for their beloved items the rest of the week in strange locations.
Winning the Battle, Losing the War
So let’s get really honest for minute here. I am losing this war. Big time. Sure, I win lots of the battles. For about 25 minutes after the housekeeper leaves, the house sparkles and gives off a sense of calm and peace. But that’s about as long as we get. 25 minutes. And then there are crumbs again. And toys. And pens. And stuff. Stuff everywhere.
“So what?” A number of people in my life – including my husband and my therapist – have asked me many times over. The questioning goes something like – why does it have to be clean? Raising kids is messy business. Just do your best and move on. There are more important things to worry about.
True. Of all the worries in my life, mess is not the worst one. But it is the most prevalent and present one. It follows me. It stays with me. And it stresses me out. Science already proved that it causes stress. In the recent article The Unbearable Heaviness of Clutter, the New York Times reported that studies have shown that clutter is stressful:
The findings add to a growing body of evidence that clutter can negatively impact mental well-being, particularly among women. Clutter can also induce a physiological response, including increased levels of cortisol, a stress hormone.
Boy does it ever. I come home and look at the effects of my cold-war enemy. I kick aside shoes, push over piles of stuff at the table so that I can put my plate down, and toss stuffed animals and blankets off the couch to watch TV. (Side note: Can anyone please explain to me why my children need to bring every blanket we own downstairs and leave them in every corner of the living room?) The stuff just creeps and creeps past enemy lines.
It’s Not a Battle. It’s a Family.
But here’s the thing: this cold war is a life-problem. My “enemies” are the people I love most in the world. They are my family. They are not my enemies. I do not want to fight with them. I don’t want to yell and scream. Sure we have rules. Sure we make them pick up on the weekends. But at the end of a workday, I’m tired. I’m cranky. And I really don’t want to spend my time with my kids acting as their drill-sergeant. I want to hear about their day, eat a meal, and rest.
So, I suppose I’m losing this battle because I’m treating it like a battle. It’s not a battle. It’s a family.
The only advice that the Heaviness of Clutter article offers is to try not to bring too much “stuff” into your home. Stuff creates clutter; therefore have less stuff. I’ve had that philosophy for a long time. I can’t stand the dominant culture of materialism we live in. I don’t care about stuff. I don’t care about having the nicest or newest or coolest things. We almost never buy toys; most of our kids’ toys are gifts from other people. I love hand-me-downs and kids’ consignment sales because it makes my stomach turn every time we have to buy brand new clothes for them, knowing they’re either going to be destroyed or grown out of in about 2 minutes.
But then I watched Marie Kondo’s new show Tidying Up. I’ve also read her book, The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up, which most certainly was not for me. I will not be drying my dishes on the fire escape any time soon. But something about the show drew me in. It wasn’t about her process; it was about her.
When I watched the first episode, I questioned the idea of “greeting the house” and thanking pieces of junk that were getting thrown away. In this world of increased isolation and self-centeredness, shouldn’t we be focused on trying to thank human beings and finding joy in relationships… not things? Still, it intrigued me.
And then my daughter watched an episode with me and asked for an explanation about why Kondo was “greeting” the house. Out of my mouth came this profound and simple explanation. It’s amazing how you can clarify things for yourself when you talk to your kids. (I also use this as a mental trick when I’m feeling stuck.)
I said to her: “Maybe if we greeted our house like a beloved member of our family, maybe if we saw it as an almost-living thing, we might treat it with reverence and respect. We might not leave our things everywhere. We might be inclined to pick up our messes, be gentle with the floors and walls and cabinets. Maybe if we treated our things with more respect, we’d have a more orderly home with less stuff everywhere.”
Reverence for Stuff
Oh. Maybe the problem isn’t diminishing our stuff in order to overcome materialism. Maybe the problem is that we don’t treat it with enough reverence. It’s not a battle with my family or my house. Maybe it’s about all of us coming together with the shared goal of creating a loving and beautiful home. It’s about finding the best in one another and making our home reflect that love.
Now how do I explain that to my five-year-old?
Ordinary Days, Meaningful Life is a labor of love geared toward working moms ready to embrace the chaos and find meaning in it. If you found this post meaningful, please share it with someone you think would enjoy it too! I’d love to stay in touch with you! Leave a comment below, contact me, or sign up for the mailing list. I can’t wait to hear from you!