small minded


I fantasize about living in a tiny house.

Last night I stayed up way too late looking at photo galleries and floor plans, nightdreaming about how easy it would be to keep a small space spring-cleaned all year round, about sitting on a loveseat and looking out at a complete absence of clutter, about finally living that old cliche of “a place for everything and everything in its place.”

These little cottages call my name because my current existence is the opposite of clean and clutter-free. We’re not living in filth or anything, but as I sit here sipping my coffee I’m looking at my stepson’s trumpet and his backpack and his marching band shoes and his regular shoes and the crunchies of dried dirt he tracked in from the melting, muddy slogs by our front door. There are piles of dried and folded laundry on the kitchen table (a step up from the pile of laundry filling two chairs that I left last night on the way to bed) and dirty dishes in the sink. Said stepson cleaned his bass guitar strings in vinegar and boiling water and, for some reason, set them on the piano. Stepdaughter has been at her mom’s for five days and her dirty socks have been in the corner for six. Our Siberian Husky get distracted when he drinks from the water bowl, looking around in thought mid-slurp and dripping trails of water from his chin across the kitchen floor. A tumbleweed of his fur sits in the corner waiting for a breeze.

This is all manageable; give me 45 minutes and I can have these rooms ship-shape. But they are only two of the rooms; upstairs there are bedrooms, two of which I refuse to go into because the adolescent noxiousness might make me faint, and a bathroom I fight to keep somewhat cleaner than the one at McDonald’s, and a closet with this 1902-era-house’s only large storage space that is, for some reason, filled with a pile of sleeping bags and old shoes. And there is the future–even if I get this place HGTV-ready today, by tomorrow I’ll need to start over. Cleaning is like exercise; it has to be done almost every day, and no one notices the effort unless you stop.

cottage-copySo I sit and look longingly at pictures of perfect little places and feel progressively more unhappy with my imperfect bigger one. I love my family but to say that moving in with them four years ago was a shock to my single-girl system is like saying the world wars were a little chaotic. To paraphrase Virginia Woolf, sometimes I just want a tiny house of my own, and I don’t want to clean marinara sauce off the light switches.

But while it’s easy to idealize the options available on Pinterest, what I’m learning is that often what I want is not a clutter-free house but a mess-free life. The fantasy is not gleaming white walls or a picture-perfect setting (although could you not die); it’s a picture-perfect life that doesn’t involve arguments or inconveniences any more than it involves Husky vomit or Cheeto crumbs. And this is, to put it mildly, unrealistic. No matter where you live, you’re still there. Your junk drawer may be empty but the junk in your life will have followed you.

There’s nothing wrong with wanting a nice house, or a clean one, but sometimes I long for what I can’t have because it’s easier than doing the hard work of appreciating what I can. There will always be dust and fur and dirt-tracked-in, and always something circumstantial I want to change. Those guitar strings should go upstairs and we really ought to invest in some laundry baskets. But what I really need is not to downsize my home. It’s to downsize my discontent.

Originally published on the Rebel Storytellers blog.

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