Facing the messiest room in my home/self

by Kristin on April 20, 2009

in Love, family & community

Photo by Jason Berg

Over the weekend, we took everything out of our bedroom except the bed and one dresser. We took the blinds off the windows and removed the over-the-door hooks, loaded with sweatshirts and robes. The throw rugs are gone. Even all the dust bunnies have been vacuumed up.

<Insert enormous, contented sigh here.>

I would love to have a bedroom with just a bed in it—a peaceful, monk-like sanctuary for rest and clear thoughts.

Unfortunately, this wide open, airy reality can’t be a permanent one. We removed and cleaned everything in preparation to paint all the trim. Our house is almost 100 years old, so there’s lots of molding around the windows, large baseboards, beveled doors and a picture rail where the walls meet the ceiling. Since I moved into the house, all that bedroom trim has been dark green. Jason and I have always wanted to paint it white, but we put off what we knew would be a big job, requiring many coats of paint.

When we’re done painting, we have to face all the stuff we removed from the room. It didn’t magically disappear. It was pushed into closets and stacked temporarily in the girls’ bedrooms. Sure, we can get rid of lots of it, and maybe keep some of it in the basement (ACK—the basement is another story). But we still need some of our stuff in our bedroom.

In the meantime, though, I find I’ve been spending lots of time lying on the bed, petting Maeve and looking out the naked windows at the leaves budding on the old black walnut tree.

The rooms of self: some are clean, some are cluttered

I think the rooms of a home are a perfect metaphor for self. For me, the rooms work sort of like this: The kitchen is the part of me that nurtures and gives, and uses my hands to love others. The dining room represents my love for community and hospitality—for sharing what I have with others. The living room is the room of my intellect, where I read and listen, converse and think about ideas.

And the bedroom? That’s my private space. Yes, it represents intimacy in my marriage. But it’s private in other ways. Private thoughts and emotions, private fears, and even private messes reside there. This is the door that automatically gets closed when company comes to the house. It’s the room that embarrasses and annoys, as well as comforts and offers rest. It’s the place where I can be utterly myself.

We each have our reasons for closing doors. When it comes to my physical bedroom, not the metaphoric one, it’s pretty much always a mess. One of my last-minute house cleaning tricks before company comes involves taking all the random things from the living room and dining room that I don’t know quite what to do with, and hiding them in the bedroom. As you can imagine, over time we’ve amassed quite a collection of…stuff.

Cleaning out the bedroom on Saturday (OK, it’s time for me to admit Jason did all that work, good man that he is) was not just a matter of moving a few pieces of furniture, a book and some slippers. Our bedroom was a true wreck. In addition to the one laundry basket full of…what?…there was another one packed with lone socks, the girls’ outgrown clothes, and various items of clothing in need of hand-washing. My stack of half-read books and old New Yorkers had grown into a toppling pile on the floor by the bed, mixed in with some used tissues and dust bunnies.

I should probably stop sharing the details now, before I lose all of my friends. (And Mom, you can stop cringing now.)

How much inner spring cleaning is realistic?

I don’t want to over-extend the metaphor, but I’m tempted to say something more about our private-public spaces, and our desire to hide stuff behind close doors so we can present a bright, clean face. And I’m tempted to say something about spring cleaning—how all that junk can be moved around and temporarily organized. Some of it can even be gotten rid of. But there are those things we need, that are just a part of us. A completely empty room is not a very useful or interesting one—at least not long-term, to someone like me.

I can be refreshed by spending some time in a completely empty bedroom, but it’s not a realistic approach to my life, and who I am. A private space is a good thing. And if I face some of the junk, and really deal with it, maybe I’ll feel good about leaving the bedroom door open a bit more often.

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  • http://www.tjhirst.com/ TJ Hirst

    House cleaning during spring time is not a dreaded one, as it is in other times of the year; this time of year makes me want to wrap up my internal struggles and repent myself. Great metaphor. You took it just far enough without summing it all up and that leaves me thinking.

  • http://www.roseyposeyconfections.blogspot.com Cheryl Ensom Dack

    As always, kristin, thank you for talking about the not-so-pretty stuff. Just reading real stuff in another’s life is like eating a meal of steak and asparagus after a week of fast food and packaged crap food.
    I completely identify with your metaphor. I don’t even have a freaking bed in my metaphorical bedroom ;) but I’d much rather sleep on the cold, hard floor for awhile than on my comfy bed that I know has a family of dust bunnies underneath! Ok maybe just alligators….

