Reclaiming My Bedroom—My Messy Beautiful

Glennon Melton of Momastery recently asked writers to post an essay about their messy, beautiful lives to celebrate the paperback release of her book Carry On, Warrior. I realize she’s using “messy” in reference to life’s big things—parenting, work, marriage, friendship, health. But I decided to take a literal spin on the project and write about one of my own messy beautifuls that I carefully hide behind a closed door—my bedroom.

For months, it’s been a disaster.

Something had to give. Every child goes through tougher periods and for Owen and James, 3 has been hard. With everyone in school in the mornings, I’ve tried to pick up a lot more freelance work. Thankfully, I’ve been successful. Unfortunately, it has taken me many months of 2am bedtimes and feeling like I was failing at stay-at-home parenting as well as freelancing before I allowed myself the grace of sometimes hiring daytime babysitters. I’ve had some odd health things going on, the latest of which requires light therapy treatments up in Cincinnati three times a week. My current life story is the same as all of our current life stories. We’re all busy (even when I try, daily, to live a life of not-busy). It just happens.

Still, something had to give.

So I threw in the towel (literally, into a pile of all the other clean clothes on the floor, waiting to be folded) on trying to maintain a clean bedroom.

It was so easy.

Sophie has a play date and I don’t want the kids getting into the paint? Throw it into the bedroom. Guests coming over and I don’t have time to properly put everything away? Throw it into the bedroom. Seasons change and I don’t have time to switch the clothes over? Stack the boxes in the bedroom.

I would go through and pick things up, put things away. But always there was a clothes basket filled with odds and ends that needed sorted and put away—wooden beads, game pieces, Barbie shoes, car wheels, a broken Nutcracker, loose change, a half-empty pack of wipes, mesh bags used when traveling, pencils that needed sharpened, too-small socks, too-big shorts bought on clearance, the extra contents of a purse acquired when I switched everything else of importance over to another one.

I wasn’t always like this. In my previous life I was managing editor at several magazines, a job that is based around organization. In my previous life I prided myself on having an always-cleaned-out fridge, an organized basement and books arranged alphabetically on my bookshelf. In my previous life I hung up my clothes by sleeve length with a nod toward the color wheel and sorted my M&Ms before eating them.

Children change you.

These days, I’m lucky if my clothes even make it to the closet. Turns out, when I have more than just my wardrobe to deal with, I’m terrible at laundry. Every morning, while sifting through the piles of washed-thanks-to-Andy-who-takes-care-of-that-every-time-he-video-games-in-the-basement-but-per-our-deal-I-never-actually-fold-and-put-away clothes I silently curse and swear I’ll fold everything that night. I continue silently cursing while ironing everyone’s outfits because everything is wrinkled and while giving up on matching socks because everyone has approximately three minutes to get to school before they will be considered late.

While lamenting to a friend about my laundry woes she mentioned that she was hiring a laundress. A laundress. It sounded so decadent, so Downton Abbyish. I daydreamed about my own laundress (a modern Cinderella came to mind) before coming back to the reality that some days the kids are going to have to play a board game (or five) without me and some nights I’m going to have to forgo freelance work and/or skip puttering around on the Internet, reading a book or watching a show.

There’s a threshold for everything. And last night, I reached mine.

Despite my freelance deadlines, despite the fact that I had pulled late nights two nights prior, despite the fact that I’m three episodes behind on “Parenthood,” I cleaned my bedroom.

And instead of dreading it, all day, I looked forward to it. All it took was some rethinking. I wasn’t cleaning my bedroom. I wasn’t giving up play time with the kids or my nightly TV show with Andy. I was reclaiming my bedroom. My beautiful bedroom I purposefully painted off-white and in which I hung floor-to-ceiling white drapes from Ikea to create a sense of calm. My beautiful bedroom with the huge leather chair I found on Craigslist, with the ribbon board my mom made for me years ago hung up behind it, filled with loved mementos, and the broken brushed-brass floor lamp next to it, held together with some twine—my reading nook I never used, because of the pile of clothes encroaching it. My beautiful bedroom with the queen-size bed that more often than not holds five instead of two, the same bed with the wedding album tucked underneath it, which Sophie loves to pull out and look through (when the room is clean enough for her to be able to). My beautiful bedroom with the two Target dressers I so desperately want to replace with antiques, the same dressers that now hold framed photos, alarm clocks and perfume bottles but for years held handmade burp cloths and breast pump parts and were decorated with rings of milk leftover from bottles. My beautiful bedroom with the handmade jewelry cabinet my uncle made filled with handmade jewelry my mother-in-law made. My beautiful bedroom with the non-working fireplace and gorgeous wood-and-mirrored-and-columned mantel that surrounds it, one of the key things that made me fall in love with the house before we even purchased it.

