Messy Weekends ~ Gift Yourself the Freedom

On the weekend things get kind of loose around here. Especially, if don't go to the mountains on Sunday, which we haven't done now for a month. I don't always like the loose, but my family seems to.

Damien's knee was well enough to go skiing this weekend at the ski hill (yay!) and there was just enough snow (double yay!). But that's not the same as going out for the whole day. When we ski in our backyard we don't pack a lunch. When we're hungry we come home, eat and then leave.

We're not so good at cleaning up after ourselves during that lunch break. Which means the house is messy when we get home, tired after a day of skiing. But there are worse things, like not skiing at all.

I used to always tidy the house before I left it. I didn't like coming home to mess. Then I had kids.

I used to do and and care about a lot of things that weren't that important. Some of these I had to let go of when the kids were little, eg. my standards for cleanliness.

Some of these have had little to do with kids and more to do with control in general. There's a lot of books on the market these days to help women "let go of control", especially Christian women. I find that interesting. Christian women wresting for control. I think there's a huge commentary there but I am not going there in this post.

I had thought a little while ago I should read one of these control books since I recognize my desire to control circumstances to prevent inconvenience, loss and hardship (see Fear section in this post). If I can control a situation for my benefit, I do. And I don't mean nefarious benefit, I mean regular ol' managing-my-life-for-the-best-outcome kind of control.

But over the past few months I've been reminded just how far I've come in this, without a book. I'm not disparaging the books. I read lots of books, but not usually self help, that's my least favorite genre.

Life itself has forced me to let go of control in many areas. Control of finances and financial security. Control of my home - there are 5 of us living here all the time, my word is not the final say and sometimes I simply retreat to my bedroom if the space is bothering me. Control of my children - they grow and I don't get to tell them what to do as much. Not if I want to keep their hearts, that is.

You can either fight to remain in control of your life or you can relinquish. Sometimes we relinquish only when we have no choice (as is the case for me and financial security) and other times we choose to let go because we value a relationship or a value more than the "form". I.e. if my controlling the space, the schedule, or the plan stands between me and someone I love I need to let go of that control.

Our adventurous and creative living life choices, my children's growth, and my evolving relationship with Damien - all of these have naturally forced my hand in letting go of control.

I don't want to pat myself on the back here too much because I'm still very much a work in progress in this regard but letting go of control is something I'm much better at now than I was a few years ago.

And this is not to say I don't manage our home, I do. As chief home manager I make lots of the final decisions on matters of space, schedules, plans, and finances. But I have to be careful that the motivation behind these decisions is the overall well being of my family and the nurturing of relationships, not simply the desire to exert my will over others.

I still don't like a messy house and we have times in our week and days that I enforce a clean up. After years of training, my charges can do this with efficiency and without complaint. They don't want to live in a disaster zone either. They love a blank slate with which to create. But sometimes instead of enforcing a clean up I need to just leave the room. Because if the mess isn't bothering anyone else what right do I have to control the situation?

I am simply not the control freak that I was once (I've still got a ways to go, but don't we all). I can sit down in the middle of the messy living room to read a book. I can leave the house to go hiking or skiing and not feel the compulsive need to clean before I go. I can let my young adult daughter determine her own curriculum. I am comfortable with good enough.

We are embarking on a large-scale adventure next year that will stretch me even more in this direction. You think it's scary now that I wash only three loads of laundry a week (clean clothes are overrated). That adventure will have us in dirty clothes, almost always. I will have to let go of control in many areas to live that adventure.

Sometimes the only way to lose our controlling tendencies is to step outside our comfort zone. And then do it again. And again. And again.

I love the outdoors for this reason. You can't control nature. You learn your place real fast. And after you've been in nature for an extended period, say a few days or longer, you will start to see how your everyday patterns and quirks - maintaining a standard you thought was necessary - may not be so necessary after all.

And when you let go of controlling all these things, mentally and physically, you gift yourself and your family with more breathing room, more time, and more peace. You gift yourself with freedom.

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  • Michelle

    Michelle on Feb. 12, 2013, 3:05 p.m.

