I never realized that I was a clean freak until I had a baby.
A clean house was the first thing to go once our son was born, right after long showers and seven consecutive hours of sleep each night. Somewhere in the midst of sleep deprivation and projectile vomiting (the baby, not me), I stopped caring about beautifully made beds and perfectly polished sink faucets.
It was a slow process, that releasing of cleanliness and order. I started making the bed a few times a week instead of every day, and sometimes I even went to sleep with dishes in the sink. I allowed dust to collect on the shelves in our bedroom and laundry to pile high on top of the washing machine.
Gradually, little by little and day by day, I let go of something else.
Our house became more lived in, more relatable, more us. There were signs of life everywhere—from burp cloths on the coffee table to sleep training books carelessly tossed aside on the couch. The kitchen counter was often covered in a mixture of toast crumbs and droplets of pureed banana, sticky remnants that had fallen off the spoon during transition from blender to baby bowl.
People lived in our house—and for the first time—it appeared that way. There were marks of three lives in every single room: momma, daddy, and baby.
I started to embrace it, that letting go of cleanliness and order. I felt freedom in not washing a dish three seconds after I finished using it. I found liberty in smudge marks on the mirror and lint on top of the dresser.
I found freedom in the imperfections, in the dust, in the puffs between couch cushions.
That is, until, it was my turn to host a women’s group a few weeks ago. Suddenly freedom meant nothing to me as I morphed back into Monica Geller, frantically running around the house at 5:00pm, throwing magazines into drawers and tossing baby toys out of sight. I called my husband in frustration as I wiped kale from my baby’s forehead, exasperated that I was home alone taking care of a baby while I needed to clean for company. He came home with tacos for dinner and store bought cookies for me to serve, bless his heart, while I quickly attacked the kitchen with Clorox. I inhaled my share of the tacos and quickly discarded the evidence, lest anyone think I had actually eaten dinner at the kitchen table.
Twenty minutes later the house was ready and everything looked perfect. Well, everything except for me—I was a hot, sweaty mess. As I looked around the impeccably clean living room seconds before my friends arrived, I felt anything but pride. I felt pathetic.
These friends are the last people on earth who would judge a dirty house. These are my close friends, the ones who visited me in the hospital after my son was born and saw me in a bathing suit eight weeks after giving birth. We know intimate details about each other’s lives and share everything from maternity clothes and Kindles to baby gates and crock pot recipes. Of all the people, of all the potential guests to host, they would be the very last to expect perfection from me.
Yet, attempted perfection is my go-to, my instinct, what I know best.
So often our impulse when hosting people in our homes is to remove every crumb from the premises, straighten every picture frame, and shine every surface. While it’s sometimes easy to let go behind closed doors, many of us still struggle to release perfection when the doors are open. That’s a harder challenge and a bigger battle, one that can go against all of our instincts.
If you’re struggling to embrace your inner imperfect hostess, here are some things to keep in mind:
1. Fostering community is more important than presenting a clean house. What matters more: the depth of conversations around your table, or the sparkle of your stove? Keeping this simple reminder in check can be powerful.
2. When you invite people into your home, into your mess, you become transparent in a good way. Transparency leads to vulnerability, and vulnerability leads to trust. The most solid friendships in life are founded on trust, not vacuumed carpets.
3. Spontaneity can lead to the best gatherings. It’s easy to set up dinner invitations a week in advance when you know you can clean ahead of time. Inviting a friend over for an impromptu get together can be less formal, more relaxed, and often times, surprisingly more fun.
4. When you give yourself permission to let go of perfection, you invite others to do the same. When you invite people into your less-than-perfect home, you encourage them to offer the same gift back to you.
Hopefully with these things in mind, we can gradually, little by little, continue to let go of something else, eventually freeing ourselves to embrace the real life mess that accompanies this real life we are living.
In what areas of your life—when hosting or otherwise—are you learning to let go of perfection?