Sam and I used to be minimalists. At least, that’s what my friend Cassidy said the first time she came to our house after Clara was born. Clara was 4 months old, and our house looked very different than it had only a year before. Not just because there was a bouncy seat by the fireplace, or a carseat in the dining room, or a basket of toys by the couch. See, before Clara was born, we sold almost every piece of furniture we owned. Then we bought new furniture. Then we replaced our carpet with hardwood, set up a nursery, and have slowly added shelving, rugs and art pieces the last two years. When Cassidy called us ‘minimalists’ what she really meant was ‘you used to own nothing.’ Sam and I didn’t spend a lot of time at home before our kids were born. We went out a lot, hung out with our friends all the time, and then he worked out of town half the month and I never wanted to be home alone while he was gone. I can barely remember that life. I used to finish work at 6:30 p.m. and be able to do anything I wanted until 10 the next morning. Half the time didn’t even have a husband at home waiting for me. The freedom! What did I do with all that time? Mostly I recall eating a lot of cold cereal and making a lot of plans for the weekend. My gosh! Why don’t I like, know Italian by now? Or have a PhD in something? Young people! You there, the ones with the hours of time dictated by no one. TURN OFF NETFLIX and DO SOMETHING WITH YOURSELF. Love, your old and tired friend, Jessie.
So now, here we are, finally actually living within the walls of our small home in our small neighborhood, living amongst all this strange new stuff. Living with our kids and the strange new stuff that came with them. It’s not even like our children have completely taken over the house, either. We make them share a room so that we can keep a guest room. They have one corner of the living room for their toys. That’s about it. But still, we seem to be surrounded. Tripping over their shoes, cleaning up their crumbs, buying diapers and socks, washing their blankets, reassessing their closet and editing out clothing sizes- it’s never ending.
The other night after a wildly unsuccessful bedtime, Sammy still wasn’t asleep and needed another snuggle. I wrapped my arms around him and then Clara joined him on my lap in their rocking chair. I rocked and sang, smelling their clean hair and rubbing their backs through their soft jammies, still amazed that they are mine at all. There I was, in a big green comfy chair that I hadn’t owned a few years ago, in a nursery that hadn’t existed, flanked by a crib and a toddler bed I had never really imagined, holding two children my body had grown from sesame seed heartbeats to two warm and tired bodies melting into my lap. Their stuff is all over our previously-minimalist house. We don’t have any more empty drawers or cupboards; our corners and nooks are full of our babies.
And it turns out, we don’t mind it at all.
Because all of this stuff? It’s evidence of their existence. It is mostly outside of me in the sense that I don’t use it, unless invited to play; I wouldn’t own it were it not for their presence in our home.
It is silly, maybe, and it is cluttered, at times, but it is there because they are here.
Their voices bounce off the hardwood, just like everyone warned us when we installed it. They smear fingerprints across the glass french doors, they spill food every day, we pick up on their toys over and over again. Two hooded towels hang behind the door in the bathroom, their names embroidered across the terry material. Clara and Sammy. There they are, in our bathroom. Splashing in the bathtub. Sleeping in our bed. Climbing on our couches. Crawling around our feet as we make dinner, crying our names in the middle of the night, laughing as we chase them and complaining as we discipline. They fill up our home with noise and mess and a joy that squeezes us, wrings us out like a dripping sponge.
We used to be minimalists. We used to be free.
We didn’t know what we were missing.
We don’t sleep that much anymore. We don’t go out on a whim, or see many movies, or leave the house without the fanfare of a small, disorganized side show. Our world overflows with their presence. Our home is full of them and their stuff. Our hearts burst with pride and thanks when we see them. Our lives are interlaced with theirs, threaded so tightly together that to pull one string apart would change the entire tapestry.
The inconvenience of loving someone often shows up in the form of their stuff. Their clothes on the floor. Their files of old baseball cards. Their spread sheets and organizational charts, pinned up in the office. Their beer in the fridge, their dishes in the sink, their toothpaste flicked onto the mirror. Their jacket on the chair. Their particular brand of mess, emotional or tangible, probably both, fills up our lives and we make room for them. Just like we want them to make room for us. Even when the mess is too much. Even when the mess has us a little bit buried.
When we love, we make room.
The space that our things occupy is a physical manifestation of the space we occupy. Learning to live with the stuff of others; the mess; the bags on wheels that we all lug behind us; that is love.When we love, we welcome one another, stuff and all. Maybe we sit in it for a while. Maybe we help clean it up. Maybe we point the direction to the trash heap and let our loved ones decide the next step to take, because the hard part is that our stuff keeps changing. Like my children’s blankets and dolls will soon be replaced with school books and muddy soccer cleats, like our home has altered over time, the things we must make room for will change too. A battle will be won only to have another soon waging in its place. My temper will cool over time, I will learn to hold my tongue, and other painful shortcomings will crop up instead. This is the way of life, and it simply must be the way of love. I will love you in your messes, old and new. Embattled and triumphant. Until death do us part.
I think realizing what all we accept when we decide to love gives us a better understanding of how sacred it is to hold someone’s heart, to love with abandon; it’s not to be taken lightly. It is important, difficult work that comes with a lot of stuff. Love doesn’t just see the stuff and passively agree that it exists; love sees the stuff and says “Welcome. All of you. Whether you ever change or go away or get better or get bigger- my love will have room for you. My love will always make room.”
I come with my grandmother’s tea cups, a penchant for breakfast goods, and an unhelpful, selfish avoidance of mundane chores or errands. Sam comes with an absurd amount of baseball hats, an incredible commitment to cleanliness, and an annoying habit of refusing to make decisions.
Clara is a little lady. She has an impeccable sense of order, a tenderness that frightens me with its fragility, and a maddening way of whining and arguing. Sammy brought the summer sun into our home, has a smile that never leaves his face, and recently tore up four beloved books in one infuriating morning.
This is our stuff. This is our family. This is the room we extend to each other, room to be and room to grow, room to rest and room to become the ones we are meant to become. It’s not easy, this love. It’s work. It’s mess. It’s steady, faithful, messy work and it’s worth it, we say. Torn up books, bedtime shenanigans, a tired “I love you” whispered as you fall into bed- it’s all so very worth it.