The Best is the Enemy of the Good: Home

House, by my son (6)

Ok, what better subject to kick off this series than our homes, in particular the issue of how it looks.  If, like me, your philosophy is “life’s too short for dusting”, don’t be scared off – this is for you. It’s also for you if you’re a bit obsessive about your home. That’s most of us covered then…..

To remind you, and those who’ve just stumbled upon me (hello, draw up a chair), I’ve started a series looking at the ways in which striving for the best for our children might sometimes come at the expense of the good for ourselves or the rest of the family. If you’re new, see the introductory post on this and particularly The Good Enough Mums post for why I’m doing this series).

Ok. Home.  Is where the heart is.  Right?  Ok, so if that’s the case, why are we so obsessed in our society with how it looks, rather than how it feels?Yes, of course, how it looks does of course affect how we feel about a place to a certain degree. I am very with you on this, as I am truly affected by the way a place is kitted out, big time.  My father was an architect for goodness sake, and he kindly handed that aesthetic fussiness down to me in his genes. Thanks, Dad.

But I’ve noticed over the years of childrearing how much we mothers, during the early years of motherhood, worry and fuss about how our houses look, particularly when we have people over.  And this at a time when we have our very own home-made mess monsters living in the house 24/7.  We must be mad!

I mentioned in my previous post the seriously ridiculous confession of a friend of mine who admitted to touching up her walls with paint before her book group came round.  I’ve been to several houses after dark (when the kids and their mess are tucked up nicely in a neat bed upstairs) where you could’ve eaten off the floor they were so clean and I wondered where on earth they keep all that paperwork and clutter that real life is made of.

I would come home and feel terrible at what a cluttered house I lived in. Those of you who know me, know that that was a really rather idiotic thing to do, that its really not that cluttered and certainly not messy. But the point is, the standard was set so high, plus I was too busy comparing myself with others and caring about their opinion, that I fell into that trap.

Why do we do this? In brief, it’s that usual good ol’ mixture of trying to keep control of how we like things to be, spending too much time comparing ourselves with others, and taking too much note of what others, especially the media is telling us is the ‘norm’. And of course a thoroughly good natural sense of wanting a home to be a nice, safe, pleasant environment. Brilliant. Many women are so gifted at that, and that’s to be celebrated.

But what I’m concerned about is the degree to which modern advertising and magazines have made the home a place of perfect cleanliness, unclutteredness and simplicity. Now stop for a minute. Do you think that’s been dreamt up by children, or by perfectionist child-free singletons in their 20s?  Certainly not by mothers with a job, 3 children and a husband who’s been trained to put his pants in the wash and that’s about it…..

Yes, of course, its important for children to live in a clean (enough) home, with a sense of order and a place for things and, if possible, beauty. I love a home that is clean and attractive. But I’ve realised over the years that striving and stressing, yes, stressing to make it such a spotless place can be done to such a degree that children feel it’s a not a home where they can just ‘be’. A place where they can feel free to be creative with their toys and spread them throughout the home as their imagination rules. Like below:

Giant Bee Temple (bee’s inside) taking over the landing

Of late, I’ve decided to let my 5 (now 6) yr old’s road or train set, or my 8 yr olds incredible brick creations stay around for that bit longer than I’d really like as I know how precious to them it is. Now, you’ve got to realise that we don’t have a big house, and you walk straight into our living room from a small porch off the driveway. It’s the room where I chill out in the evening, or, now they’re at school, for an hour in the school day. I like the room to be clear of clutter for that.  The problem is it’s the only decent size room where my boy can spread out his trains, apart from his bedroom. And so it stays, at least for a week.

And then there’s the time when you’ve got guests coming over. Oh heck. Does that bring out the Mrs Tiggywinkle in us all!   In that in the hour before people come round or to stay, I used to be so stressed about getting the place looking just right, that I’d driven all fun out of expectant guests from my family. Snapping at my toddler because he’s made a mess of the floor I’ve just swept is not his idea of a good time. Or my husband’s.

