A Thread Of Messy

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A_Cara

There’s a phrase I’ve adopted, one I say almost every time someone comes over for a visit: “Welcome to my house. I didn’t clean for you. You are most welcome.”

Now, hear me out: I do own cleaning products. I do sweep and mop hardwood floors. I do scrub bristled brush to porcelain toilet walls, and I do regularly wash dishes and clothes and little boy bodies in an effort to maintain some semblance of clean.

But I do not freak out when friends and neighbors knock on our door.

I let Cheerios lie dormant in the corner, and I don’t worry about the thick layer of pureed string bean that’s decorated our swinging kitchen door since August of last year.

Some people, you included, might find this gross.

But I find it rather homey. In fact, I’m rather convinced that when we don’t sweep and mop and pretty our house for the people we most desire to welcome in, we make them feel like family.

And family is what I want others to feel like when they enter my home.

It hasn’t always been this way, of course. I haven’t always been this way. When I first got married, I somehow paired marriage with perfection. As much as I called myself a feminist, I couldn’t quite shake the Donna Reed image of a home and a woman and a spouse I felt I was supposed to be after officially sporting a ring on the fourth finger of my left hand.

So, I’d scrub and clean and bake and cook, stressing out as I sweated through the underarms of my fresh-pressed perfect hostess’ sweater. I’d slit eyes at my husband when he finally walked through the door, because what had he done to help me, what had he contributed for the betterment of our visitors?

When our friends—always our friends—did finally arrive, they’d ask what they could do. They’d offer to help. Seldom did I let them, though, because I didn’t feel that it was what I was supposed to do.

“No, no! Sit, here, have a glass of wine.”

“Oh, no, no, no. Do not even touch the sink full of dirty dishes—that’s for us to do after you leave, dear guest!”

But they didn’t want to be guests. They wanted to be family. They wanted to be welcomed in and given a role. They wanted to partake of the messiness. They wanted to see our dirt and know that we were real. They wanted to feel like they belonged, a belonging facilitated by the drive to do.

It wasn’t until I had a baby and was rendered unable to be Hostess With the Mostess that I began to embrace the mess of our house.

I think that’s when messiness also began to invade every area of my life, in the very best of ways.

Messy house gave way to messy clothes, and then somehow, when I wasn’t so put together on the outside, messy clothes gave way to real, honest, unfiltered conversations.

When a friend would come over, she’d find a space between unfolded piles of clean laundry on the living room couch and dirty spit-up rags from baby’s milk overdose earlier that morning.

We’d look at each other—her with breast milk stains covering every inch of her fleece jacket, me with two-day-old mascara caked under my eyes since I hadn’t taken a shower in who knows how long—and all that mess made way for a whole lot of honesty.

We began to get real.

We began to bare our souls, maybe for the first time.

And a sisterhood was knit together, a thread of messy as its central stitch.

I suppose it’s the best kind of messy one could ask for, because it’s a messy that’s raw and authentic, a messy that drives each woman to be the most true version of herself.

So, when you come over for a spot of tea or for a morning of conversation, know that my house is going to be a little bit messy. But also know that somehow, somewhere along the way, all this messiness is going to lead to solidarity between you and me.

And sister, you know I can’t wait for that moment to happen.

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Cara Meredith
Cara is a writer, speaker and musician from the greater San Francisco Bay Area. She is chipping away at her first book when not searching for the world’s greatest chips and guacamole. She loves people, food, reading, the great outdoors and her family. She and the HBH (Hot Black Husband), try to dance nightly and live life to the fullest with their two young sons.
Cara Meredith
Cara Meredith

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Cara Meredith
  • Saskia Wishart

    Living in other countries made me realise the difference between make-yourself-at-home culture and cultures where people serve you as their guest. I thought messy house and pitching in was normal, until I had to help with dinner parties where perfection was expected… The pressure is way too much. I would opt for family over formal any day! One of my favourite humans always puts me to work in her kitchen when I come over, and it feels like such an honour to be allowed to participate – it feels like family.

