The Dollhouse Effect

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I was tidying up the playroom at my mom’s house and had sat down for a minute in front of her giant three-story-plus-an-attic dollhouse to put the furniture back where it belonged and straighten up the mess.

“How ironically funny,” I thought to myself. “This is basically what I do all day, every day, but on a teensy-tiny miniature scale…”

Put the chairs back in place. Straighten up the slipcovers. Gather up all the tiny bits and pieces and put them in bins or buckets or baskets. Move the porch swing out of the master bathroom and put it back on the porch…

just kidding. That last thing only happened in the dollhouse and has never taken place in my actual house. Yet. 

But, you know what I was really struck by as I sat on my bottom in front of that precious particle-board construction?

If I’m being completely honest, sometimes I can flip this dollhouse anaIogy around, treating my homemaking duties just like I’m a silly little girl arranging her toys.

Meaning, everything must be in its place and look a very certain way or I will go to bed that night concluding that I am a failure on the housekeeping front. And, sometimes, on my most controlling days, after I deep-clean and tidy everything up “just so”, I will have this desperate urge for us all to just leave the house until bedtime so we won’t mess it up again!

“Let’s go drive around, kids,” I’ll be tempted to say. “We’ll, you know, go…look at stuff?…until it maybe gets dark outside?… and then we’ll order take-out and eat it in the car before going home and going STRAIGHT to bed. Yay! Fun times! Family togetherness!”

All because I have arranged my dollhouse how I want it and I don’t want anyone else to play with it for the rest of the day. 

Now, I don’t know if this is a natural inclination that women have wrestled with for centuries, or if it is a new issue that we have picked up in the age of catalogues, television and, oh yes, you KNOW I’m going to say it, Pinterest, but it really does cause a girl to wonder…

When did we start seeing our homes as dollhouses?

When did the roofs we live under become anything other than a shelter to keep us warm and dry and safe from the outside world?

Did Father Abraham’s wife, Sarah (who ALSO had many sons), get bent out of shape when her tent was messy? Did she stay up late arranging her silk, tasseled floor pillows and dreaming of a day when no one would sit on them and smush them out of shape? Did she think her tent looked its very best when it resembled a showcase tent, or a tent-hotel that no one had checked into yet?

And when it boils down to it, is this a neatfreak issue or a “keeping up with the Jones’s” issue or a materialism issue?…

You know, I honestly don’t know the answers to those questions, but I DO know this. Regardless of its origins or motivation, the dollhouse effect feels so very wrong.

It is one thing to express creativity in our homes and work hard to produce a place of beauty to please our eyes, but we can get so weird about it.

For example, while knowing it isn’t true that houses really look like the ones we see on television, we fight for such a house, anyway. And even though it is obvious to us that the dwellings we admire in magazines are nothing but gussied-up dollhouses that have been “staged” for a photo shoot, we continue to compare our homes to them, allowing a needless root of discontentment to spring up in our hearts at how miserably our own castle holds up.

And before you know it, we’ve gone and modeled every room in our home after houses that somebody else told us we should have…

There should be five perfectly fluffed pillows on the couch and a basket of neatly folded throw blankets nearby, and there should be shoe cubbies that keep all of our footwear organized, and the dining table should be gleaming and featuring some sort of gigantic seasonal centerpiece, and the sink should be glistening with nary a dish in sight, and the laundry baskets should be completely empty, and all the clothes in the closets should be organized by color, and there should be a line-up of bright, shiny rainboots at the backdoor, and the toys in the playroom should all be in labeled bins, and there should be three blankets of varying textures and prints layered on the master bed (along with a gazillion shams and throw pillows artfully arranged at the headboard), and the bathroom should be completely untouched with a shelf boasting a giant glass canister of bath salts that we never use because they make the bathtub feel icky and gooey and another canister holding twenty bars of soap, and oh!, then another one filled to the brim with those natural-looking sponges that look so darn pretty in a jar (even though no one in our family uses sponges!), and…

and…

and in the midst of all this stagery, I think we can somehow forget what the purpose of a house is.

To LIVE in, you dummy.

(Sorry, I was talking to myself there, but feel free to include yourself if it applies).

And all the stuff that is inside a house is supposed to make the living more enjoyable and/or comfortable, not become the source of our insanity and stress.

Now, before I go on, I have to assure you that I am not advocating laziness or carelessness, nor am I bashing home decorating and organizing; I deeply value hard work and I love beauty and I crave order and I believe in taking good care of our things and I want to continually teach my kids to respect their loved ones by helping and doing their part around the home.

But I also never, ever want to forget that my family does not live in dollhouse.

We live in a people house, and we’re kind of supposed to live here. And if houses are for living in, then…

couches, by golly, are for sitting on.

Pillows are for smushing up into a ball to make the small of our back feel more comfortable on the couch.

Throw blankets are for unfolding and curling up in.

Dishes are for eating spaghetti on.

Napkins – even the cloth ones! – are meant for wiping our messy spaghetti mouths on.

Tables are for catching the extra spaghetti that falls off of our plate.

Floors are for walking on (and catching the spaghetti that fell off the table).

Beds are for sleeping in.

Laundry hampers exist to hold dirty clothes; no dirty clothes in the world? No laundry hampers.

Bathrooms were created to be the epicenter wherein every manner of our dirtiness is purged and cleansed.

Closets are for hiding our piles of clothes.

Toys are for playing with!!!

And this precious lil’ white farmhouse we built five years ago and moved into with our budding family? This is our home, one that, for the love of Pete, I want to live in and let my family live in.

Which leads me to what I set out to write about today in the first place. With all these things in mind, by the grace of God, I am learning to see the difference between a lazy mess and a beautiful mess, a dollhouse and a real house. Lazy messes are sickening – they make your stomach turn because you know that you can do better and that your family deserves harder work than that.

