I’m sitting on my front porch listening to the sound of a tennis racquet collide with my china cabinet. There’s a spirited battle going on inside my home, but it’s not what you may be picturing.
My sons, 16, and 13, have dragged two chairs into the middle of our family room, which connects to the kitchen, for yet another impromptu game of indoor tennis.
Their net is the throw blanket that, moments earlier, sat neatly folded on the couch. Waiting in the wings is their 11-year-old brother, the eager ball boy who’ll challenge the winner of today’s match.
Our New Jersey home is by no means large enough to accommodate this activity, which explains why my china cabinet takes a beating set after set. All three of my sons are also way too big to be doing this, I know. And it’s not that we don’t live near actual outdoor courts — we do.
So why do I allow this game that chips my cabinetry, smudges my semi-freshly painted walls, and sends our cat with his enviable reflexes, running for cover?
Because there’s something about this makeshift, homespun sport that brings out the best in my boys, and because the plock! and thwack! of that ball bouncing, coupled with the sound of my children’s trash talk and laughter, is music to my ears, better than any Grammy-winning soundtrack.
Allowing my kids to transform our tiny home into a wannabe Wimbledon isn’t the only way I’m letting things slide in the housekeeping department. Piles of books — mine and theirs —litter the coffee table and radiator covers. But I don’t see them as clutter. I look at them as portals to adventure as other worlds await within the pages.
Board games and puzzles collect in multiple corners. Would an accent chair or leafy Ficus look nicer? Probably. But would they remind us to close our laptops, put down our phones, and have fun as a family? Probably not.
As I write this, bingo cards decorate my dining room table, their accompanying red chips polka dot the floor. I don’t mind.
This isn’t the aesthetic I aspired to 18 years and three children ago when my husband and I first bought our home. Every evening when our kids were toddlers, I’d run around putting things in their rightful places after they went to bed.
Then, as they got older, we’d make a game of setting a timer and tidying up the toys, shelving the books, finding all the game pieces, and packing them away neatly. But I quickly realized that a lot of those beloved items came right back out of their baskets and bins the very next day. So I relaxed my standards and asked myself: Would our time be better spent reading one more book or playing another round of Go Fish instead? My answer was a resounding “Yes!”
I’m sure I’m not alone in my half-hearted attempts at housekeeping, yet it feels decidedly rebellious that, in this age of everyone affirming the “joy of tidying up,” inspired by Marie Kondo’s book and Netflix series, I’m letting things slide.
As the world embraces the Kondo craze, I’m finding joy in absolving myself from constantly feeling like I need to have a Pinterest-worthy home. I’m striving for a more attainable ambiance, hovering happily in the sweet spot between impeccable and a place that won’t horrify friends and neighbors if they stop by unexpectedly.
It’s not that I don’t occasionally feel the urge to purge. When I do, I block off a chunk of time and make piles: “keep,” “donate,” “ditch,” and, yes, for a moment, it feels cathartic to lighten our load. But does it make me happier? Nope. (Sorry, Marie!)
I also wonder if, in straightening up our houses, are we tossing out the true meaning of home? For me, that’s a comfortable place where you can let it all hang out, free of judgement.
While I’m not suggesting kids run amuck or clutter take over rooms to Hoarders episode levels, the thing that sparks joy for me is knowing that my children are happy and making memories in our home. If that means sliding glass doors covered with handprints, errant socks lingering beneath a sofa, and underpants folded like fortune cookies instead of with militaristic precision, I’ll take it. All of it.
When my kids are grown up and gone, there will be time to touch up the paint, pack away the bingo cards, donate their books, and reclaim my spaces.
Or, maybe I’ll keep things exactly as they are. Perhaps I’ll look at those marks on the wall or the nicks in my china cabinet, and I’ll picture a tennis ball bouncing off a basil plant, hear the sound of their easy banter, recall watching one brother leap over the afghan net with glee while the other crumples on the couch in mock defeat. I will remember them shaking hands, saying “Good game!” before wandering off to finish homework, knowing that they lived in a home where fun bested feng shui. Maybe I’ll believe that my good-enough style of housekeeping was actually kind of perfect.
Don’t get me wrong, tidy is nice, but, for me, joy comes from what you do with the items in your home not how you limit or arrange them.
Liz Alterman is a journalist who’s been writing online and in print for the past two decades. Covering everything from parenting and personal finance to real estate and the royal family, her work has appeared in The New York Times, and she’s served as a regular contributor for CNBC.com, Realtor.com, The Muse.com, and Your Teen. Additionally, she founded the humor blog, On the Balls of Our A$$ets, which explores attempting to stay sane following a mid-life layoff. When she isn’t writing, Liz enjoys reading, baking, and pretending to organize her basement.