I have a confession to make: I am obsessed with dirt. My obsession lies in spending vast quantities of time trying to rid my house of it. It’s not just filth that I take issue with: it is clutter, disarray, and all other forms of disorderly mayhem. Yet I am hopelessly inadequate when it comes to my assault against grime. In fact, if you crossed our threshold, you might not see much evidence of this battle. The state of my home might give the false impression that I am an ultra laid-back mother who endorses the popular saying “Good mothers have sticky floors, dirty ovens and happy kids.” (Okay, I do actually love that saying- I just can’t quite seem to let go and fully internalize it.)
Upon examination of our living area, you might think that I welcome the leaves that get tracked in on Converse sneakers, the dust build-up on the air vent, or the scuffs on the baseboards. Let me set the record straight- I do not welcome the presence of these calamities in my home. While my contempt for muck of all sorts is undeniable, the most detested dirt is without question, the dreaded stains on my carpet.
A few months ago, I was in a really bad place. The stains stood out with such contrast among the slightly cleaner areas that my eyes were perpetually drawn to them. Today, while picking up action figures and strewn-about Valentine cards, I noticed that the carpet has become so uniformly dirty that many of the stains are blending together, creating the illusion that our carpet is simply a darker shade of khaki than the manufacturer intended it to be. This is the longest that we have ever gone in between carpet cleanings and if I had known that simply delaying these shampoo sessions would meld the stains together so cohesively, perhaps I would have tried that technique sooner.
I can pinpoint exactly when our cream colored carpet first got its polka dots: it was the month that my oldest son became mobile. His mindless slinging of little droplets of milk out of his “leak-proof” training cups has been a contagious trend. All additional children in our family wanted to join the “Pollute-The-Carpet-Club” and despite earnestly waging war against the stains, my status as underdog quickly became clear. Routine carpet cleanings would only provide temporary relief from the dinginess because, as any homeowner with carpet knows, those little stains are persistent. When given the opportunity to take the limelight, they will rise to the occasion every time.
I used to feel so ashamed of my carpet, avoiding hosting company when the discoloration was too copious, for fear that it would reflect poorly upon my house-keeping skills. I suspected that this poor reflection would classify me as a lower-grade woman than my counterparts. My mindset shifted eventually after one night, while entertaining several close friends, one of their toddlers poured an entire drink on our carpet. I recognized in that moment, as I genuinely shrugged off the stain (which was simply one among hundreds), that there were some benefits to living in a less-than-immaculate environment. I remember reassuringly telling the parent “That’s okay! That’s why we keep these stains on hand: it’s so our guests don’t feel bad if they accidentally spill something!” The look of relief on my friend’s face triggered a sudden awareness within me that some people like to call an “aha” moment.
I realized that if aiming to present an impeccably pristine home to my guests was my goal, then I had better consider the costs of such an endeavor. Having a flawless residence would not only cause my children to miss out on some valuable mommy-time while I scrubbed, scoured, and polished away- but it may have an unforeseen effect on my visitors as well.
While many people might feel content and at ease in a home that is spotless beyond compare, others would likely feel uptight and nervous in such a setting. It is feasible that showcasing a utopian home might cause someone else to feel insecure about the state of their own (hypothetically) disheveled place of dwelling. Personally, I want to build genuine connections with others and I want my home to be a place where people feel relaxed enough to do so. As my children grow, I hope that our house will be a place their friends feel comfortable choosing as a regular hang-out too, without panicking if they accidentally damage, disturb or dent any of our material possessions.
I am not suggesting that we all embrace dirty carpet or dirty homes. My anxious, “Type A” personality is incapable of that response. I will never stop fighting against dirt, mess and clutter. I am simply proposing that we ACCEPT that the place where we actually live is not going serve as a 24/7 replica of an unoccupied model-home. And if our imperfect interiors help curve certain people’s tendencies toward feelings of failure or inadequacy, then that’s an added bonus.
I don’t believe that you should make excuses or apologize if others feel threatened by your strengths or accomplishments (that’s something that they personally have to work out). But refined humility is a trait that serves us all well, and allowing others to occasionally see our imperfections (especially the ones that are no big deal anyway) can often reveal common ground between people.
If you come knocking on my door, I hope that you catch me on a good day, where everything is orderly and (mostly) clean. But if you find that my carpet still bears traces of the loving family who tramples across it daily, then I’m okay with that too.
For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” Luke 14:11 English Standard Version