    I always, always clean the entire house on Fridays. Everything is in its place and then we can enjoy the weekend. Unlike you, I can't read a book in a messy room and I would never leave the dishes undone, even if guests leave at midnight, my husband and I will wash, dry and put away the dishes. I don't think that I have a control issue in this regard, I feel like I am setting the foundation for my children to clean up after themselves. I have three adult daughters and one still at home. Two of the three adults have very clean houses and one does not so I guess when they have their own place they can have it clean or not but in my house... now that is a different story.

    It is interesting to read that we all struggle/value/feel the need to change different things. You have taught me how important it is to get outdoors as a family on a regular basis and I love that. Thank you.


    • renee

      renee on Feb. 12, 2013, 3:44 p.m.

      Michelle, I used to be very much the same way with cleaning up. I guess my growth curve has been around letting the people I share my space with have a say also. We desire to live in community with our grown children some day (I haven't talked about that a lot on the blog). We desire also for our teens and young adults to want to be here, to feel like this is just as much their home, as ours. This is the place I'm coming from. But my personal preference would be all clean, all the time (smile). But I'm only one of five. And I do think my kids are learning to clean up after themselves. In fact they've already learned this, that training has already been laid but now I have to pull back so our shared space feels in truth, like shared space. For some people cleanliness is not a control issue but for many women it is. Cleanliness can be a borderline control issue if I let it and I fear I would end up pushing away the very people I am trying to keep close if I'm not careful.  Having said that our house is clean by many standards and can be thoroughly cleaned, washed, scrubbed and picked up in an hour. So it's not like we're living in a sty. Maybe because it can be put in order so quickly helps me relax more also...


      • Michelle

        Michelle on Feb. 12, 2013, 5:12 p.m.

        I see your point. You are good at explaining things.:)


        • renee

          renee on Feb. 13, 2013, 12:18 a.m.

          I see your point too. And I'm not sure I'm so good at explaining, it's more that I don't want to misrepresent myself. I do think that depending on who we're married to and what our family dynamics are - some of us need to stretch in this regard more than others. It's all good. There is no one right way to do it (smile).


  • Ellen

    Ellen on Feb. 12, 2013, 3:34 p.m.

    This is good, Renee.

    Five years into this mothering thing and I have noticed lately how much mothering has stretched me in this area. Letting go to let them make choices in optional choice categories. And as a result, seeing them grow in wonderful ways. I am much less tightly wound than I was six years ago. At least in some areas. :)

    By tidy still matters to me a lot. And I identify with "They love a blank slate with which to create". The girls already realize that a tidy space gives them freedom to be creative and I see them tidying before they get going on a project. Not perfectly, but it means a lot to me that the principle is emerging and I view it as a character development that will serve them well as adults.


  • Jenna

    Jenna on Feb. 12, 2013, 8:57 p.m.

    Just this weekend I decided to let the weekend chores go, and I was able to enjoy the time with my kids much more. I did do some laundry for the week, but only put it away last night. The floors can be cleaned later, and really, the two year old decided after dinner that he wanted to sit in the toy basket and emptied all of the toys, so, sometimes, it is easier to just let the cleaning go and enjoy the shared space. I hear you. (I'd like it clean all of the time too!)


  • Kika

    Kika on Feb. 13, 2013, 12:07 a.m.

    Oh my goodness. I have come SUCH a long way in this regard (letting go of control in schooling, relationships, the house, etc.) but there are moments that I am sooo done with 'creative messes' and lose my cool. Yup, I am only one of five people and the one who cares the most about order and I do want to respect the other individuals in this home. However, there still must be some boundaries. And let me tell you, my middle daughter knows how to stretch'em to the breaking point:)


    • Olga

      Olga on Feb. 14, 2013, 6:58 p.m.

      OMG Kika, I feel like I wrote whatever you said there. Even about middle daughter pushing your limits, just like my middle daughter. My youngest DD just started crawling, and my house doubled in messiness, I give up! I just can't be putting things away and it still never looks clean. So I do what I can when I can or when it's absolutely necessary ( like cleaning dishes so we can eat, or picking up broken glass so nobody hurts themselves). I keep reminding myself that one day my kids will be older and it's gonna be a little easier. Great post , Renee, as always!


  • Kyndale

    Kyndale on Feb. 13, 2013, 12:12 a.m.