But beautiful messes, once you learn to let go of that stinky quest for magazine-quality perfection, cause your heart to quicken inside of you as you realize that this…this!…is the reason you work hard as a homemaker in the first place, to give your family the room and the freedom to live.

Beautiful messes happen around good food and lively conversation.

They happen when siblings are taking a splashy bath together.

They happen over art supplies and blank canvases or an empty table and a couple of jars of Play-doh.

They happen over movies in the living room, throw blankets and pillows and popcorn all over the floor.

They happen in a room full of toys that inspire the imagination to soar, where dinosaurs can play with Calico Critters, even though they don’t match.

They happen in sandpiles and mud puddles and snow-covered yards.

They happen when all the decorative pillows are off the bed and families are cuddled up to sleep together.

They happen when we are living life with the ones we love.

And, sometimes, they happen over afternoon cookies and coffee, inspiring you to sit down and share what you’re learning about homemaking with the world.

Grandmother (or “Mother Bear”, as 3-year old Betsie has dubbed her) had come over for the afternoon, and the three of us had sprawled out in the schoolroom to enjoy a snack together. We talked. We laughed. We read books. We lounged. We made crumbs. We made spills. We lived!…

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It was beautiful.

And it reminded me that this is why I buy pretty decorations and sweep the floors and keep dishes clean and fluff the pillows and wipe off the table, not so our home can look like a dollhouse or the latest issue of the best home decorating magazine…

but that I might make room for the next beautiful mess.

~

p.s. If it makes you feel any better about your life, this is what our shoe cubby looks like. I just don’t know where we’d put that one flip flop if we didn’t have it. I’m super glad we paid money for it.

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~

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11 thoughts on “The Dollhouse Effect

  1. I love this post!!! Since I live in Ga, we call it the Southern Living look. You can just about drive yourself crazy trying to keep up the “look” and miss the little things that make it joyful living. I had to learn this many many years ago when my girls were little, giving up that expectation made our life so much easier and a lot less stressful.

  2. I so needed this! Messes tend to bend me out of shape and make me a grisly mama bear! It makes me feel so badly…..I KNOW I have just a few short years with my quickly growing family and that I need/want to enjoy them to the fullest, but I still waaay too often allow my messy house to give me a messy attitude! 😦 I know what you mean bout leaving after the house is clean! I want everyone to tiptoe around, immediately put things away, etc, etc. 🙂 Also, I love the pic of your shoe cubby….so very real to life!

  3. Oh, friend. Can I call you “friend” even though we have never met? 🙂 Boy, did I need this read this morning! I spent HOURS Saturday afternoon cleaning and prettying our home, and just last night I was grumbling over how “lived in” our home looked in less than 24 hours. Shame on me. Today I’m changing my perspective…Saturday I made room for the beautiful messes we will make this week. 🙂

  4. So beautiful I could almost weep. You’ve got it right. Your photos are beautiful. Your heart, downright gorgeous. Thanks for the reminder that homes are to be lived in.

  5. We had lived in a house very new to us when our children were 6 and 3. I busied myself constantly putting things back in order and berating the children for making messes. One day my husband looked at me and said we have to ‘live’ here. I had the same epiphany you had. Things changed in my head. And we had a home. My mom told me her theory each night before going to bed was to get rid of bug bait and call it good. In other words, food particles picked up or wiped up and go to bed!

  6. I love how you mentioned Sarah and her tent. From a modern tent dweller(we live exclusively in hotels/apartments for up to 4 months at a time before we move again) I can tell you that the sojurning wife must inventory and downsize “tent” items regularly. Things must be compact, light weight and durable. Family members (we have two toddlers and are expecting our third child in November!) get a certain allotment of clothing items and we are restricted to 4 pairs of shoes each.

    These “restrictions” free us from having to manage our things. We can have a perfect house with little effort in 15 min or less because even if the toys are everywhere they all pile back up into their ONE box within seconds. Life is simple and beautiful and while the transient lifestyle isn’t for everyone it has shown us how to live with less and enjoy each other more.

    Maybe a smaller dollhouse with fewer rooms and less furniture is really the key here. Our job may be to simply and modestly furnish our dwellings so that we can pursue homemaking with excellence without sacrificing the sanity or sanctuary our homes should provide for our husbands and children.

  7. As always, thank you Mrs. Gore. Thank you for talking about these struggles and helping this mom feel not so alone in them! Thank you for a wake-up call to better thinking and priorities. Blessings to you and your lovely family.

  8. Love this! It so resonates with my heart and all God is teaching me. With three little boys now (and me being the only female in my house), I am having to learn to release getting everything in its rightful place all day everyday and instead actually enjoy living in my house with my guys. I still love order; however, I am learning to also love life being lived in my home…toys being played with, art supplies being used, desks being useful, and jackets piled by the door (because we actually went outside). I am learning to let go of “all the control” and actually allow for more freedom for the people in my home to really live here.

  9. Our eldest daughter is the type of person who, when she walks through a room, stuff jumps to attention and stays where it belongs. Me? Things fall off shelves and roll on the floor laughing. This place always looks as if somebody took it by one corner and gave it a good yank. (And there are only the two of us!)

    Maybe this is why, at 73, I still build dollhouses. I can have my perfect little rooms, where the counters stay clean and pixies don’t drop things I’ve never seen before on the dining room table. Mom is forever just about to pour soup that won’t drip on the floor into a bowl that won’t overflow. Martin is always about to make a basket over the back of the rocking chair, and it won’t dribble along the floor and knock over the trash can.

    A gal can still have her “picture perfect” house, and live in a real one!

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