So I took out all the dirty clothes. And old water glasses. And gathered all the loose items and put them in their proper places, which took a ridiculous amount of time (and prompted a glass of wine). Then I turned on “Weeds” on Netflix and for two hours I folded. I folded all the clothes. All.of.them. And put them away.

I reclaimed my bedroom.

I reclaimed my office (which is my bed).

I reclaimed my reading nook and dusted off the pile of magazines next to it, noting the bookmark in my book that hasn’t been moved in weeks.

I reclaimed the floor, another play space in our small, old house.

I reclaimed my bed, which the boys immediately jumped into the next day insisting I make a cave with our down comforter and my arms and feet for them to play in.

I reclaimed my sanity. My sanctuary. The place I go to read. To write. To sleep. To be on my own. To be with Andy. To snuggle with the kids during a middle-of-the-night thunderstorm. To dress for the day ahead. To retreat after a day done well. To hide after a day done poorly. To be.

And now my door is wide open. I’m calmer, just thinking about it. I’ve already allowed myself grace, for when it will invariably get messy again. But I also have given myself permission to reclaim it more quickly. Life is easy when you can throw a bunch of stuff in a room during a super-quick cleanup and close the door. But it’s a short-lived easy. Because even though the rest of the house may be beautiful, there’s still a hidden mess to deal with (isn’t there always?). And already, this morning, I’ve learned this: Life is a whole lot easier when clothes are in drawers and all the socks match.

“I got the blues thinking of the future, so I left off and made some marmalade. It’s amazing how it cheers one up to shred oranges and scrub the floor.” —D.H. Lawrence

And now, a giveaway! The folks at Simon & Schuster were kind enough to send me a copy of Glennon’s book, Carry On, Warrior, which I would love to pass on to you. Simply post a comment telling me how you deal with laundry by Saturday, May 10. I’ll randomly choose a winner on Mother’s Day, and send it your way!

James & Owen’s “Concert”

About 10 minutes ago Owen and James ran downstairs and started shouting something about a concert.

“What?” I asked.

“We have a concert for you!” they said. “Come upstairs to our concert!”

They were so excited.

And so was I. How imaginative! They did it all on their own! And I had heard no screaming for the 30 minutes prior so they did it together happily, nicely—no fighting at all.

We got to their bedroom door. It was closed, with a little tag hanging from the doorway.

How cute, I thought.

With great fanfare, they opened their door to …


“Ta da!” they said.

“It’s everything in your room in a big pile,” I said.

“Yes!” they screamed. “It’s our concert!”

“I don’t understand,” I said. “When does the concert start?”

“This is it! This is our concert! OUR CONCERT!”

“So this big pile of stuff in your room is the concert?”


“Are you going to clean the concert up?”



“When we’re done with the concert.”

“Is the concert over now?”


I left.

I still don’t understand.

And instead of hearing the concert being cleaned up, I hear things being added to the concert.

“Owen! There’s another blanket! Put it in the concert!”

“Grown-ups never understand anything by themselves, and it is tiresome for children to be always and forever explaining things to them.” —Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

My “Closet”

When we moved into our old house the previous owners left behind an old (antique?) armoire in one of the two bedrooms. I loved it. And I thought it was so kind of them to leave it for us—until we realized, while moving into our current house, that the reason they didn’t take it with them wasn’t, most likely, to be kind but because it was almost impossible to get it down the very steep and narrow staircase.

I was at my parents’ house, with our 3-month-old boys and Sophie, while Andy, Andy’s mom and my dad were with the movers at our old house. Andy called me, asking if I really wanted the armoire. It was easy to say yes, in the comfort of my parents’ home. It ended up in our new house, lifted with curse words, strained muscles and scrapes to the paint on the wall.

It didn’t fit in our bedroom so we put it in the boys’ bedroom. Given that their changing table was also a dresser with drawers, the armoire was not needed. And given that my closet has no place to hang dresses, I used the armoire for my longer-length clothes.

