April 17, 2012
Categories: Culture, Family, Home, Self

A perfect bookshelf that would NEVER look this way at my house.

The other day, a friend sent me a link to this clever blog post written by a mom who’d been struggling with inadequacy. The source of this empty emotion? Her slacker-style parenting and inferior homemaking skills. Believe it or not, this woman doesn’t decorate her kids’ grilled cheese to look like ice cream cones, she hasn’t bothered to alphabetize her spice rack and she doesn’t even mold the family’s soap into flowers.

(Insert eye roll) I know, right!?

I guess I could give the lady a break — even empathize a little. After all, I too, have wondered what I was doing wrong as homemaker through the years. I’m creative. I can cook. I even know how to sew and knit and decoupage dresser drawers. So why aren’t my kids adorned in hand-knit fair isle or their lunches properly packed with smiling sunshines?

What’s this Little People-loving mama got that I don’t?

I’ll tell you what she’s got – one of four things. Either a great big vintage mess to reorganize every time her kids play, a daily sense of defeat over the fisher-price fail on the floor, live-in help, or OCD. Thanks, but I’ll stick with my slightly-more-primitive method of mess management – the few toys we have, we toss in a tub and push into a corner. (*See footnote.)

This is our makeshift playroom in its usual lived-in state. An unintended bonus created when we nailed up plastic in the courtyard to keep the bedrooms warm(er), it has proven the perfect corridor for chaos. Worth noting: that mossy structure (front right) is last year’s nativity scene – repurposed into a house for the Calico Critters, the girls hung my favorite embroidered table cloth in the back to play tienda and they recently decided to rip the plastic sheeting for a clever escape route during hide and seek.

I can’t say I’ve always felt this way. I used to try hard to keep the house all cute and the crap creatively contained. But through the years, these things have become less and less important to me. And why? Because they don’t feed me. And they don’t feed me because they really don’t matter.

I’m not dissing those of you with affinities for prettifying your possessions. I love order and beauty and old-school toys. If I had all the time in the world, I might even embroider vintage-y vegetables on all my kitchen linens. But what I don’t love – in fact, what I loathe, is that our culture places so much value on show and appearance and image. That everywhere we go, we are bombarded by reminders of the things we don’t have, the experiences we’ve not provided our families and that someone, somewhere does something better than we do.

Fortunately, we have choices about what we allow into our experiences. And while it’s hard to avoid the billboards between ourselves and the starry skies, many of the influences that increase our sense of inadequacy are part of our lives because we invite them to be there. Magazines depicting the “perfect” home, the “perfect” body and the “perfect” parent, the dozens of seemingly-innocent home and image-improvement shows, and – as the previously-mentioned blogger describes – internet influences like the all-popular Pinterest have more influence over our perception of what’s important than we realize.

Don’t get me wrong – I rather like Pinterest. I could spend all day pining (and pinning) over off-grid minimalist dwellings or two-person outdoor showers or letterpress prints of ferns and Japanese maple – but I don’t.

We tried this level of minimalist living. It wasn’t quite so cute.

And I read blogs – about experimental homesteading and curbing candida and ghetto guerrilla gardeningevery once in a while.

I appreciate access to information and ideas at the click of a button – but enough is enough already. And while it’s nice to have that sock-darning tutorial handy, more often than not I get so distracted by something woolen or whitewashed or wilted with caramelized garlic that I waste a freaking hour and still have a hole in my knee-high.

Whitewashed brick, minimalist design and a that charcoal wool rug? Be still, my heart.

I’m not encouraging you not to read blogs (clearly), nor am I suggesting you give up anything that truly inspires you. What I am saying is that we’ve all got to check this shit. You decide what serves you and your family. You decide what’s worth your time and emotional investment. You decide whether pixilated poppies satisfy your soul’s longing for beauty like discovering them growing wild on a Sunday picnic.

And most importantly, only you can decide whether you could have lived without knowing that this can be done with noodles and wieners…

Happiness grows at our own firesides, and is not to be picked in strangers’ gardens.

- Douglas Jerrold

……

*Despite the odds, the photographer and owner of this toy shelf recently stumbled upon my post and reached out to me, quite angry over my inaccurate assumptions, however playful my intentions. I’d like to apologize publicly for what was, indeed, a judgement on my part and clarify that she is not OCD, nor does she have live-in help. At the time of the photo, she was, in fact, a single mom going through a difficult time and her toy shelf was a bit of a solace from her storm, making my accusations that much more hurtful. I am once again reminded that judgements, however lighthearted, rarely, if ever, contribute more good than they do harm. My apologies, Jade. Thanks for keeping it real. 

