letting go + living well

When we began our journey into more mindful, homemade eating, there was a moment when I was in our kitchen trying to follow a new recipe while the kids ripped the house apart, tangled themselves around my feet, and attempted to climb up me and onto the counters and hot stove.  I remember it occurred to me to take a deep breath and let go.  For a moment I pretended I didn’t see the strewn toys or sticky finger prints.  For a moment I ignored the sink full of dishes and the flour I spilled on the counter top.  For a moment I was free. I sank my teeth into my warm from the oven pita dipped in fresh hummus and tzatiki and watched the kids devour theirs.  For a moment I let myself not fret and it felt good.  A delicious warmth filled my body and my jaw relaxed.  It was a good moment and I knew it would be wise to foster it more often.

I was raised in a very tidy house; it was both glorious and frustrating.  I have carried the same ideals into my life and home.   I have no qualms with having a clean house; I prefer it actually.  But lets be honest; it’s holy-good-god-exhausting.  I put the books back on the shelf and turn to pick up the apple peels Silas has spit out only to turn back around to find every book I just replaced back in the floor .  Mystical, magical, frustrating creatures those toddlers are, no?

Yes, it is true, I much prefer a clean, tidy and well organized house; I nearly shut down when my house is in chaos.  But I don’t think it is a realistic goal for us at this point in time; this season of our life.  The problem is that the lifestyle we want, mixed with the ages of our children just isn’t conducive to a tidy house.  There is always some good food to be prepared and eaten which translates into a sink full of dishes.  There is always something to build or toy to craft which results in a dusting of sawdust and a pile of supplies left at the ready.  There is wood to be brought in or chicken water to be changed leaving a trail of snow and wood bits through my kitchen and living room.  There are books to be read and books tossed aside in the wake of finding just the right one for the moment.  There are people to visit, adventures to be had, walks to be taken, learning to be done and, therefore, dishes to be left; beds left rumpled.

You see, I need to let the ideal of the constantly tidy house go.  I am 31 years old and just now realizing I need to learn how to function in a different element than the one I was raised in; pick my battles more wisely.  I need to find a balance between living the life we want full of learning, creating and exploring combined with comfort, flow, and cleanliness.

I would much rather have the house that smells of wood smoke and baking; the house filled with young plants stretching for sunlight in the  window sills and slightly sticky, happy children reaching for a hug than be the resentful mama frantically sweeping, dusting and ranting about the state of the house only to lay my weary head on the pillow and promise to do it better tomorrow.

I’ve grown tired of the guilt and the apologizing to unexpected guests.  I would rather clear the couch of toys and book, and warm them with fire, tea and good conversation than fret.  Slowly, I will allow myself to just be in it; without judgement or resolution.  I am allowing myself a moment of grace in hopes that that feeling will grow and become a more comfortable place for me.  And then I will do it again the next day and the next one after that.  And so it goes; a new habit will replace an old habit.

I will fail and rant, of that I am sure, but I will give it my best.  That I promise.

Won’t you join me?

go gently + be wonderful

e.

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49 Comments

  1. Posted January 31, 2012 at 11:45 pm by Meryl | Permalink

    I struggle with that one everyday. Every single day. But, like you, I’m trying.

    • Posted February 1, 2012 at 8:26 am by erin | Permalink

      Always nice to know I am not alone!
      e.

  2. Posted February 1, 2012 at 12:10 am by Liz | Permalink

    This post really resonated with me as I was raised in an immaculate home as well. I, too, am striving to let go of that standard so as to really be present with my 1 and 3 year old. I’ve realized recently just how much I have believed that the state of my home reflects my value as a person. I’m working hard to recognize my intrinsic worth regardless of the state of my home and to trust that those who love me will do so unconditionally. On a more practical note, I’ve had great success lately following a “chore chart”. I’ve treated it somewhat as a spiritual practice. I am only allowed to do the tasks for that day, no more. And if those tasks don’t get completed there is always next week. So far, it seems to have helped rest my mind a bit. Thanks for this post, such a good reminder that so many good things make up for a messy house.

    • Posted February 1, 2012 at 8:26 am by erin | Permalink

      So nice to know I am not alone fighting the good fight!
      I too created a very basic chore chart, but have not stuck to it thus far 😉
      Thanks for writing!
      e.

