It’s our kids’ Christmas break, and our normally tidy home has detritus on every surface. Before sitting down to write, I collected cups and glasses scattered around the living room: a rocks glass in the window sill with a crust of dried milk in the bottom, an insulated cup from the table with one sip of apple juice left, a Collins glass half-full of day-old water.
At times like these, it’s a mixed blessing to work from home. I get to be around my family when they’re home from school and work, which I love. However, unlike at an office, there is not a night crew who comes in to clean. So in the room that is typically crumb- and clutter-free when I begin my day and come upstairs for lunch, there is currently clutter everywhere. On the chair is a pile of blanket (as opposed to a folded blanket) with a cat asleep on it it. On the coffee table are an iPad topped with a wad of earbud wire, a snowflake tissue box with a used tissue next to it, the plastic case of a deck of playing cards, a deck of playing cards with a vintage surf scene from Hawaii, an airpods case, and a crystal tea light holder with an etched evergreen on it. There were also cups, but as I mentioned, I cleared those.
On the end table that normally holds only a lamp are a box of blank Christmas cards, my husband’s glasses, the stereo remote control, and a sproingy glittery Christmas tree tchotchke. Two Lego advent calendars cover the surface of the buffet. The table where we eat dinner, which I usually wipe clean each evening after dinner so we can start the next day with a fresh slate, is covered in crumpled napkins, our daughter’s art work she brought home from school, a mailbox-shaped cookie tin with a snowy Christmas scene on it (and filled with chocolate cookies with green and red sprinkles), my book, my phone, and a felt sack of Lindt chocolate truffles that came in a Christmas package from Grandma.
Today is my day off, so right now I can just observe, but on days that I work, and I come upstairs for lunch and there’s a dining table littered with half-filled cups, dirty napkins, and crumbs, and I have to breathe deep and push through it. I don’t want to use my limited lunch break to clean up other peoples’ messes, but I don’t want to eat in it, either. It’s a struggle.
I’m trying to put a positive spin on it. I enjoy a clutter-free, tidy space. But when it’s neat and clean, there’s no signature of people. The milk glass was from our daughter, who sat last night in the seat I’m now sitting in, curled under her blanket with a cat, watching TV shows on a laptop with the airpods she got for her birthday. The deck of cards is from my husband playing Solitaire last night whle we waited to leave to go see Star Wars. The phone and the book are mine (as is, probably, the used tissue). The stereo remote is from listening to Christmas music while we were all gathered in the living room doing our quiet things, and my husband’s glasses are from him sitting on the couch last night reading a new novel. The crumpled napkin and apple juice are from our night owl son who ate cereal or toast last night as a midnight snack, and the advent calendars, cookies, and truffles are gifts from people who care about us.
All this stuff lingering — it makes our house looked lived in. I could do without the trash and dirty dishes, but the doodads like playing cards and glasses and artwork and airpod cases mark the existence of my favorite people in the world, even when they’re not here in the room with me. I think about when the kids will move away, and their messes won’t be here anymore. When that happens I’m sure I’ll wish I had the mess becuase it would mean they’re here with us. It is the imperfections that make a home, or a person, or life in general interesting.
The mess means it’s Christmas and everyone gets to relax and hang out together. It will be pristine and uninteresting (and perfect!) again after the New Year.