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65 Comments

  1. This post is terrific.

    I don’t have anything to do with Pinterest because I just know it would turn into a black hole of time- and energy-suckage for me. I live in one of those tiny places and it’s not particularly minimalistic, there’s nothing “simple” about it, and it ain’t cute by any definition. It’s just our house, where real people live. If I start comparing it to other places and wishing for other lives I’ll just end up broke and depressed. Mostly broke. But also depressed. What’s the use?

    My friend says, “There is no ideal body, there is only your body,” and I think this is true of our lives as a whole and certainly our homes and families. This is all there is, and nothing that we attach to it is going to make it prettier on the inside.

    Reply

    • Thank you, Chandelle. And I couldn’t agree more. “Our house, where real people live” reminds me of my favorite children’s book, “The Table Where Rich People Sit” Check it out, I think you’d like it. Good to have connected with you.

      Reply

    • Chandelle, that last paragraph nails it.

      Beth, this post nailed it. I just found your blog and I’m really enjoying the balance and perspective your writing offers. Good stuff.

      Reply

  2. Fantastic post! I do find after a while of scrolling through Pinterest I start to feel a little down as opposed to inspired.

    Reply

  3. My, my this post is terrific. Thanks for sharing.

    Reply

  4. Came via Joshua Becker’s shout-out on Twitter, and certainly am glad I did! Fantastic post that articulately sums up my thoughts on the whole perfect life myth.

    I know for me, when I do get sucked into that online world of amazing, boundless-energy, creative-cooking, immaculately dressed mums, my energies disappear. I feel inadequate and ashamed.

    When the reality is, I know I do a great job with our kids and our home. And I’ve accepted the fact that when I’m doing one thing (generally) I can’t be doing another. My priorities are where they should be. But that doesn’t stop me second-guessing myself – which shows how all-pervasive this myth can be if we let it.

    Reply

  5. What a fantastic post. Thank you for helping to keep my busy, crazy world in perspective. It is too easy to be sucked in by the Internet and end up feeling inadequate. Time for some offline time here. Xx

    Reply

    • Easy, indeed. I’ve caught myself bored, doing nothing online and have to wake up from my daze and tell myself to GET OFF!

      Reply

  6. I love this. Have had this conversation (although not so eloquently) with various friends many times… but it doesn’t seem to eliminate the problem. Or maybe it helps, because at least we are acknowledging to each other that it is all too perfect out there, so on some level our brain recognizes it. Anyway, thanks!

    Reply

  7. Great post. Keep up the good work.

    I too, caught this as a retweeat from Joshua Becker.

    Reply

  8. Well, thank you for the best discovery of the day… A sensible post I can totally get onboard with! And thank you, as well, for the best quotable quote that will help me rip myself away from the time-sucking qualities of the pinboards… “we’ve all got to check this shit.” Sing it to me, sister.

    Reply

  9. Skippy the magical hampster

    Nature is hardly orderly. We are part of nature. Enjoy life! It is the only one we are living now.

    Reply

  10. Fabulous post!

    Although your messy playroom looks pretty cute and vintage-y to me!

    Reply

  11. Love this post. Found it via facebook.

    I know it totally wasn’t your point, but after seeing the last pic I made this for kids lunch today. LOL Thanks for the inspiration!

    I’m off to add you to my blogger.

    Reply

  12. If I could make Cthulu out of Noodles and Weiners for my kids, my life would be complete. Oh wait…

    Reply

  13. Ok, the wiener-noodle trick? Can’t wait to try it. :)

    Loved this post. I don’t know how many times I think, “Oh I’ll be a perfect mom/wife/person when my house/crafts/yard look like hers (Martha Stewart immediately came to mind). Hey, how ’bout we all have perfect (meaning complete and joyfilled) lives by living them? Thanks for the reminder.

    Signing off now. I have some kiddos to play with. ;)

    Reply

  14. I love this so much I could hug you! (& i’m not a hugger) =) some things need to be seen at certain times and this was was one of those times for me. Thank you and mothering.com newsfeeds on facebook.

