Mess. I have a lot of it in my life. A lot of my energy day to day goes into tackling the physical kind. Three kids, a dog, and two adults – combined we make a lot of the stuff. I also expel a lot of hot air complaining about the mess. Pointing it out to whoever will listen. Grumbling that I’m the only one it seems to bother. When the mess is under control, I feel like I can breathe. I feel like this is the way it should always be. That this is the way we should LIVE. In a peaceful, orderly, dust free, shiny and spacious environment. That this is the dream above all dreams.
And then Brene Brown, through a Christmas blog post said the words: “the magic is in the mess”. Which makes perfect emotional sense to me: how we feel, and how we relate to those around us, and the very messy experience of being a human being. I read the post, nodded sagely in agreement and went about my own merry way. Because life is meant to be messy. In the last 12 months, I’ve become a fully fledged subscriber to this way of thinking. I’ve even started to consider the value of a messy life – to contemplate the messages and the learning that life-messiness has to offer me.
But the physical mess in my house? The phrase kept popping into my head as I wandered disconsolately round my cluttered, muddy, post Christmas, kids off school house.
Now surely that’s another thing entirely. That cannot be what Brene meant can it? Because in my house (and we can extend this to the car as well) mess is BAD. BAD BAD BAD. Mess in these places is unwelcome, sometimes smelly, shame inducing and ugly, and must (in the ideal world that I in no way inhabit) be stamped out whenever possible. Could there possibly be some magic in the physical mess – as well as the metaphysical stuff?
Now, to me – this feels pretty subversive and counter culture. This is turning my way of thinking On Its Head. I am breathing pretty darn deeply as I write this. I am frowning in concern at What This Means for me, my house and my car. But I’m going with it. I think this is pretty interesting.
What if there is magic in the mess? What if, in the hideous pile of toys, clothes and clutter currently taunting me from one of the kids’ bedrooms holds some magic in it? What if the jumbly, impenetrable muddle of the utility room holds some kind of answer or truth? I’ve always rather assumed that the truth is the tidiness – the order – the organisation. I always imagined that if I ever reached an imagined level of physical order in my home, life would somehow fall into line. It would be full of time, space and possibility. It would open up before me, and show me all the truths I ever needed to find. If my home was that home, it would all somehow make sense.
And as I write, this assumption seems nothing if not a little absurd. Because my home, in all its muddly glory forces me to dig deep – a lot. It forces me to ask some Big Questions of myself. About how I want to spend my time. About how I want to expend my energies. About what truly matters to me. About what, and how much ‘stuff’ we really need. And those answers – when they come – slowly erratically, and in fairly unexpected moments – they’re the magic. They’re moments of clarity. They force me to acknowledge, and challenge, the intense feelings of shame and vulnerability in me when those outside my most immediate family glimpse my entirely imperfect house (see the picture above!).
Because the mess is vulnerability. The mess is not having it all together. The mess is not being sure where things belong, or where to put them. The mess is running out of time to sort them out. Or sometimes being unable to compete with the three small chaotic humans who are yet to see the ‘value’ of a clear, dusted surface. And despite all my willingness to acknowledge and explore this on an emotional level, considering it in relation to my physical world seems a lot more challenging.
As ever, I don’t quite have an answer. I feel at peace when the house is clean and tidy. My soul, on a very deep level feels better for it. Its important for me to acknowledge that. But when I feel tormented by the mess – a daily occurrence – maybe I could look a little closer for the magic. Maybe the mess is forcing me to try and answer questions I wouldn’t otherwise ask. Maybe the mess is what I need. Maybe I won’t let the kids know that just yet. But maybe quietly acknowledging it myself might just be a good thing.