Embracing the Family Mess: Striking a Balance Between Chaos and Order

Embracing the Family Mess: Striking a Balance Between Chaos and Order

Sarah Dobbins
Jun 11, 2012

I know I'm not alone in this battle. Straightening up, purging unneeded articles, creating organization tactics, streamlining our current items — does this sound familiar to any of you? While I'll never totally give up on countering the entropy our little family system creates on a daily basis, it occurred to me recently that maybe, just maybe, I shouldn't be fighting it so hard.

This thought struck me as I, for the seemingly billionth time this week, looked around my house and despaired at the mess that surrounded me. Look! Books spread about the table. Stuffed animals left mid-party around a makeshift box-turned-table. A couple (dozen) costumes in a pile from a whirlwind of imagination that apparently involved picking them up and scattering them around the room. Don't they know they're supposed to put things back after they play with them?

But where are they? They — my three boys, ages 2, 5, and 7 — are upstairs, forming a spontaneous ghost hunting team, preparing to meet with the next inevitably fearsome foe. I remind myself — again, for probably the billionth time — that these times are short even though the days seem long. But recently I carried that thought one step further… could it be that I might be able to relax and turn my repeating mantra into a new mindset?

Again, I'll never totally acquiesce — it's always going to be more work keeping a house organized and tidy when kids are underfoot. But am I really able to satisfactorily answer the question: why am I working so hard? If it's to be sure our home is functioning (one can generally find an item without too much difficulty), livable (one can generally walk from room to room without stumbling), and on the whole, comfortable and inviting… well, then that's one thing. But if I'm honest with myself, I realize that part of my motivation involves less honorable influences — the I-have-it-all-together air I am trying to convey, the what-if-unexpected-company-drops-by agenda that lurks in my mind, or the affected casual oh-this-is-easy pretense that seems to grace almost every blog or magazine article related to kids and homekeeping.

But let's be honest — getting back to basics, why am I working so hard? My goal is to, well… not. If I only strive to meet the more forthright goals of homekeeping, I immediately am able to relax. Yes, our home is moderately organized. You're reasonably able to make it from room to room without having to juke a pile of toys. But more importantly, my kids are living out their childhoods. Not chaotically, not without order — it's not just one giant free-for-all — but maybe just with a little less anger and frustration from yours truly.

I'm all about teaching my kids to put things away and keep things organized, and for the most part, they'll soak up some of those lessons in our many years together. But on the whole, I want to learn to embrace some of the chaos, to (dare I say) enjoy the whirlwind of activity and adventure that these young ages bring. Part of the solution is for me to lay down some of my pretentiousness. Another part is to accept life as it is, every day. But a large part, and actually, the most fun part, is to realize that what we have and who we are together is a bigger blessing than the most organized house in the world.

How do you strike a balance between chaos and order in your home?

Photographer's note: Those with keen eyes might have noticed that my two-year-old is, in fact, pouring a cup of water on the rug. He took my instructions to "run around and do something crazy" very literally.

Furnishing the Family Room: How Did Kids Alter Your Choices?
How To: Teaching Kids to Clean
Blogging NYT: Integrating Children Into Your Decor

(Image: Sarah Dobbins)

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