from the trenches · no regrets · recovering perfectionist · this is where it's at

Are Clean Kitchens Overrated?

Some nights after spending a gorgeous evening outside, I’m met squarely with a cluttered kitchen and dirty dishes. Like tonight.

The temperature was that lovely just-between mix of summer day and fall evening. Kev rototilled. I puttered around the garden. Gleeful shouts and laughter floated from the trampoline’s direction.

The wind died away, leaving a perfectly calm evening where little dust bits hung suspended in the slanting rays of setting sun.

Summer’s last days upon us, we were in no rush for bedtime. Dwindling temperatures revealed approaching autumn. But, for now at least, the relentless background refrain of harvest machinery on surrounding hillsides hadn’t yet begun.

Cricket song chorused up and down the pasture, sheep bleated to each other while grazing, and an occasional songbird chirped nearby. Otherwise, the air was clear and still.

For one more night we could forget summer’s decay, returning school schedules, frost and winter-cold winds. As twilight descended, we abandoned work and ambled down the road, as we often did on these evenings. Stopping now and then to admire a gorgeous sunset over ripening fields, we listened to the children’s giggles and daydreamed together.

Finally, I turned to go in, aware bedtime was long past. Once inside, I sent the children off for pajamas and set out a quick snack.

I scanned the kitchen with its haphazard stack of dirty dishes piled by the sink and a handful of clean ones long drip-dried on the opposite counter. Although it was not a wild mess, it was far from pristine, Sunday-best condition.

Unbidden, a single thought popped into my mind. A clean kitchen is so over-rated!

I’ve read the clean-and-organized books and blogs, seen firsthand beautiful homes that are testament to their clutter-cutting, grime-busting techniques. I am witness to the power of daily rituals and routine orderliness. I recognize their appeal, having worshipped them, if only in my mind, all too often.

On this evening, though, I’m immune to their relentless demands.

Nothing could make me pass up the charm of whiling away a late summer evening strolling together with a friend.

Tonight, nothing could make me trade the glories of nature for a perfectly clean kitchen.

Turning from the sink and surveying the untidy counters of my kitchen, I’m unusually indifferent to its chaos.

Sometimes I mourn my inability to keep a spotless house.
Sometimes I’m annoyed by my bumbling ways.
Sometimes, though, I feel something different altogether.

Tonight is one of those times. The pursuit of empty kitchen counters and all it signifies seems at once petty and rigid.

The spotless, barren kitchen of a popular blogger springs to my mind. Sometimes I see its emptiness as clean and uncluttered. But tonight? It seems merely colorless, even sterile, alongside a sensory, multi-dimensional evening in nature.

I know the dishes will await me tomorrow, but it seems a trifling—if unpleasant—necessity, much like unpacking after a delightful vacation.

When I get to the year’s end, the end of my children’s childhoods, or the end of my life, it’d be pleasant knowing my kitchen was usually clean at bedtime.

But hopefully, there’ll be plenty of evenings, too, where I’ll remember the dear people around me and our time together, not just finished work.

Some nights, we will and we must conquer the dish pile.

But on nights like tonight, we must and we will abandon kitchen perfection for far greater things.

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