And then, we moved the boys to twin beds. We took the changing table out but kept the armoire—Andy refuses to move it again. With no other place to put the boys’ clothes, I had to move my dresses.

There was only one option. A U-Haul box, in the attic:

This should, honestly, frustrate me more than it does. But mostly, I find it humorous. We moved the boys into their beds about a month ago. I have been up to the attic zero times to retrieve a dress. I’m not in a dress-wearing stage of life right now. This was painfully obvious to me today, when the children and I met Andy for lunch. I picked him up on the side of the road, outside his office building. We went to one of the downtown Skyline restaurants. The place was filled with suits, dress shirts, heels and scarves. Our kids were the only children in the restaurant the entire time we were there. I had gone to a yoga class. I had to pick Sophie up from preschool and I didn’t have time to change. I was wearing yoga pants, a T-shirt and sweatshirt, my hair up in a messy ponytail, and I was surrounded by women who clearly blowed out their hair that morning, applied lipstick, were rocking beautiful suede boots.

It’s a life I once knew. And although I’m happy, sometimes I wish mothering and heels went more hand in hand.

I think about when this house was built. I think about the women, mothers, who lived in it. I think about where they stored their clothes—several items, I’m sure, compared to the on-clearance-having-a-bad-day-special-occasion-oh-but-it’s-so-cute gluttony of clothes currently in my closet. I think about the decades, and styles, that have passed. Where did the women store their hats? Their gloves? Their boots? And purses! Where, in this tiny closet of mine in this “master” bedroom did they store their purses?

Sophie asked why I was putting “all my pretty clothes” in the attic.

“To make room,” I said.

For Owen and James.

For the “creakings, rustlings and sighings” of this old house.

For this beautiful, exasperating life of mine.

“She lay for a long time listening to the mysterious sounds given forth by old houses at night, the undefinable creakings, rustlings, and sighings, which would have frightened Virginia had she remained awake, but which sounded to Nan like the long murmur of the past breaking on the shores of a sleeping world.” —Edith Wharton

Two Little Monkeys …

After finding James perched on his crib rail, much like a bird on a tree limb, we decided it was time to put the boys in their twin beds.

It’s going well.

“Without enough sleep, we all become tall two-year-olds.” —JoJo Jensen

Water and Lavender

A couple weeks ago, Sophie’s room was a mess. (Actually, Sophie’s room always seems to be a mess as of late but I’m talking about one particular day in which it was a mess, a couple weeks ago.) I had to shower. So I asked her to clean her room while I showered.

Halfway through my shower she came into the bathroom (little people coming into the bathroom while I shower is perfectly normal to me now), climbed up on the stool and filled a plastic spray bottle with water. I remembered seeing that spray bottle already full, only five minutes before.

I stuck my head outside the plastic shower curtain, soap still in my hair.

“Sophie, what are you doing?” I asked.

“Cleaning my room,” she said.

“Why do you need water in a spray bottle to clean your room? And what happened to all the water that was in the spray bottle before?” I asked.

“I told you! I’m cleaning my room!” she said.

I really wanted to finish my shower. I hate having to grab a towel, get out, figure out why someone is crying/yelling/not making any noise mid-shower. I hate that water gets everywhere when I do that, I hate how shampoo drips in my eyes when I do that and I hate feeling hot and then cold and then hot again when I do that.

So I (foolishly) ignored the situation.

When I was done with my shower and properly dried off, I walked into Sophie’s room. I felt my bare feet squish into carpet soaked with water. Nothing had been picked up. And sprigs of dried lavender were scattered all over the floor.

“Why is the carpet wet?” I asked (clearly she had sprayed every inch of it with her spray bottle, but I wanted to know why). “And why is there lavender everywhere? And why haven’t you cleaned at all?”

“I have been cleaning!” she said. “The whole time! I cleaned the carpet with my spray bottle. And spread lavender everywhere to make it smell good. That’s cleaning.”

I thought of all my lavender-scented cleaning products, and how she loves to sniff them when I’m using them. I sighed. The carpet eventually dried. I helped her pick up her toys. And I’m still, occasionally, finding little sprigs for lavender in her room.

“Love is the thing that enables a woman to sing while she mops up the floor after her husband has walked across it in his barn boots.” —Hoosier Farmer