    Blessings!!

    *now i shall waste the next 2hrs reading the restof your blog & not obsessing about my incompetence.*

    Reply

  15. Honestly, all I can see when I look at the picture of your house is your fabulous tiled floor and the bi-color walls. Reminds me so much of home. *sigh*

    Great post, btw. :)

    Reply

  16. Great post and the disgusting noodles-and-dogs at the end made me laugh. I’m checking out the book “Where the rich people live”. Glad I found your blog from Courtney!

    Reply

  17. Just found you from MDC and so glad I did. I don’t have too much time for blog reads, but just spent the last 90 minutes reading through your archives and am so thrilled to have found you. Can’t wait for more time to read more.

    Reply

    • I’m flattered that you would take time out of your busy day to read my blog! I, too, struggle to find time for such things. If I’m on the computer, I’m usually writing, otherwise it’s back to dinner prep, laundry folding and breaking up of fights! Best, Beth

      Reply

  18. Wonderful! Such an encouraging (and funny) post. So glad to have found you and am a new follower!

    Reply

  19. wendy vasion

    Needed this.

    Reply

  20. I LOVE LOVE LOVE this post!

    In fact I love it so much
    I ended up posting about it 3 times on facebook!

    Thanks for giving me the smiles at the end
    and a reminder of the life I am aspiring to learn to live after being sucked in a a bit earlier on….

    Mel

    P.S. I use facebook only to connect with like minded and to find great articles and posts like yours – although I do end up in that black internet hole that was mentioned in an earlier comment…. ;)

    Reply

  21. Terrific post. I actually find terrible joy when I see a magazine clean style friend have a dirty dish in her sink, or a super patient mom yell. I’m awful, I know, but it’s nice to have reminders that none of us is perfect. We all have our gifts and preferences of how to spend our time and what’s important.
    For example- that hot dog spaghetti thing scared me for some reason. Maybe because we were studying parasites last week :-)

    Reply

  22. Loving this too – I spent the first hour of today stomping around our shit hole of a house ready to slit my wrists as I made shit sandwiches for my kids’ lunches, because everything was a mess, as always, I couldn’t find anything, and I was a shit housewife. Shitter than shit.

    Added you to my blog roll over at Dreaming Aloud so I can keep up with your great blog.

    Glad to have found you!

    Reply

  23. Love this post! Last photo made me laugh outloud (and I’m definitely trying it). Great blog :)

    Reply

  24. I feel like this is a vicious cycle. There are so many “mom-bloggers” who pour themselves into bloggable activities, arrange their house/kids just so for photos, and them rush to post the perfect bits online. What is portrayed is exactly what they want to be portrayed and rarely do you see the junk pile just off camera, the dishes that aren’t done, the piles of laundry, etc. This slice of perfection displayed leaves the readers feeling inadequate (as many commentators have mentioned). But, what is often even less discussed is the motivation behind the blogger. While their initial intention may have been to help other moms and provide useful tips, I think a lot of bloggers are starved for appreciation and encouragement so they are compelled to show off slices of perfection just to be seen, heard, and encouraged. Being a mom, homemaker, etc if usually a rather thankless task without the recognition and accolades that a typical career may yield, so we are compelled to do whatever we can to get that recognition and encouragement from others – and sometimes without realizing that our quest for approval is causing others to feel even worse. There is a strong community of mom bloggers who thrive off of each other. If there was a bigger sense of reality and less pressure to be perfect, there would be more room to encourage each other right where we’re at. Great article!

    Reply

    • Sing it. I couldn’t agree more. That said, I am doing my very best to create a strong readership while competing with folks who have fancy houses and cameras and pretty plates on which to stage their dinner for the photo op. It’s tricky. Thank you for the encouragement to keep at it in as real a way as I can.

      Reply

  25. I just found your blog via the Mothering article and this post is awesome. Can’t wait to take a look around your blog tonight once the kids are in bed.

    But I had to comment to say:

    That noodles & wiener business does not feed my soul. No, it does not.

    Reply

  26. Thank you for this insight! Well written and entertaining!

    I myself stopped blogging because I realized it was totally taking away from my family.