  • http://compostermom.blogspot.com Daisy

    I have an awful lot of inner junk right now, mainly job related. My house needs cleaning, too, but me? I can’t wait until summer to clean out both the real and virtual selves.

  • http://www.halfwaytonormal.com/ Kristin T.

    TJ, I hadn’t thought about that desire for inner purging being tied to spring, but I think that’s definitely the case in my life, too. Great point! And I’m glad that you’re thinking on the metaphor. It’s nice to post about things I don’t have all figured out, and then to see what others discover. (Let me know!)

    Cheryl, yes, dust bunnies are definitely “real stuff!” Thanks for accepting your messy-housed friend (complete with my messy inner and outer lives).

    Daisy, I’m sure, as a teacher, spring cleaning of any sort isn’t much of a reality. Once summer hits, do you have a certain ritual or thing you do (besides gardening, of course) to help cleanse out the inner junk?

  • http://www.jenx67.com jenx67

    Our homes are so similar! I know the horror of painting over dark trim, walls, etc.

    My favorite part was when I got to the end and heard about everything piled in the laundry baskets, b/c my goodness, our homes aren’t just alike b/c of hardwood floors and beveled windows. I have the same laundry baskets – with magazines; lone socks; clothes for handwashing; clothes outgrown. These represent metaphors for my cluttered mind.

  • http://www.howtomatter.com Jeb

    Really thoughtful post KT, one I can dig on a personal level for sure. Fitting that it’s spring, I suppose…because I’ve got some cleaning to do. But let’s leave it there why don’t we..no sense discussing the dirt.

    But I will say this young lady, it’s a great relief to know I’m not the only one with a stack of unfinished books.

  • http://www.twitter.com/McMer314 Meredith

    When I ponder my own attempts at “inner spring cleaning,” I think I do what most of us 20-somethings do when our parents plan to visit: clean just enough so that it’s presentable / livable, but not enough that it’s really clean.

    On the one hand, it means you (or really, I) have to keep coming back and cleaning again and again to keep things manageable. This means I’m constantly having to reflect on those things I’ve rather forget, which is probably good. On the other hand, each attempt at “light cleaning” means you’re only putting a band-aid on the issue and not actually making any progress.

    (Okay, I think I’ve sufficiently killed the metaphor now.)

  • http://www.halfwaytonormal.com/ Kristin T.

    jenx67, I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that our homes are so similar, seeing as how our very LIVES are so similar! And I thought the random laundry baskets were my very original trick. :) Do you think that clutter is just a metaphor for our minds, or is there also a direct connection? I’m amazed at how much emotional peace I feel when my physical space has been put in order—not entirely perfect, because it never is, but just when things have been addressed head-on rather than piled and shoved.

    Jeb, will there ever be enough time to read, again? I remember a time in my life when I regularly devoured books. Oh, I guess that was pre-kids, pre-blog. But we don’t even have TV—at least not one that gets channels—and still there’s never enough time to read. Sigh.

    Meredith, I love this! You didn’t kill the metaphor at all—we each might have wounded it, but sometimes you have to push metaphors a bit, to get to something interesting. This idea of internally cleaning *just enough* to make ourselves presentable is really perceptive. Yes, that kind of cleaning ends up constantly wearing on us, because it’s never done “right.”

  • http://www.blissfullykrissy.blogspot.com Krissy

    i’m going through the cleaning/painting phase in my bedroom as well…both mentally and physically. i want my intimate places to be where I turn for comfort and rest. i’m so tired of closing the door and hoping nobody goes there because of the fear I have of what they’ll see when they open the door to the stacks, piles and falling towers behind the closed door. I hope your spring cleaning delivers the results you need and want. :)

  • http://www.halfwaytonormal.com/ Kristin T.

    Krissy, it sounds like you know *exactly* what I’m talking about! It’s such a balancing act, isn’t it? I hate to spend energy worrying about what others might think about the state of my house—I’d rather be someone who spends time with her kids and derives joy from cooking and gardening, etc. than someone with a perfectly clean house. At the same time, as you point out, we need spaces we can turn to for comfort and rest. Let me know how you manage the balance!