  3. Posted February 1, 2012 at 1:45 am by Mandy | Permalink

    I need to join you. I need to. How did you read my mind today? Did you shrink to itty bitty bits and crawl into my brain? This, THIS was what I was thinking today. As I feverishly vacuumed, not once, not twice, but three times today, just for all the pretty lines to disappear within seconds. Im a maniac if things are in order and clean. Its my workspace, only other moms in our position might understand this. But I need to let go, not all of it, just some. Enough to where I, like you, am not clenching that jaw, only to relieve my pain with 800 mg of Motrin a few hours later. Im tired of trying to keep up the fight. I spilled it all out today, into a million little puddles of tears, each one representing a time and place of guilt, of not being my best, and failing my children. And you are not alone, my friend, we all need to let go in our own way. I need to let go of the fear that if I let go that I will be too scared. The irony, how sad. Tonight, my little boys, after their baths, ran around with their soft baby butts waving in the wind, their sweet skin perfect, jumping into my arms. That is living. Let it go. Ill join you. I will try my best.

    • Posted February 1, 2012 at 8:45 am by erin | Permalink

      Thanks so much for this! I struggle not to shut down when the house is in chaos. I am better when the house is tidy, but it doesn’t translate into being a better mama if I am more focused on the cleaning than the process. It is scary and up to a few weeks ago I honestly didn’t think I needed to change. I thought I was entitled to a tidy house, but now I find I am entitled to happiness and balance.
      Thanks for writing and I wish you luck on your own journey!
      e.

  4. Posted February 1, 2012 at 4:42 am by Monique | Permalink

    There is only one answer to this wonderful post: you are so right! (But owh.. what a great fight it is!) I know exactly what you mean, been there, done that. And yes.. with 37 still learning.. I’m in and joining your journey!

    Love from Holland

    • Posted February 1, 2012 at 8:49 am by erin | Permalink

      Always nice to know we are fighting the good fight side by side.
      Thanks for writing!
      e.

  5. Posted February 1, 2012 at 6:14 am by Heather | Permalink

    I am right there with you! I have two littles 3 and 1 and my house is always a disaster. It stresses me out, especially considering my mom’s house is perfect, and it always has been. I have to remind myself that I am home with my kids all day, and my husband works from home. Add the commitment to eat whole foods mainly from scratch means a lot of dishes, and a lot of time in the kitchen, and a lot of messes in the rest of the house. This is a season. And would I rather enjoy my children or spend my time cleaning? Great post!

    • Posted February 1, 2012 at 8:48 am by erin | Permalink

      This is a season…yes, exactly. When we’re in it it feels so long and intense, but I know we will ache for it as they grow up and away.
      e.

  6. Posted February 1, 2012 at 6:15 am by Stephanie K. | Permalink

    That photo of what lives under your couch had me sighing with recognition and relief. I’m always striving for “tidier” but that might just mean clearing the detritus of the day off the kitchen table before I go to bed so we can eat breakfast on a flat surface. I’m astounded, STILL (after almost 7 years of parenting) at how my children go around and just dump things. But since we’ve moved a lot of toys to their room, and got rid of a lot more, I find the livingroom/kitchen a lot easier to tidy up at bedtime…books back on shelf, woodblocks and wooden animals in a basket…tada! It’s a good feeling. But it’s only happening now that my youngest is almost three. You’re gaining wisdom faster than I did. It’s so much better to just let it be.

    • Posted February 1, 2012 at 8:46 am by erin | Permalink

      It helps to know that the end is not in site for some time especially if we have a third eh? So it would be a wise decision to learn better ways to pick my battles.
      Thank you, as always, for great insight!
      e.

  7. Posted February 1, 2012 at 6:30 am by Danielle Grabiel | Permalink

    hallelujah! more doing, more being, more living and LESS CLEANING! Sign me up, sista.

  8. Posted February 1, 2012 at 11:06 am by Emmy | Permalink

    Yes, I’m not alone. I was just struggling with this yesterday as I felt as if I spent the whole day chasing my two littles around clean up mess after mess. I’m not a neat freak but feel that there is some sort of standard for a sahm – that I’m not meeting in the clean house area. Thank you for letting me belief that ‘the other stuff’ is a good enough reason for letting the house chores slide.