    Reply

  27. I don’t even know how I stumbled on your site. Followed a story to another story I think. Wonderful post.
    I limit my browsing on sites like Pinterest and Apartment Therapy because it is so easy to spend all your time read about things rather than doing things. But even though I only go to them when I’m searching for a particular subject/solution to do with/for my toddler, it’s so easy to spiral into ‘I need to do this, and this and this’. Luckily, when I step away and take a breath, the feeling subsides.

    Two more thoughts –
    1) “We’ve all got to check this shit” – Great comment
    2) That pasta, hot dog photo cracked me up and I will probably make it when my daughter gets older. :)

    Reply

  28. Thank you so much for your thoughts!! I have to remind myself (as I look with horror at the state of our shower curtain) that nobody, at the end of life, wishes their house was cleaner or that they spent more time at work!

    I was raised in an immaculate house with a Martha Stewart mother, who was about as warm and inviting as Martha herself. Do I wish to perpetuate this atmosphere in my life? NO. Our house is a warm, cozy, mess.

    This does not mean, of course, that I won’t be getting a new shower curtain and be baking home-made chicken pot pie when Martha visits for Christmas!

    Reply

    • I LOVE to hear about the homes we were all raised in. Isn’t it interesting that SO MANY of them were spotless and run by perfunctory mothers? Sure makes me wonder what my minimal house-cleaning will manifest in my own daughters! And yes, my house will shine like never before when the in laws come for Thanksgiving.

      Reply

  29. This part made me smile: “Believe it or not, this woman doesn’t decorate her kids’ grilled cheese to look like ice cream cones, she hasn’t bothered to alphabetize her spice rack and she doesn’t even mold the family’s soap into flowers.”

    I’ve never done any of those things either…though I do arrange books on bookshelves by height. ;)

    Reply

  30. This is a fantastic post articulating how mom’s need to decide what is worth their time and energy and ignore the rest of it. Unfortunately this is much easier said then done.

    Reply

  31. After looking into a few of the blog posts on your website, I really appreciate your technique of writing a blog.
    I book marked it to my bookmark website list and will be checking back in the near
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    Reply

  32. Holy cow. Thank you!

    Reply

  33. I love this post! I just discovered you through a share on Facebook. I’m also going to share that article because it speaks volumes to what we deal with as women and as a society in general. Just when I try to shut it all out and cancel the magazine subscriptions, there’s a TV commercial, a friend with the sleek new car and the sleek new phone, the internet with its poshy images and even if I’m living a rather Spartan lifestyle, you almost feel like you’re on the fringes of insanity because you don’t always participate. Lovely post!! Sharing all over!

    Reply

  34. Wow. Fantastic post. A friend of mine in our blogger’s group shared this and I had to come and check you out. Fantastic.

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  35. So true – but i AM going to try the spaghetti and sausage idea lol

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  36. I just found you via the Mothering article, which I found on Angry Chicken. I am so glad that I found you because this is exactly what I needed to read tonight. Love it. Thank you because I totally needed to check this shit.

    Oh, and that noodle/wiener thing? gross, but totally made me laugh.

    Reply

    • Thanks, Elizabeth! I’m glad you’re here! Would you mind sending me the page where you found me on Angry Chicken so I can thank her?

      Reply

  37. Thank you so much for this post! It is soooo true!

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  38. Thank you! I think you are saying what most of us are thinking but are afraid no one else is thinking. There is a futile chase for perfection going on in this world, and I think women fall prey to it often. This post reminded me that it’s ok our home is “lived in” and it’s more important that our home is loved in.

    Reply

  39. Oh my gosh, this was like an answer to prayers!! So glad there are people who feel this way too. I’m not even a mother yet, (I’m 4 months pregnant), but just being married I feel myself comparing to all my married friends overly cute apts and super healthy but incredibly time consuming recipes they make for every meal, as well as endless crafts and so on. Working and going to school should be enough to give myself a break, but I constantly catch myself feeling inadequate compared to what seems to be their perfect lives. Love this post, excited to search for more things you’ve written!

    Reply

  40. I live in a small one bedroom apartment with my husband, two children under 5 and a cat. We do our best to maximize our space, but due to the small nature of our dwelling place, we take advantage of the many public areas in our city. Since we are lucky enough to live in CA and the area has beautiful weather, we have the privilege of being able to go outside for the vast majority of the year.

