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Time flies: Seeing the magic in the mess

I don’t consider myself a neat freak, and cleaning is far from my favorite pastime. Yet, I can’t help feeling down whenever my house is out of order.

It’s Monday morning, and my house looks a fright. It has survived the wrath of a 6-year-old over a long weekend — toys and half-finished craft projects strewn about. If you have small children, chances are yours is in a similar state.

With the popularity of the Netflix show “Tidying Up with Marie Kondo” and the release of Gretchen Rubin’s newest book “Outer Order Inner Calm,” I’ve been thinking a lot about the messes kids make in the wake of play. It never ceases to amaze me how quickly my family room can turn into a giant pile of abandoned toys.

Sometimes the little tableaux that get left behind make me smile. A Winnie the Pooh picnic on the first day of kindergarten comes to mind, serving as a reminder of all the fun we had that summer and making the house feel less empty on that milestone day. But mostly, I feel the opposite of inner calm when my house is turned upside down.

I don’t consider myself a neat freak, and cleaning is far from my favorite pastime. Yet, I can’t help feeling down whenever my house is out of order. Although the mess usually looks far worse than it is, sometimes the task seems insurmountable. I don’t mean to make a mountain out of a molehill of toys, but I was not surprised to learn there is a proven correlation between women’s cortisol levels and clutter.

A friend shared a meme on social media that I try to conjure whenever I feel this way: Think of the mess like fairy dust. One day it will go away, and take all the magic with it. Cue tears. I’ll wait while you grab a tissue.

When I think of it that way, I never want the mess to up and disappear. There is so much magic in it. When my daughter plays, anything is possible — her imagination knows no limits. She sees the world in a way that a grown-up cannot. The make-believe, dress-up clothes and talking stuffed animals are part of a magical world only a child can unlock. It’s a superpower we’re all born with that inexplicably vanishes into thin air as we age. When you’re little, you don’t need to be reminded to think outside the box, because you’re too busy playing inside the box. Creativity comes naturally.

The mess of creative play will be gone before I can say abracadabra — another bittersweet reminder that my daughter will only be little for a little while. Try as I might to embrace our disheveled living space as her personal Neverland, she is going to grow up.

In truth, the mess won’t actually go away (read: teenagers). A few years ago, I asked my mom how long we should wait before making some updates to our home so our then-toddler couldn’t destroy our freshly-painted cabinets and new furniture. Her response? College.

Someday my house will be pristine. An empty nest, ready for company at a moment’s notice. Ready for my grown daughter and her sticky-fingered children to make a mess. I can’t wait.

Until then, I’m off to tidy my family room.

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