I am not the neatest person in the world. Four children make it harder to keep things clean as it seems like stuff is constantly shifting, like sand grains blowing away from sand dunes, rising and lowering with the wind. I have a counter by the stove that can never be cleared away, try as I might, and is always piled with incoming mail/newspapers/library books. When I need to use three burners on the stove, I have to reorganize the pile on the counter and more than once, paper has gotten singed (thank goodness it's an electric stove and not a gas stove or else it would be 'whoosh!' and not singe)
I do my best at keeping the house clutter free. I beat back the rising tide of laundry only to be drowned again in a couple of days. The dishes pile up quickly and I hate doing dishes, especially ones I only just washed 10 minutes ago. Sweeping is a constant as is wiping up spills, drips and messes. Books are always being pulled out to be read and not always put back right away. I feel like I am always picking something up-- spilled puzzle pieces, dumped game pieces (thanks, Peter), over-turned apple box scattering apples in the sunroom, tipped over clothespins... And this was just in the morning.
For sure, a white-gloved finger would be very dusty after swiping along the door frame and window trim. For sure, I wouldn't want to eat off the living room floor, knowing who and what has been traipsing all around, leaving behind goodness knows what, but the dishes and forks are clean. Beds are not always made, though Mama's is. Towels are not always hung neatly, but they are clean. There's finger prints of paint under the light switch in the bathroom, but the fingers are now clean. For sure, it's a lived in house.
I don't want to be constantly cleaning in order to maintain a spotless house. Yes, I envy those perfect-looking rooms you see in the pages of magazines, but I know it's a lie. They've been cleaned and buffed and spit-shined by a multitude of people then photographed in perfect lighting to bring out the best features of the couch/floor/rug. Even bloggers cheat when they photograph rooms for show and tell and messes get cropped out or the one room is kept clean while the rest of the house is messy. Then there are the exceptions to the rule, whose homes really are neat and tidy and nary a wrinkle in the bedspread. They probably have no kids and no pets, or maybe they're OCD, or maybe, and I say this with a little pang of jealousy, they're one of those people that clean when they're nervous or anxious or excited. When I'm nervous or anxious or excited, I eat.
I've tried it once, to be always on top of messes, put things in their place, sort mail before it piles up, clean spills before they get dried and sticky, wash dishes as soon as they hit the sink, do laundry before someone runs out of underwear, take out the trash before it smells, sweep up paper scraps before they slip under the hutch, wipe up paint before they dry onto the tablecloth... It was exhausting and I wasn't happy. I had no time to enjoy life because I followed it around with with a broom and dustpan, focused only on the messes it left behind. I missed out on enjoying my meal because I fretted about the dirty dishes. I paid no mind to the lovely pictures my children made because I only saw the paint spills and paper scraps. That's no way to live.
I accept the messes in my life. I beat back the clutter and every now and then, clutter wins. I accept that 4 children can be messy, really really messy, like poop running down their legs messy, but I love them, messes and all. As long as I can still reach in the middle of the pile on the counter by the stove and pull out the exact paper I'm looking for, then the clutter is under control. If I can see that my floor is clean, maybe not eat-off-the-floor-clean (who does that anyway??), and I can lay down on the floor and wrestle with the kids without getting up looking like I've been tarred and feathered, I'm good. Life is messy. I can embrace the messy.
Does it mean I never get frustrated? Do I resign myself and my house to pig-pen status? No, I still get hissy fits about the messes. I yell at the kids for making a mess of the just-folded pile of clothes on my bed, waiting to be put away. I get upset when the floor I just mopped now has chicken poop tracks from someone who forgot to take their shoes off before coming in the house. I growl in exasperation when I pick up yet another book or movie off the floor. I yowl in pain when I step on another jack/lego block/barbie shoe and holler for the kids to come and pick up their toys.
But I pick my battles. As long as the kitchen, bathrooms and living room are clean, and the doors to the bedrooms can be shut, I'm happy. When company comes over and it takes me less than 30 minutes to give the house a quick clean-up before they get here, I'm happy. When we go out for the day and I come back in the house, I sniff the air, and if it smells good and not like the litter box/dog/poopy diapers, I'm happy.
Someday, when I can put something on the table and it's still there an hour later; when I can buy yogurt and it's not gone within 5 minutes of putting it in the fridge; when I can leave the toothpaste on the counter and not find it squeezed out in the sink; when I can wash the windows and not find nose smudges immediately after; when a clean piece of paper doesn't get scribbled on and stays in the printer paper tray; when I can fold clothes, walk away and they stay folded; when I can leave a glass half full of tea, it will still be there 10 minutes later, I'll know the kids have gone and moved away. I'll miss them, won't miss the messes.