    Now, I'm intrigued! I wonder if you're doing a long term hiking trip?! Anyway, I've always been a messy person. I want so much to be organized and neat but I can't seem to figure it out. One thing I've been working on is purging my house. I can't stand messes and it makes me crazy so, I try and keep up the best I can. :)


    • renee

      renee on Feb. 13, 2013, 12:23 a.m.

      uh-huh... We have had an east coast thru hike in our sights, officially, since last March. But this year we're getting down to business to make it happen. Lots of work. And lots of unknowns still but I've done this before, I can do it again - not the long hike but living an adventure. 


  • Kim

    Kim on Feb. 13, 2013, 1:47 a.m.

    Oooh, Renee!! I'm so excited for you! I've vowed to take my family on a thru-hike when I turn 50 (ahem, only three years away). My boys will be 7,8 and 10 by then, so I think we should be able to make a decent stab at it. I hiked many years ago with two different big homeschooling families on the AT. It was actually what led me to decide that homeschooling was the way to go! I really enjoyed those kids on the trail, and the relationship they had with their parents was amazing.

    My biggest problem on the trail was the dirty, funky stankiness of it all. There were days when all could dream about was a nice (clean) pair of !00% cotton pajamas. No synthetics, nothing that "wicked". I never knew my backpack could smell THAT bad, even after I washed it. And I must admit that I cried one day when I realized just how hairy my legs had gotten.

    The flip side of course is learning that the world is crammed full with people that are good and kind hearted. Learning that your body is designed for and can do awesome things. And figuring out how much garbage you don't need to have in your life (you've got that one down!).

    I eagerly await your adventure.


  • Catherine Forest

    Catherine Forest on Feb. 13, 2013, 4:19 a.m.

    Oh, Renee... Yes, yes and yes. Again. Leaving and being on the road for a year in a camping trailer with 3 little girls for a year has been the best lesson for me in letting go (and I too am still a work in progress). Just like you, I had a hard time leaving home without cleaning the kitchen... Wow! I have come a long way this year! Our trailer is small and messy. I never taught I could live in a messy place. But it's my need to have it all tidy and neat (and sometimes I ask for help to make it all nice and clean and the girls are happy to see everything in its place). The more I let go, the more the girls clean their space when they feel the need. Letting go brings more joy for me... And now, we are camping on the beach and in sandy places. There is sand everywhere... Let's see how much I can let go....!


  • Jenn

    Jenn on Feb. 13, 2013, 2:55 p.m.

    Thank you Renee!! I think you just put into words feelings that many Mamas feel about tidy, cleaning and control. I grew up with a Mom that had some pretty strict standards for cleaning. Even now, you could eat from her floors! However, I hear from her all time how much she'd love to have more time with her grandchildren, more time to spend outside etc. I tell her, "Put down your blanking mop and do it!" It has taken me years to relax my standards and realize, it doesn't matter in the big scheme of things! My house is clean most of the time, it gets cluttered and dirty now and then. I have more time to play outside with my kids, hike, garden, get my hands dirty and generally enjoy more. I wouldn't trade that for sparkling floors any day!

    I always tell my Mom...when you are old and unable to do the things you used to do, what are you going to regret more? Not having the cleanest house or not having more time with your family and friends?


  • Sarah

    Sarah on Feb. 13, 2013, 6:16 p.m.

    Woah! A thru-hike?!! That's awesome! It's one of my dreams... Are you planning on doing the Appalachian Trail? (Just a guess...)

    I am hoping to take a gap year, and while I have a lot more I want to do in addition to hiking (and I am planning on spending 2 months of the summer at my camp, which cuts out a lot of hike-able time...) I do hope to hike the John Muir trail... maybe even solo some sections (should take under a month). The longest I've been in the "wilderness" was 2 weeks last summer... and I smelled even though I swam almost every day (we were canoeing)... it was really. really. difficult. (Carrying canoes is pretty painful... living with 4 other 16 year old girls and negotiating everything is also very difficult.) But it was also the most amazing experience of my life and I made some of my best friends. There is nothing like the outdoors (and perhaps physical challenge) to strengthen relationships. I am so excited (and a tad jealous) for you!!!


    • Sarah

      Sarah on Feb. 13, 2013, 6:21 p.m.