    • Posted February 1, 2012 at 1:58 pm by erin | Permalink

      YES! I often wonder how those SAH 1950’s moms did it all. The image was such a clean and organized (though sterile) life and I feel like I am a failure when supper isn’t on the table, or I cry, or need to put extra stuff on my husband’s plate for sanity’s sake.
      Thanks for writing!
      e.

  9. Posted February 1, 2012 at 1:40 pm by Kira | Permalink

    “I nearly shut down when my house is in chaos” I know that feeling well. I too try to let go. I remind myself how great it is to stay home everyday with my three little ones.
    I also try to have an hour to myself after they have gone to bed. I pick up a bit from the day then I do something for myself exercise, read, crochet. This helps me to centre myself, reflect and prepare for the next day.
    Great post.
    K.

    • Posted February 1, 2012 at 1:53 pm by erin | Permalink

      I always thought you thought I was neurotic for stressing out over the kid’s messes! So glad to know you struggle with it too 😉
      Nice to hear from you Kira!
      e.

  10. Posted February 1, 2012 at 2:20 pm by Anne | Permalink

    I loved this post. It resonated strongly with me. Like you, we heat with a wood stove, I am constantly baking/cooking, and therefore always have a sink full of dishes, my daughter who is 3 will sit quietly for an hour cutting up a peice of construction paper….leaving a HUGE mess along the way. My son will dump out all his lego, just to find the ONE rigth peice. I use to really worry about the state of my house, especially when I would host a weekly play group with other mom’s from the village I live in ( because their houses were always perfect!) …but you what, slowly over time, I have learned to let go of my ideal’s of what a stay at home mom’s house is suppost to look like, because I am a much happier person when I take the time to sit next to my daughter and cut up a peice of paper with her, and so is she :)
    Thank you so much for your truth and honesty.
    Anne

    • Posted February 2, 2012 at 10:56 am by erin | Permalink

      It is better to just let go isn’t it. I doubt we’ll lay on our death beds thinking we should have kept our house neater…the people who judge don’t likely belong in our lives anyway.
      Thanks so much for writing!
      e.

  11. Posted February 1, 2012 at 2:52 pm by Misty Pratt | Permalink

    My parents were always seriously neurotic about keeping our home clean. To the point that crumbs on the counter were “not allowed.” I always feel so much anxiety before my parents visit our home, because my cleanliness standards are definitely not up there. Of course, I always try to keep “dirt” at bay (making sure to clean the toilet bowl regularly, and clean up any spills), but general “mess” is allowed in my house. Oh, and we don’t make our beds…..unless people come over :)

    • Posted February 2, 2012 at 10:55 am by erin | Permalink

      My mom would follow my friends or boyfriends around the house with a dust buster.
      I feel the same anxiety when she visits because even though she never says a thing I know she sees it.
      I can’t stand filth and sticky floors, but asking that everything be in it’s place seems unrealistic at this time.
      Thanks for writing!
      e.

  12. Posted February 1, 2012 at 6:07 pm by Nicole | Permalink

    Amen to letting go! We just moved over a week ago and I have been frantically trying to organize and clean while entertaining and mothering my pre-schooler and cooking 3 meals a day. Instead of enjoying our new home I have been filled with anxiety over putting everything in its proper place, and then the quilt sets in because I have let my son watch another movie so I could clean instead of playing with him. I keep telling myself if I could just get this place organized then I could focus my time on my son. I am tired of the war in my mind between keeping a clean house and spending quality time with my son, I think it is pretty clear which side needs to win.

    • Posted February 2, 2012 at 10:58 am by erin | Permalink

      Oh man! I fall into the same trap of getting myself organized or finishing one more project then I will be fully present with the kids…The thing is that time never comes; there is always something tugging on my mind. Thanks for letting me know I am not alone!
      e.

  13. Posted February 2, 2012 at 11:18 pm by Kyce | Permalink

    Ah, Welcome! I found it strange that at the time in my life when I came to need and appreciate cleanliness and order so much, and was ready to create it, I had no choice but to let go…mostly. I keep to my housekeeping rhythm. But I refuse to get mad about the constant messes. Usually, this surrender keeps us all much happier!

