I am a neat freak, born and raised. In my house growing up, there was a place for everything. The keys? In the wooden bowl on the stand near the door. The matches? In the white vase on the shelf in the kitchen. Spare change? In the cup on the microwave. Vacuuming was done on a schedule, Mondays and Thursdays. Books were categorized by genre and alphabetized by author. Monday was dusting day. The lawn was mowed on Thursday.
I admit, I had a few messy years. I had a small efficiency apartment in college, and most of the time it was not fit for guests. Gradually though, throughout my twenties, I grew out of my messy rebellion. I started hanging up my clothes, doing the dishes immediately after each use, vacuuming once a week, then every few days. And then like clockwork, Mondays and Fridays. My books went from stacks on the floor to artful arrangements by color and size on the shelves.
I waged war on clutter. I raged against disorganization. I battled dog hair on the carpet and crumbs on the counter. You could have dropped by my house anytime. Anytime! I was ready for you.
After I prepared to give birth to my baby girl, I got ready for the inevitable baby clutter. The toys, the bottles, the dirty bibs. All of the emails describing my baby’s development that week told me to give in to the mess: “Give yourself a break!” “A messy house is the sign of a good mom!” “You are not alone, no one will judge you!” One email even said that if it’s too clean, it’s not good for baby. Was I really going to risk my baby’s immune system for a perfectly clean house? I wasn’t sure.
I prepared for my standards to fall. “Please, PLEASE help me with clutter after the baby’s here,” I’d implore my husband. I repeated my mantra: “A place for everything! Everything in it’s place!”
The first few weeks were a blur of bottles and diapers and burp cloths and blowouts. Laundry built up and baby items were strewn throughout the house. I alternated between bliss and blues. We lived among the clutter in a fog.
Early chaotic weeks passed into months and into glorious routine. The fog lifted. Our little girl grew from an infant to a baby to a full-fledged toddler. She learned to crawl, and I went back to my vacuuming schedule with renewed passion. “It has to be done!” I’d say, half wondering if I was doing new moms a disservice everywhere. But the lint! The dog hair! The tracked-in dirt from outside! Was my clean house a betrayal? I didn’t care.
These days, my girl is toddling around, taking her first steps through the house. I still fight the clutter, but days with only the shortest of naps have forced me to sit back a bit and relax. I’ve learned to balance the neat freak inside of me with the new mom in me that maybe, just maybe, can revel in a (tiny) bit of disorder. The books that my daughter loves to pull off the shelves in her room do get put back when she’s done, to be sure, but I’ve given up on the artful arrangement. The tall books, short books, small books, paperbacks, board books, old books and new are all shelved together. No order, no worries. It doesn’t look perfect, it looks like a kid lives here. And even I can see the beauty in the chaos.