Here’s my challenge. Next time your Little Mess Monster makes a stunning display with his lego that you have to climb over to get to your TV remote, try and leave it there for at least 24 hrs longer than you’d like.  You’re giving them the message that this is their home as much as yours and that you value what they’ve added to the home environment.

Also, next time you have someone coming over, try NOT to get the house looking perfect.  Why? Because you’ll be doing both them and yourself a service. Your family will most likely be more relaxed and refreshed when they arrive. And they will probably feel the place feels so much more ‘homely’, so much more an expression of you and your family, and won’t go home feeling like their home needs a major make-over.

I like to call it a conspiracy of messiness. Or maybe more accurately, a conspiracy of not making everything perfect.

Of course, if you just love making a place beautiful for guests, it’s a gift you have, then great, go for it.  I love being in homes that exude beauty and light. After all, how people respond to your inviting, welcoming house is their responsibility, not yours. Thankfully, I now have a much healthier response and chose not to compare myself on my return!

But for those of us for whom home making isn’t the very top of their priorities or gifting, or who have children under the age of five, ask yourself how much of striving for the best, takes away the good in your family life? It’s worth asking.


6 thoughts on “The Best is the Enemy of the Good: Home

  1. Great post. I find it quite easy to be constantly disgruntled with our living space. We had a major refurb recently and the space works loads better now but haven’t quite found new homes for everything yet so it still feels messy. Our second child started crawling this week, which has highlighted one or two (OK loads!) of things that need attention! I think your post strikes a great balance – not denying a tidyish and reasonably ordered home is life enhancing but reminding us not to get too stressed about creating perfection.

    I know I’ll never have the tidiest home but am on a mission to make it tidy and organised enough, and tiny bit beautiful before I go back to work and have NO time to do anything other than maintain whatever status quo has been reached by that point.

    Thanks for the reminder to keep it real!

  2. Ooh, yippee, I love a conspiracy and this sounds like just the one for me! I stress far too much about how ‘messy’ my house is compared to most of my friends but completely fail to note that myself and husband have many house-y hobbies (baking, brewing, sewing, growing….etc) that it is bound to be slightly untidy.

    And those home-made mess monsters – I have two under five!

    Another great post, thank you for showing us the light!

    • Brilliant. What a blast it is to have you find my site! You sound fantastic. I’ll be following your blog as i love the flavour of yours too. PS How do you manage to have 1,645 (or however many it is) followers?!!! My 27 look hilariously paltry in comparison (oops, there I go, comparing…) Not that your site isn’t worthy of those multitudes. I was merely wondering what you’re doing social networking wise that I could get some top tips from?

  3. Onya.

    One of the reasons I’ve recently found to tackle the clutter in our home is because it helps me to feel more at peace in the space. Whether or not you subscribe to maintaining a high level of minimalism in your home, clutter will still call to you at *some* level “I need to be tidied away!”. Removing it helps me to relax. Just don’t be opening any cupboards or entering the playroom without a written permit.

    Another is an attempt to make things easier to find. I am the finding-things officer in our house (a role I’m trying to resign from), and I’m trying now to impress upon the 3 other residents here that if you put something back where you found it, you’re more likely to be able to find it yourself next time. Also known as, the hairbrush doesn’t live in the living room.

    And after *many* years of running around with a vacuum cleaner before parental visits, I now just make sure the spaces we’re going to use (like the kitchen table – for eating off, and the sofas – for sitting on) are available to use.

    • I’m totally with you there, Jude. My call to a conspiracy of ‘messiness’ was a bit of fun, using hyperbole to make my point. I hope my post doesn’t give the impression that we should really keep our houses messy! Tidiness and keeping it as clutter free as possible is essential for keeping it easier to find things, like you say, and keeping a clear mind. My point is that people like you and me need to keep it in balance and not be too preoccupied by how clean and tidy the place is if it means its taking over our sense of fun and relaxedness with the kids. PS Lovely to see you here on my blog – you must be Steve’s wife?

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