Mess Stress – One Mother’s Journey to Enlightenment

Welcome to our first Crazy Mummy Guest Post, written by a friend of mine – Charley.

We often chat about the crazy chaos that is our lives, and just the other day I asked Charley if she would like to write a post for my Crazy Mummy Blog.

Thankfully she said yes, instead of storming off right there and then, and below is her story about ‘Mess Stress’. As mother’s we all have it. That rush of stress, caused by the feeling you have to clean your house (as though it looks that way everyday) when guests are popping by.

Charley has three beautiful daughters aged 6, 4 and 7 months; and along with her husband, their dog, two ducks and several unwanted possum squatters, they reside in the suburban southern suburbs of Sydney.

I’ve finally figured it out.

I am actually a very tidy person, trapped inside the body of a messy one. I’m somewhere in the middle of the spectrum between chronic hoarder and OCD clean freak. Allow me to explain by transporting you back to my childhood years.

I shared a bedroom with my older sister, an invisible line invariably drawn down the middle of the room. On her side, the epitome of neat. A single bear tucked neatly under the doona, folded clothes and a clear desk. Mine a jumble of soft toys strewn across an unmade bed, unfinished craft projects, smelly hockey socks and a series of science experiments in the form of unopened half eaten lunchboxes. Needless to say, on more than one occasion my sister actually opened the window and threw my belongings into the garden in a rage. We got burgled once and the policeman thought they’d been after something particular in my bedroom….

Intermittently, my mum would reach her limits and tidy my room while I was at school (OMG I did this in my daughters room today). I loved coming home to neat rows of toys on my bed and clean sheets – an insight into a future life where such simple things would provide great pleasure and comfort among the chaos.

And so the teenage, and student, years ensued. The cleaners in my University were in despair of my habits – sailing gear drying in the shower and the carpet nowhere to be seen. I was far too busy with sporting activities and socialising at the Student Uni Bar to be cleaning and gardening. Pah! That’s for retired people.

But as time moved on, the backpack I arrived in Sydney with, made way for the trappings of domestic life. I still wasn’t very tidy, but I tried. It was simply that domesticity was not at the top of my list of priorities.

Then a few things happened that triggered a change. First of all came this thing called a ‘mortgage’. With financial servitude to Westpac came a strange but surprising sense of pride in my home. Not enough to take precedence over my social and sporting life, but enough to “do cleaning on the weekend”.

With the arrival of my first child it suddenly occurred to me that my merit as a mother was exponentially linked (amongst other things) to the tidy, or otherwise state, of my home. In my mind, not only should I exclusively breastfeed, provide my baby with only organic food and read them truck loads of books before bed; but one must be able to eat off the floor and see your face reflecting back from the taps. After all I wasn’t working, right? And so somehow, after years of a blissful “each to their own” happy but messy existence, I had allowed what I call “Mess Stress” to enter my life.

Mothers group was a case study in itself. Your own baby crawling across your dog hair ridden floor was one thing but other peoples babies and the potential horror of my newly acquired mum friends (all of whom were bound to be comparing me to the previous venue and making a mental note to decline the next invite) was another matter entirely. My mother group pals all turned out to be really cool and lovely people thankfully!

I returned to work part time, muddled through and further developed this ridiculous idea that if people are coming over you must suddenly stop being who you normally are, and pretend you are Hyacinth “Bouquet” reincarnated. The house was never tidy for long, if at all, but it did bother me. Incidents of “mess stress” breakouts were from time to time unleashed on my husband, who was also guilty of the mess but luckily for him not the stress.

This went on for some time, my second beautiful daughter arrived and we moved house to our dream block of land with the standard rambling house, backing onto bush in the gorgeous southern suburbs of Sydney, and I eventually took on a very demanding working role. It paid well, but sucked up a lot of my spare time and attention. The house remained as messy as ever. It was only ever tidy in my dreams, and in the pages of the stacked piles of interior magazines which portrayed my future, Scandinavian style home with no plastic toys in it. This made me increasingly grumpier.

I dreamed my whole house was clean

It would be dramatic and fitting to say that I had a major light bulb moment where I suddenly realised that the mess didn’t really matter, but it was really a gradual dawning and a few telling interactions with friends that made me realise a few home truths.

My messy house it seemed, (whilst it continued to cause me stress and to lapse into my Scandi Style/Antiplastic daydream) was a source of great relief and comfort to others who entered!

Compliments such as “after I met you and came to your house I realised its actually ok to have stuff out on the bench!”, “I feel so much better when I come to your house”, and “its not that messy, my kids really love coming here as there is always craft!”. My realisation culminated with the offer of a helping hand during my third pregnancy from a lovely friend who tamed the chaos under my kitchen sink while I attacked the linen cupboard. We laughed at my crazy mess whilst ironically our three year olds were trashing the joint downstairs. Opening up my messy house further opened my friendships and made them honest.

With such refreshing and revelatory feedback, it was suddenly clear that is not the mess within our own homes that causes the stress, but the unattainable absence of mess in the magazines, and the imagined order in the homes of our friends and peers. The reality is that such tidiness (for most of us) only exists for about 10% of the time, and that for the other 90% of the time we are just muddling through like everyone else.

Allowing unattainable standards to dominate our lives is fertile ground for anxiety and unhappiness. Whilst I am continually aiming for the order and organisation, that I’ll admit, can make family life easier, I have really learned to let my mess stress go.

If people are coming for a long overdue lunch or dinner I do make an effort to provide a comfy and relaxing space for my friends. A home that is befitting the love and care I have put into the food, but not at the expense of enjoying their company or turning the entire occasion into a stressful episode.

Since I am absolutely the last person in the world to go giving out advice on how to keep your home and life tidy, I am going to share my top 5 tips for getting by and minimising incidences of mess stress.

Actually I can think of just one. Always have cake in the tin, and put the kettle on.

Charley. X

photoMeet Charley…

Sailor, mother, blogger, home cook and ex Corporate Project Professional.

My great loves are my three girls, my husband, good food, two pet ducks and my faithful Labrador Rhubarb.

I’m passionate about getting kids into the great outdoors and, when not pottering around the local inshore coastline with my family, I can be found at home in The Heron’s Nest otherwise known as “The Messy Pile of Sticks” working on ‘Special Projects’.

I write about the things I love at

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