ANN BAILEY: Learning to be messy

Sometime during my teen years, I changed from someone who left my bed unmade, dresser drawers open and clothes strewn across my bedroom floor to a "neatnik."...

Ann Bailey

Sometime during my teen years, I changed from someone who left my bed unmade, dresser drawers open and clothes strewn across my bedroom floor to a "neatnik."

I not only wanted my personal space to be neat and tidy, I also wanted the rest of the house to be that way. If my siblings set empty glasses by their chairs when they were watching television, I whisked them off to the kitchen and washed them.

And woe to the brother or sister who hung his or her coat on a chair instead of on a hanger in the closet.

Clean path

One of my older brothers, who had a much more casual attitude about housekeeping, dubbed me the "mad cleaner." Meanwhile, though our mother appreciated my efforts to help her with housework, she probably wondered if the complaining I did about my less tidy siblings was worth it.


I continued my efforts to keep, first, my dorm room, later, apartments and, finally, my home in perfect order through the next couple of decades. It was when I became a mother that I realized I either needed to relax my standards or end up driving myself or our children crazy.

I decided that our mental health and family peace wasn't worth worrying about a few empty dishes on the floor of the family room or homework projects piled on top of the dining room table.

Relaxed standards

That's not to say that I don't work to instill in my children the importance of taking care of our house and of putting things away where they found them. I strive to do that, but at the same time, I don't nag them every time I find an odd sock buried under the cushion of the family-room couch or a cereal-bar wrapper on top of the entertainment center.

Along with not worrying so much about having everything in its place, I also don't sweat it as much if things occasionally get dirty and dusty. Soil in various forms comes with the territory when you live on a farm. If I tried to clean and dust every time I saw a speck of dirt, I would be doing nothing else.

Relaxing my standards has not been without some effort on my part. It's hard to break 30-something-year-old habits, be they good or bad. I still spend a fair amount of time biting my tongue and sometimes I still fail. However, for the most part I am much better at not wanting everything to look perfect.

Lesson in patience

It turns out that the past 16 years of living in a house with children was good preparation for the past several weeks of having a very cluttered front porch. The porch is filled with items that my siblings and I cleaned out of our parents' house. In a few weeks, my brothers, sister and I intend to go through the boxes. Until then, they will sit on the porch.


I won't deny that having the boxes on the porch is an exercise in patience and self-control for me. I have thought more than once about hauling them all up the attic where they will be out of sight.

My biggest challenge to not cave in and move the boxes to the attic occurred when we were cleaning the house before Easter. It was hard for me to know that the 15 guests we had invited were going to be coming through the porch on their way into the house, and not move them out of sight.

However, it didn't make any sense to make multiple trips up to the third story to carry all of the stuff up there, only to bring it down again in a few weeks. Meanwhile, our attic already contains several other boxes of stuff from my parents' house that we put in the attic last fall.

The boxes on the porch, which contain everything from books to Jell-O molds to 100-year-old letters, are piled a couple of layers deep and on top of them are another layer of loose items. I did cover some of them with blankets before Easter, so the porch didn't appear to be quite as much in upheaval.

It occurred to me that at least a small amount of messiness and clutter is an inevitable part of life, whether they manifest themselves in a physical form on my porch or in the emotional and mental obstacles I encounter on my life's journey. If I look at these as challenges that provide me with opportunities to grow as a person, they will teach me lessons in patience and acceptance.

Reach Bailey at or (218) 779-8093.

Related Topics: FAMILY
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