Sunday, November 15, 2009

Messy Monday: What is Clean?

It’s so funny how people can define clean (and messy) so differently. To one, clean means the absence of clutter—even if those perfectly clear surfaces haven’t been sprayed, scrubbed, vacuumed or wiped with a cleaning solution for awhile. To another, clean may not mean the absence of clutter but that surfaces and floors are “clean”: scrubbed and disinfected, floors swept and vacuumed--even if clutter abounds.
Messy can be defined differently as well. A very “clean” (absence of clutter) person thinks of messy as even one or two things out of place. Those of us who are quite “messy” may tolerate a reasonable amount of clutter most of the time, but we still have a line where we know we’ve crossed over into “messy” territory and need to clean it up.

How we define the situation in our homes depends much on our operating definitions of clean and messy. Harmony in marriage involves finding out your spouse’s definition of clean and trying hard to achieve it most of the time. When we fail, we should extend each other much grace and remember “love covers over a multitude of sins” (1 Peter4:8).

To see some real life examples of differences in definitions, let’s look at some pictures!

My friend, let's call her Jane, is impeccably neat and organized. She thinks her kitchen is messy.

I would just say this is a normal kitchen after a meal, and I know my friend will have this cleaned up in mere minutes.

Let's see another one:

Again, I don't think of this as messy, but normal after a meal, and I know my friend will get this ship-shape in seconds flat (right, friend)? :)

To contrast, let's look at my kitchen on any given day:
The general overview (but my counters are clean, really! I just wiped them down really good that morning--see the 409 in the background?!) :)

A different view. (That is banana bread on the cooling rack, in the pan a little too long!)

So how we feel about the appearance of our home is largely determined by our definitions of clean and messy. I could walk into my friend's house, even on what she thinks is her messiest day, and still feel like it’s immaculate compared to my home (and my definition of messy). I can think my house is clean, and my husband can come home and think it’s messy (because of his definition). He doesn’t care if the counters are "clean" if he can't easily set anything down on them. (If I clear it to scrub it, why doesn't it stay clear? Good question).

The other tip I would like to point out is to set a time-limit to our “messes.” Some clutter is unavoidable throughout the course of a day. My friend's table with homeschool books covering it is just a natural part of a homeschool day.

Since I do not clean-up as I go in the kitchen, I have a dirty sink awaiting me when I’m done. (Ready for this one??? Don't say I didn't warn you!)

These “messes” are not a problem as long as they resolve themselves when the situation that necessitated them is over. The problem comes into play when they are allowed to stay. My house stays looking messy because the messes rarely have an expiration date.

When we get to that point, and we don’t know where to start, taking pictures is helpful. Although we can see clutter all over a surface, we see it so often that we don’t really “see” it anymore. Somehow seeing it in a picture helps direct our eyes to exactly what we need to take care of immediately. I found taking a picture of my counter provided much needed direction. So if you’re in need of mercy in this area, grab your camera, take a picture, look at it closely, and see what most catches your eye. You can post it on your blog and share about it here if you want to, but you certainly don’t have to if you don't want to!


  1. Jane, huh? Wow, her kitchen is a mess and I am guessing it took much more than a few seconds to clean up.....(wink)!

    What you said about different definitions is so true. My husband HATES toys sprinkled all over the backyard. Me, not such a big deal, but if more than 3 toys are in the living/kitchen area and a small child is not touching them -- you'd better watch out! But, if I want harmony (I do) then knowing that it bothers my husband(and it does), I strive to do a better job keeping the backyard in order, even if I don't understand why it's such a big deal to him.

    My area of "intolerance for messy" is the kitchen, especially non-kitchen-piles-of-various-things. I generally clean as I go, and before I can do anything else, I usually have dishes washed, clounters scrubbed and bare, and floor swept. I have eveb been know to take plates and cups from kids before they are even finished eating! Seriously -- I have had to MAKE myself leave dirty dishes to finish another task that was more important at the time. That's probably why I, ugh..Jane, thought her kitchen was trashed last week :)!!

    So, while our definitions of messy may differ, the anxiety we attach to our "unsatisfied" level is very real even though the mess may look totally different. Another way to put it is this: It's nice that someone may think my mess is much less messier than theirs, but it doesn't really alter my perception of my own mess. (BTW, your pictures of your kitchen didn't bother me because it's not my kitchen...ha ha.)

    Thanks for the funny post. My suggestion: Ask your husband his number 1 pet peeve messy area and the one area he could care less about. Then move all said items from spot #1 to the latter :)!!

  2. I love this post! Thanks for a smile and new perspective about homemaking!