    • carameredith.com

      Oh Saskia, I love it! My favorite dinners with guests (family) usually end up being those in which we all pitch in, chopping and grilling and mixing and stirring. It not only gives ownership, but it makes people feel like they belong. So, I agree. 🙂

  • Love! You totally spoke to my inner perfectionist. How many times have I killed myself to clean my house perfectly, then felt resentment towards my husband as if it were his fault. Awesome and honest and and from the soul!

    • carameredith.com

      Thanks Jodi. 🙂 PS: I think this is part and parcel of Shauna Niequist’s forthcoming book, Present Over Perfect, coming in August. Look for it with me:)

  • Some of my sweetest memories at holiday dinners have been around the kitchen sink with a friend who insists (actually INSISTS) that she wants to help with clean up. She and her husband are part of our “adopted” family, and they have made their way all-the-way-in to our hearts by just being willing to enter into our mess. As a result, I have others now who are allowed into the dog hair and clutter of my days. What a relief!

    • carameredith.com

      Oh Michele, it IS a relief. We have some friends who always wash our dishes when they come over …it’s so woven within them, I don’t think they realize they even do it. But it’s always a gift.

  • I love this, Cara. I am WORKING on it. I grew up having to make sure everything was spotless and it was never clean enough. I adopted that view, ingrained in me over the years. I have certain friends who I feel know me well enough to leave the house uncleaned when they come – they are family. But I want more to be invited into our lives in that way (and frankly, I want a little less stress). I won’t judge your cheerio floors if you won’t judge mine:)

    • carameredith.com

      Done. Ours is a judgment-free friendship, Cheerios and all!

  • Tim

    “But they didn’t want to be guests. They wanted to be family.”
    Yep. I like people who like to hang out in the kitchen, because that’s where family hangs out.

    • carameredith.com

      Oh man, TRUTH right there! Yes to the kitchen …we finally bought stools for the island because we realized that’s where everyone congregates.

  • Sandy Hay

    My husband was in the Air force for 20 years. For the first 17 we lived on various bases, never knowing when his commander’s wife might knock on our door. All that took it’s toll but I have to say if you’d seen the way I ran out to pick up prescription yesterday and what I left at home undone, you’d be proud of me. Only wish it could have happened many years ealrier.

    • carameredith.com

      Sandy, I AM proud of you. And this morning when the handy-woman knocked the door, said handy-woman whom I’d forgotten was even COMING, I had to own my words. “Welcome to my house,” I said to her. “I didn’t clean for you [numerous pairs of socks and flip flops and toy cars, and of course, Cheerios.] And you’re welcome.”

  • So much more real when we’re honest about the messiness of our lives! I wrote about something similar a few weeks ago. Connection is easier when everyone admits they don’t have it all together. I mean, we know no one has it all together, but when we say it and show it…well…we get brought in deeper with one another in a way that the facade of perfectedness just can’t do. And yes, I did just make up a ridiculous word because pretending that we’re perfect is silly! Thanks for a lovely reminder 🙂

    • carameredith.com

      Jebraun, ain’t that the TRUTH! Here’s to letting go of perfectedness:)

  • fiona lynne

    Oh I know this to be true! Yesterday a friend came by and as we feed our babies in the kitchen she said, “shall I make us some tea” and my honest instant response was shame that I hadn’t asked her and I’d failed as a hostess. Then I realised what it really meant was she felt at HOME here, like family. That’s so much better.

    • carameredith.com

      Amen. And here’s to ridding those feelings of SHAME, friend!

  • We just started hosting a weekly supper club. The first two weeks, I cleaned. The third was crazy and I didn’t manage to anything but set th table. And people were comfortable! We laughed and ate and shares life. With crumbs under the table. Lesson learned. 😉

  • carolinerlwilson

    i’m in this stage of babies where “messiness invades every area of my life, in the very best of ways.” learning how to embrace that as someone who needs to at least tidy up to feel sane. but i love the freedom in not even thinking about how the house looks (at least until after the fact) because the friends who come over are so dear.

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  • Stephanie Thompson

    Liberating! So much of how we live is based on image. Even if we think we aren’t concerned about what people think, our choices reflect otherwise. If everyone becomes willing to be bare before others, the standard we live by will change.