    • Posted February 3, 2012 at 7:32 am by erin | Permalink

      Exactly. I am working at creating a simple and sustainable cleaning rhythm, but so far it is still just mad dashes when company is on their way though we do try to get the main things like dishes and clearing the table and counters each day.
      Thanks for writing!
      e.

  14. Posted February 3, 2012 at 12:36 am by Nicole | Permalink

    Oh my do I hear you! Especially the guilt part. I lose it on my poor children as I try to clean but it’s just NEVER clean here and all I want to do is hang my head and cry. Thank you so much for sharing this.

    • Posted February 3, 2012 at 7:29 am by erin | Permalink

      Even if we just realize we are not alone; there is power in that.
      Thanks for writing!
      e.

  15. Posted February 3, 2012 at 5:14 am by teresa c | Permalink

    Wise words! I guess that stay at home moms have a harder time to get the house tidier because there are people (and kids) living there all the time! During the week we don’t have much of a mess in the house, because we are out most of the time, getting back in the end of the day for some playing, bath, supper and bed time. During the weekend that’s another story! My son is just starting to walk and of course that means toys everywhere (we don’t have too many toys, and some are stored in the shelves of his room, so he doesn’t play with everything everyday… and that helps); the meal time means food on the hands, on the table, on the floor… And we want to relax and rest from the week. Oh yes, maybe the answer is to let go!

    • Posted February 3, 2012 at 7:26 am by erin | Permalink

      It would seem that way wouldn’t it. Not always easy, but a new normal will emerge.
      :)
      e.

  16. Posted February 3, 2012 at 7:33 am by Nadja | Permalink

    Hi Erin, I found you this morning through Ginny’s blog, and you sound a lot like me. We seem to share the same interests, as well as both having been raised in tidy homes (my mom is German!) and having to learn to sort of let go and breathe. I have 6 kids–4 boys, 2 girls, ages 12 down to 2–and homeschool, so tidy is not an option but like a gorgeous sunset, a fleeting moment of beauty! I do join you in the letting go, and I will fail, too, again and again. Thank you for the real, slice-of-life photos.

    • Posted February 3, 2012 at 8:00 am by erin | Permalink

      That is an amazing way to look at it Nadja! Like a fleeting sunset. How wonderful…part of the rhythm, but impermanent.
      Brilliant.
      Thank you so much for stopping by and for writing. I do hope you’ll visit often.
      Warmly,
      Erin

  17. Posted February 3, 2012 at 10:55 am by Meg | Permalink

    I also found you through Ginny’s blog and I loved what you said. I don’t know how many times I have apologized when someone unexpectedly stopped by. I grew up with only one brother and now I have been mothering for 20 years and the youngest of my 7 is only 1 1/2 yrs old. My question is when will I have a neat house?! I guess you are right, how important is tidiness really. I need to let go, so thanks for the thoughts!

    • Posted February 3, 2012 at 5:00 pm by erin | Permalink

      Frankly, I think I will always struggle with it and wish for a clean house, but there is something powerful about releasing it and choosing your battles I think.
      A fine balance :)
      Thank you so much for writing and I do hope you come back again.
      Warmly,
      e.

  18. Posted February 3, 2012 at 2:06 pm by Julie | Permalink

    This post really resonated with me; I can’t wait to read more of your blog. I did not grow up in a tidy household. I am the youngest of six children and our house was “lived-in,” not dirty but not neat. I recently pushed myself to host a twice-monthly group at my house, so that I would be forced to keep at least one room of our house neat/presentable for guests, for the next few months. Welcoming friends to gather at my home is something I’ve missed since having children; time to change that.

    • Posted February 3, 2012 at 4:54 pm by erin | Permalink

      I love that this is the opposite to my problem, but just as much a battle for you.
      Great contrast :)
      Thanks so much for writing!
      e.

  19. Posted February 3, 2012 at 5:51 pm by jeannine | Permalink

    Thanks. I feel the same way but would NEVER post pictures like that. haha, just kidding my house looks the same way and it’s been bugging me all day, yet, I don’t want to submit to the rant! Way to go.

    • Posted February 5, 2012 at 10:18 pm by erin | Permalink

      I figure anyone who has kids has a house that looks like at least some of the time 😉
      e.

