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Sometimes, It Takes a Mess

Like most kids, my childhood bedroom was rarely neat and tidy. I viewed my room as nothing more than a container for my things and a place to sleep. Books, clothes, toys, and knick-knacks littered every surface, floor included. My idea of clean enough was having a path cleared to get around the room.

It wasn’t quite on the level to get me an audition for “Hoarders,” but you’d be forgiven for thinking I was headed in that direction. My mom made sure it never got quite that bad with orders to excavate the floor and furniture every few months.

There’s no easy way to clean up a bedroom that’s reached that stage of messy. I had to drag the mysteries out from under my bed, dismantle mountains of clothing and whatever lay beneath, and retrieve what had fallen behind my dresser. All that was hidden got dragged out into the open and new piles grew all around the room while I tried to organize myself back to cleanliness. In short, the first stage of cleaning was making an even bigger mess.

My mom’s eyes would widen when she peeked through my door to check in. I hurried to assure her, “I swear I’m actually making progress; it just looks bad.” She’d nod silently and back out, leaving me to it.

I’m happy to report that these days the producers of “Hoarders” would be entirely uninterested in my home. I’m not saying “The Home Edit” or Marie Kondo are going to recruit me to come work for them, but I’m doing okay over here.

While I’ve certainly picked up better habits and systems over the year, I’ve also realized that my sanity depends on my physical world not descending into complete chaos. Like many moms, the mental load weighs heavily on my mind 24/7. My brain is a metaphorical junk drawer crammed with the old receipts, half-charged batteries, and broken crayons of life. I need a sane home environment to balance that out and find some peace.

As a consequence, I am decidedly mess-averse. When it comes to my kids, that leads to a lot of saying, “no.” No jumping in puddles, no playing with playdough, no food in the car, no walking away from toy explosions, no sensory bins, no glitter, and, dear Lord, NO SLIME.

I love this fresh-start house I bought last August. I really don’t mind the smaller square footage, but I do feel the loss of the playroom we had at the old place. Sometimes, on the weekends the kids are at their dad’s house and I’m home alone, I daydream about boxing up all but a few choice toys and driving the rest straight to Goodwill. But, as every parent knows, toys somehow reproduce like bunnies, and Christmas and birthdays do insist on coming around each and every year to replenish anything that finds its way to a new, loving home.

When I’m keeping my dreams a little more realistic, I scroll through Pinterest, saving decorating and renovation ideas to my pinboard for this nearly-hundred-year-old house. I’ve done a few little projects around the house since last summer, painting, hanging art, and even ripping the carpet out of the kitchen, but I’ve stopped short of pulling the trigger on most of the bigger DIYs on my list. They just feel like too big of a job, too big of a ... well, mess.

But, frankly, my kitchen looks like the seventies vomited on it. Every morning I come down the stairs, walk into the kitchen and wrinkle my nose at the bright orange, peeling formica countertops. I sigh inwardly when I open a dull brown cabinet, and try not to look at all at the blistered burn mark on the weird plastic backsplash surrounding my stove. This kitchen may be tidy, but it’s a mess.

There’s so much I want to do in here. I want to take down most of the upper cabinets and replace them with open shelves, I want to paint the walls, I want to do something (anything) about those heinous countertops, I want to install a tile backsplash, and I want to paint the cabinets black. But … it’s a lot of work to tackle. And never have I ever done a DIY project that didn’t make a giant mess.

Sometimes, making a bigger mess is the only way to make something better.

Last Friday night after tucking the kids into bed, I scrolled through my kitchen Pinterest board of kitchens with sleek black cabinets, clean white countertops, and airy open shelving. Then I took my dreaming a little further. I looked up countertop prices and crunched budget numbers. The equation added up if I took on most of the work myself. I could do it; I could make this dream a reality if only I was brave enough to take it on.

Saturday night I dropped the kids off at their dad’s and drove straight to Home Depot where I loaded up my cart with primer, rollers, brushes, dropcloth, tape, sandpaper, liquid deglosser, and wood filler. I got home and started taking cabinet doors off their hinges and drawers off their tracks before I could change my mind.

Between the contents of the drawers, the painting supplies, and the drawers and doors themselves, the kitchen was a disaster for most of the weekend. Late Saturday night, I slipped and dropped my paint tray on the floor, spilling primer over the vinyl planking just installed last summer (it all came up with soap and water). I got a splinter under a fingernail, broke a lightbulb, and dropped a pencil sharpener in the toilet.

By the time I put away all my tools and painting supplies Monday night, I’d painted a third of the cabinets and installed new hardware. They turned out exactly how I'd hoped. Sitting on a stool at my bright orange island, I flipped through the countertop brochures I’d picked up at Home Depot and read through backsplash tiling tutorials on my phone.

This weekend, the kids are with me, and I’ll be too busy with messes of the toddler and little-kid variety to roll up my sleeves for home renovation projects, but I’m excited to keep making messes in my kitchen until I’ve finished the job.


This post is part of a blog hop with Exhale—an online community of women pursuing creativity alongside motherhood, led by the writing team behind Coffee + Crumbs. Click here to view the next post in this series "Make A Mess."


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