Reflections on a messy room

I’m a grown-up, and I don’t clean my room. 

Not on a regular basis, at least. I’m more of an emergency cleaner. (Think: annual termite inspection time, or the plumber is coming.)

I try to keep the rest of the house at minimum, picked up—toys back into baskets at the end of the day, counters wiped down, clutter categorically shuffled off to wherever it belongs. Sure. But the master bedroom, the one I share with my husband of 12+ years? Well, it’s another story.

I get away with this because 1) my hubby is extremely tolerant of my bad habits and 2) it’s a given that visitors understand master bedrooms are private spaces. You might walk into someone’s home and wander around their living room or kitchen, eyeball their bookshelves and admire their artwork or photos. But the master is off-limits. You just don’t go in there.

So when people are over, I simply close that door and pretend like that part of the house doesn’t exist.

Except… I know what’s in there.

And it’s not just piles of unfolded laundry. It’s clutter. It’s dresser tops stacked with books, ponytail holders, crumpled receipts, jewelry, candy (chewy Sweet Tarts are my current vice), clothespins, hairbrushes, old to-do lists, those little plastic tabs used to attach price tags to clothing, and all forms of junk in between. It’s an unruly stash of old shopping bags I keep stuffing behind the full-length mirror because they might be useful at some point. (They won’t be.) It’s a closet exploding with old shoes and bags I do not need and have no room for but haven’t been able to part ways with yet. It’s stacks of books on the floor and an out-of-control dust bunny infestation.

You can guarantee our guests don’t see this sweet, sacred space unless they’re particularly nosy (you know who you are). But I am keenly aware of the embarrassment sitting just on the other side of my living room wall. And no matter how surface-clean the “public” half of my home looks, I know the truth. It’s a sham. I’m a fraud. 

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The past week has been heart-wrenching in what feels like a million ways. I’ve witnessed shock, panic, fear, thrill, grief, cruelty, meanness, hatred, disappointment, hope, kindness, resolve, love, and anger coming at various times, in waves, from different people from all angles from all of the circles I find myself part of. People are feeling right now, and their feelings are big. My feelings are big, too. I haven’t slept this poorly or cried this much since we were in the newborn stage of child-rearing.

By Sunday, I felt like I might implode.

So I did what any rational person would do. I went to my room.

And then I cleaned it.

I folded and hung the laundry that had been sitting in baskets for weeks. Yes, weeks. I weeded items out of my closet that should have been dropped at Goodwill a long time ago. I got down on my knees, vacuum in hand, and attacked the dust creatures beneath the dresser and bed—some of them rather large. (At one point I shut the vacuum off because I thought for sure I’d sucked up one of the girls’ stuffed animals. Nope. Just a prehistoric dust bunny.)

At first I laughed at what was becoming obvious—my sheer lack of discipline when it comes to cleaning. (There are people who think I’m very “type A” but I’m really very… not. My brand of perfectionism takes on other forms.) Amusement-slash-embarrassment gradually turned into disgust as I watched the vacuum fill with the nasty stuff that had been lurking on the floors, in corners, behind and underneath furniture.

In all the yuck, I saw how much I’d neglected this one room, the room my husband and I share, a space that’s supposed to be a safe haven and retreat.

And there on the floor, as I reached and stretched the vacuum hose into hidden spaces where filth lurked, I also saw my anger, my short temper. I saw resentment. I saw grudges I’ve stubbornly been unwilling to let go of. I saw pride. And it was gross. 

A fine layer of dust, when not promptly wiped away, grows into something that takes on a life of its own. [Dust] bunnies do what [dust] bunnies do.

I can close the door and pretend like it doesn’t exist. But eventually it’ll get under my skin, because I know it’s there and that at some point, something has to be done about it. Eventually “out of sight, out of mind” will fail me.

Oh, and cleaning my room isn’t a one-time event. (Wouldn’t that be great though?) Within the week surfaces will need dusting again, trash will need to be tossed, and fresh loads of laundry will need to put away.

Daily maintenance. Ugh.

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I’m restless and frustrated by what’s unfolding in the world around me. I want to do something. Take action. (Perhaps you feel it too. We need to feel it.)

But first I need to stop acting as though my own mess and brokenness don’t exist. I cannot pretend that I’ve never been part of the problem of sin in the world just because my dirt is behind a door that I keep closed. The pride, the anger, the resentment—it’s all gotta go.

So I have to open the door and red-faced, invite Jesus into the room. It’s laughable to think I’ve kept it a secret anyway—He knows full well what a slob I tend to be. The amazing, unfair thing about grace is that He’ll come right in and get to work, even though I’m the one who made the mess and allowed it to get to this state. 

He will wipe everything clean and clear away the dust. Take out my garbage. Pop open the window so that a fresh breeze can blow through. And in doing so, He will ready my heart so that I am prepared to listen, to care, to step into a story other than my own.

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