  20. Posted February 3, 2012 at 9:44 pm by kim | Permalink

    i loved this post and its photos. you have inspired a new habit that is worth emulating, especially in this blog “world” of super woman who seem to do it “all”. i feel like i can finally exhale! thank you for sharing. my mom gently reminds me every so often that she wishes she had spent less time cleaning the house and more time with us. what really matters at the end of the day? what will our children remember? and what has lasting value – beyond our short time here on earth? good things to ponder…

    • Posted February 5, 2012 at 10:17 pm by erin | Permalink

      Thank you for your kind words and for taking the time to write. I assure you I will be reading this regularly to keep me in line.
      It will be worth the effort.
      It is a tough world in blogging where we can edit out the hard stuff a little too easily at times. I think we should acknowledge the tough stuff and focus on the brilliant stuff.
      warmly,
      e.

  21. Posted February 6, 2012 at 3:31 am by Rose | Permalink

    Wonderful! Exactly where I’m at in my ife with my small ones – fighting against my mothers ideals to make way for my own more relaxed ideals. I’ll join you! Much love x

    • Posted February 6, 2012 at 10:13 am by erin | Permalink

      Exactly! So glad you’re here and that you took the time to write.
      warmly,
      erin

  22. Posted February 6, 2012 at 8:40 pm by Mandy | Permalink

    Erin,
    UPDATE!
    Just thought I’d update you and let you know that I’ve reverted back to my old ways. Am I the only one? Are there others of you that posted and have tried but havent come forward to admit the failure…or sadly, am I the only one…ha ha! The idealism of “letting go” did not outweigh the structure I need in my home. Although I’m sure I will, and have relaxed on some things, for me, atleast at this age with my boys, between tantrums and dirty diapers and potty training and “boys” and unschooling, well, its too much to not have atleast something in order. I sleep better knowing I will wake up to a clean home, I start my day on a lighter note, and I feel comforted knowing atleast something is finished. Part of what is so hard as a mom is that those milestones, those tasks that in a job you would get a raise for, there isnt a sense of accomplishment for, so we have to always foresee the bigger picture and grasp a sense of that accomplishment. And I cant deny the pride I take in having a clean home, or lovely baked bread on a sparkling clean countertop. As long as noone gets neglected in the interim. I actually feel like I give my kids more when things are in order and when I attempt to do the opposite, let go and give them more, I end up giving them less because all I do is look around at the mess, become disconnected, and feel my anxiety rise. Its counterproductive. When its clean, I am relaxed, I open my heart more, I live in the moment more, its just who I am I guess. One thing I must say is that as they get older, they too need to know, and I have learned, that always giving them 100% attention isnt always a good thing. It has created impatience and whininess at stages, and learning to wait isnt always a bad thing. Learning to wait until I finish wiping the floor of their food mess, before I help them with Legos, etc. A 5 min interim prevents my floors and carpets from becoming a gooey mess, less dirty laundry and socks, and teaches them that the world doesnt revolve around them, even though it really does. 5 mins never killed anyone. Breastfeeding on demand became helping with Legos on demand and at some point I needed to stop, take a breathe, and realize it had crossed the other end of the spectrum. Stepping back at the right times, teaching them to work, incorporating them into our household with chores that they take pride in and enjoy, all help keep everyone in check. At 4 years old I can honestly say that he picks up his toys each and every single time without having to even be asked. So, Im letting go, just a little bit, but taking pleasure in knowing that not all of my craziness was in haste. Keeping things in order helps keep me mentally in order, and when its cluttered in my home, my mind is cluttered. And I truely see how that affects my children as well. So, Im not off the deep end just yet…think Ill still survive off of less sleep to keep my home more tidy.

    • Posted February 6, 2012 at 9:40 pm by erin | Permalink

      I totally agree that there needs to be a balance, but when they work so quickly it seems futile. My husband says it is like standing in a mighty stream and holding your arms in hopes of stopping it.
      I am totally like you and feel much calmer when I walk into a clean livingroom and can make their breakfast on a cleared counter top. I am working on creating a schedule that will allow for both on a healthy and balanced level. I will be doing a follow up to this post as it was so powerful. Working on forming thoughts and plans that will give some solid help to those struggling (myself included).
      Routine and cleanliness is important I just want to learn how to function within it and realize it can wait when their are more important things to be done.
      Thanks for your thoughts! I am sure we can’t be the only two struggling.
      e.