      Also, no worries about the 3 loads/5 people/week. That's exactly what my family (with 3 teens does)... my family are fully WASP... my parents were always happy when I went to my (Latina--they are very clean people, let me tell you!) friend Bianca's house when I was little because I actually got washed behind the ears!


      • renee

        renee on Feb. 13, 2013, 6:26 p.m.

        I really think a little bit of dirt and germs is good for kid's immune system. I pretty sure greater minds than mine have studied this and have the evidence to support my claim. All I have is healthy, allergy free kids (with a bit of dirt and sweat around the edges) in support of my a-little-dirt-is-not-bad claim.


        • Sarah

          Sarah on Feb. 13, 2013, 8:03 p.m.

          Yes, I actually read an article saying that perhaps it is one reason girls get sick more often than boys (less playing in the dirt).


    • renee

      renee on Feb. 13, 2013, 6:24 p.m.

      yep. This has been in our sights now for a couple years. We made the family commitment last March. And now this year we have to plan for the many logistics of doing this with a family of 5 - the food, the finances, the gear. Ack. Makes my head spin. But we're been working towards this for years. I will be writing about it officially sometime but I can't help but share it in bits and pieces in posts and comments. It's very much a part of my life now and so it will start to show up on the blog. 


      • Sarah

        Sarah on Feb. 13, 2013, 8:07 p.m.

        That is incredibly AWESOME!!! Logistics are crazy, though. Really crazy. When I organize backpacking trips for my peers at school they are the things I worry about most. Good luck! I am so excited for you!


  • Sarah Park

    Sarah Park on Feb. 14, 2013, 1:57 p.m.

    There are a lot of changes that happen when we got our own family and small kids. Some habits are changed even when we don't like it. Glad you still stay positive with those changes.


  • Heather Caliri

    Heather Caliri on Feb. 14, 2013, 2:14 p.m.

    This is such a good thing to keep in mind. I so see that my desire to have everything perfect is an imposition on my family sometimes. I try to balance that "clean slate to create" impulse with the freedom to see mess as evidence of creativity at work. We need both--I need both--even if I just like the first.


  • CathyT

    CathyT on Feb. 15, 2013, 1:12 p.m.

    It is easier to let go when you have fewer toys for the kids to strew about. A place for every toy to "live" helps, and we rotate toys in and out of the attic, which helps immensely. I agree with what you said about allowing for mess as your kids grow - choosing your battles and allowing for others to help dictate what the standards will be, as long as you can live with the common denominator and still feel happy and loved. I have four boys, ages 6, 8, 16 and 18 and they all can pitch in and help clean the common areas. And everyone has something they are "in charge" of, such as cleaning the bathroom or emptying the dishwasher every morning. The daily or weekly chore rotates between those old enough to do them. Every night we clean the kitchen together until the job is done, taking turns picking the music to listen to as it is completed. And I do not clean bedrooms (but will HELP if asked). Simplicity Parenting is a book that has helped me in this area and I recommend it to all.


    • renee

      renee on Feb. 15, 2013, 1:24 p.m.

      CathyT This is great practical advice. We simplified our toy stash years ago and now my children are slowly growing out of toys all together. I write a post like this from the place of having already downsized our life to a manageable mess. Our common living areas take less than one hour to thoroughly clean. I do think this lets me "let go" more. I like how you expressed that - finding a common denominator and still feeling happy and loved (for everyone). I agree about Simplicity Parenting, great book. By the time it showed up in my life I had already been living those principles in our home for years and I heartily recommend it to young families.


  • Karen

    Karen on Feb. 17, 2013, 2:39 a.m.

    Interesting post. This clean/tidy topic is so relative to individual standards. You know my style - saying that, I am feeling somewhat liberated in my current "slacking off" with what I thought had to be done. Like having the dishes done after one meal before starting on the next one, or leaving the house with dishes on the cupboard. I think living by myself those months after we moved east, when your Dad was still finishing up business, I was on my own and didn't have to clean up for anybody else. Watching your move to "freedom" in this area - and also your brother and family - has been a good example to me to cut myself some slack. The control thing was a sense of maintaining my standard - which I have been happily adjusting. Also, I have to admit the fact I don't have my family close by to "drop in and see that I've lowered my bar" has contributed to not getting uptight about dishes left around - although I like to have the kitchen somewhat in order by the time I go to bed. I think your Dad appreciates that too...


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