    We do not have a lot of money, but we have enough for living expenses and a few extras. I enjoy certain crafty things, but I don’t get a lot of time so I choose what I enjoy doing. I do think that I am fairly lucky to be able to ride my bicycle to work, to see my husband and children at lunch every day so I can be with my family and breastfeed my youngest instead of only pumping at work, and I’m obsessed with streamlining and creating systems that work in small places. I’ve also fallen in love with Freecycle and other groups that allow for asking for and receiving needed items for free and minimizing waste.

    My choices and my life are just that- my own. I can only hope that all those overachieving moms out there are really getting joy and fulfillment from their choices. I, for one, am going to save my sanity because I know it’s not a competition. I love my children, my husband, my cat, my community. I also enjoy playing video games, playing imagination games with my kids, and my husband is the chef of the family (but I like to bake with the little ones when I have the time). If we do not live this life with our own wishes and hopes in mind, then what are we living for?

    Good read, though. I can see how people can lust after the idea of the perfect house with the perfect set up and the perfect things which reflects that perfection on the person who owns and operates said place. But the truth is that perfection is usually only achieved in a void- a void without guests, children, spouses or pets. I can’t abide by filth, but clutter and things out of place are a sign that people live somewhere comfortably, and I’d rather be a home than living structure.

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  41. “We’ve all got to check this shit.” (Cue Hallelujah chorus)

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  42. Im Reading lots of back posts because I’ve found them inspiring, Beth. I’m still learning what it means to be me and how to support my child to be who she is. As someone who cooks professionally occasionally (and has fear of success but still wants to be awesome) I had to dispel some myths among friends that I made complex dinners for my family every night. We all try our best and its better sometimes to just have spaghetti with jarred sauce made with a happy face because its done in 10 minutes then some super feast made with resentment and posting it online while your kid cries because it’s an hour past their dinnertime. Living genuinely is both work and relaxation and I have a lot to learn!

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  43. Very excellent and something I probably needed to read today. I still might do that thing with the noodles and hot dogs though.

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  44. I love this article, thank you for writing it at a time when I really need to hear these words. Although, I may have missed the point as I can’t help but run to the grocery store and buy hot dogs and noodles. Who knew?

    Reply

  45. Best read in a LONG time! I’ve always wondered what it would
    be like to live in the Pottery Barn catalog, do many do!
    Thanks so much!

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  46. I think I love you. Lets be friends.

    Reply

  47. I think we all put our time and energy into what we value. For me it is my home to a great extent. I spend my days playing with my kids and intermittently running outside to spray paint crap. I’m sure there are people who look at my home and feel inadequate. But it isn’t the whole story. I don’t take pictures of my upstairs bedroom closet which has been lacking closet doors for FOUR years. Nor do I take pics of my bathtub which desperately needs to be replaced. And I don’t cook dinner. My husband does. ;-) And it might be really pretty. But my house is rarely clean. And I won’t be going on any vacations this year because I spent all my money on vintage crap. But that’s okay: because I value living in a lovely home. The thing about Pinterest is it’s everyone’s BEST stuff. Not all the best stuff of one perfect mom who does not exist. I think as individuals we need to remember our values are all different. And also that people self-edit tremendously online (most people!). So we aren’t seeing it all. Really I think I need to remember this MYSELF whenever I am lusting over other people’s vacation photos and remind myself that very vintage tea towel purchase is me making a choice to stay home. But it’s hard. Because we do want it all, don’t we? Fabulous post. Made me really think about how I choose to portray my life online!

    Reply

  48. Virginia Berno

    What a great reminder about the inevitable outcome of judging others. Nothing good comes from it. Even the little boost it gives to our own egos is temporary! We all have to remember that we NEVER know what is really going on in someone else’s life.

    Reply

  49. I just love this. Every bit of it, even (especially!) the comment at the end about Jade’s toy storage. This is much more the kind of conversation and honesty and communication so many of us need right now. I applaud the heck out of the toy storage, and it’s also ok that it’s not what I need to make my life work right now. My life is beautiful, heavenly beautiful, and the dishes will get done when they get done. Thank you for the reminder!

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  50. Thank you so much for your honesty….both about our society and also for caring enough to apologize for inadvertently hurting another persons feelings….so refreshing

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  51. Love this! The hot dogs at the end are a perfect example of just because you can do something, doesn’t mean you should.

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    • Also, the sunshine lunch above does allay any fears I may have had about my son’s potential over-eating.

      Reply

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