    • Posted February 7, 2012 at 12:02 am by Mandy | Permalink

      Well said, I agree 100%. Your husbands comment makes me laugh, its so true isn’t it? That’s why I absolutely get NO projects done until the weekend when my husband is home all day. Its futile, if I start something over here, the mess over there just gets bigger, its so bad its laughable. I know exactly where you are and how you feel. I try to do my daily putterings, but then leave the bigger more time consuming things until after they are in bed (for nap or night), and just do the quickie things here and there every day in and around our activities. That way I somewhat stay on top of it, even though its never fully done..example, laundry. I swear the washer and dryer are always running, but the pile never seems to dwindle. I know some women who save it all for a particular day and then spend the whole day doing laundry, on Sunday for example, that way they feel the task is complete and they aren’t constantly doing it all week, but for me if I let it sit, it would eat at me all week, and who knows, by Sunday, I might be too tired, a kid might be sick, etc. The boys really enjoy helping, even if its sorting socks, but their attention span is very short, so I give them age appropriate tasks and incorporate what I need to get done around our schedules. I make sure to wash the dishes straight away after every meal (it wasnt always this way) but since you never know what the day can hold then atleast the kitchen is clean for the next round of plates and if you get in the habit of doing it, it really is quite quick, and feels great to have it done. Meanwhile this extra 10 mins while Im washing up from the meal gives them a free moment to themselves to free play. And they enjoy clearing plates and helping and I can give them little tasks during this time to keep them occupied, like feeding the dog or folding washclothes. By the time Im cleaned up we are all ready to roar and I know that if we head outdoors or go somewhere or do nothing at all, that when we are ready and hungry I can return to a fresh clean kitchen. It sure helps me. I hope you find the clarity you are searching for.I am learning to let other things go, like the vacuuming, until the end of the day, and spend that time snuggling with them instead. Cant wait for the updated post!

    • Posted February 7, 2012 at 12:17 am by Mandy | Permalink

      Also, food for thought…for me, limiting my online time is critical. I try to limit brief time only certain times of the day. The rest can wait. If its critical or an emergency, they can pick up the phone and call. The rest doesnt matter.

      • Posted February 7, 2012 at 7:57 am by erin | Permalink

        Yes, I find I get sucked into the black hole of the internet if I get on to check or return an email.
        A plan is in the works to minimize that too.
        e.

  23. Posted February 6, 2012 at 8:51 pm by Mandy | Permalink

    PS
    I should clarify…he doesnt pick his toys up EVERY single time without having to be asked, but he does pick them up MOST times without having to be asked, and if he forgets, a simple reminder is all that is needed. So, what I meant is that every single time they are picked up, by him, 99.9% of the time without fuss. He takes great pride in being a big helper. Now, for his little brother, thats a totally different story, but I have faith that it will get there.

  24. Posted February 10, 2012 at 6:32 am by Kate | Permalink

    I sat down to catch up on some of my favorite blogs and the timing for reading this post could not have been better. A clean orderly house vs. letting go and being with kids or just breathing when I have that chance. I love order too and can feel more inspired and creative when I have the space to work. My thinking is more clear and organized too. The chaos of small children seems to be a big adjustment for most moms. And talking about balance in our lives is so important. I had a couple without children just randomly stop by our house last weekend. My house was a wreck! I just welcomed them in although my first instinct was to apologize for the mess I just said, I need one of those posters on my wall that says “sorry about the mess, but we live here”. And they laughed at least. After they left I started to see even more of the mess through their eyes (dishes from breakfast & lunch sitting around on the table, counters, stove & sink, books everywhere, craft projects shoved to one side of the table so we could eat, dog hair, oh the dog hair! not to mention that my 1 & 3 yr old had dirty faces from lunch). Oh letting go is an art form but I am working on it. I am right there with you Erin. Take good care!

    • Posted February 10, 2012 at 10:03 am by erin | Permalink

      Glad to hear our houses seem to be in the same sort of shambles 😉
      I am always worried someone will drop in unexpectedly too, but none of it really matters does it.
      An art form for certain!
      e.

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