I’ve got this thing about internal and external environments. They’re connected. When my room is a mess, I feel it. If that is not the state of my internal environment, it weighs down on me and makes me miserable. The other side of the coin is, if my internal environment is a mess, it’s very hard for me to muster up the energy to make my external environment nice and tidy.
That being said, my life is crazy right now. I’m a graduate student and graduate assistant and I work another job part-time. I work 12 hour days between the two jobs often, so forgive me if I don’t do laundry and my entire floor is my laundry basket.
This internal, external connection causes an interesting cycle. When I work a 12 hour day, the last thing I’m gonna do when I get home is tidy up. That would be fine if on my regular work days, I could come home and tidy up but I don’t want to do it then, either. I’m not a machine people. I always feel like I’m trying to catch up. I know that if I took the time to make my external environment more peaceful, my internal environment would lighten up a bit. Or vice versa. If my internal life were to calm down, I would have the peace to clean up my external environment and all would be right in the world. I haven’t gotten there yet.
I came to this realization in a roundabout way a couple weeks ago when I was planning on having some friends over for dinner. I live with one of my best friends and she made a comment before we left for work the day our friends were coming over about cleaning up. The tone of her comment was not full of excitement. It sounded like an obligation. That didn’t sit right with me and I thought about it all day.
In the moment, I wanted to say, “I mean we don’t HAVE to clean up.” These are the no makeup, eat a pint of ice cream together, no shame type of friends (as ALL friends should be), so I was slightly offended that she felt the need to clean up for them. For some reason, I didn’t respond with that. I thought we were on the same page and it wasn’t the time for potential conflict.
As I thought about it more throughout the day, I realized another form of internal/external connection. If these were friends who I was truly doing life with, who I wasn’t afraid to be real and raw and true with, what would it say to them if my external environment didn’t reflect that? I’m not trying to excuse my external mess but I’m also not trying to hide my internal mess. In those moments, cleaning up my external environment did not feel like a motivator or an attempt at matching my internal place. It felt like a cover up.
I’m not in the business of cover ups. If you’re doing life with me, if I call you a friend, you get me, mess and all. I refuse to accept the lie that anyone has it all together. Acting like I do is not doing anyone a service but everyone a disservice. If you’re like me, you may even be honored to walk into a friend’s house and find it a mess. My response is to step into your mess with you. I take it as a compliment that I am trusted and comfortable. I want to communicate that in return.
So when I got home from work that day, my best friend had done the majority of the cleaning. I tidied up my bathroom because it is the one most often used by guests and called it a day. I still had more work I had to do before our friends arrived so I was more concerned with that than cleaning my room. They came, we made dinner, we ate together and talked for hours. We didn’t even leave the kitchen/dining room area. Everyone left. It was great.
Then it was time for the conversation. That’s the best thing about our friendship, we talk about stuff. We don’t let things get to us and bottle them up and build resentment. Don’t get me wrong, it took us a while to get there but everything is out in the open, SAFELY. We try not to corner each other or bring things up at a bad time. We create space for safe conversations about our fears, insecurities and everything else but that’s a whole other post.
I told her that her comment had bothered me and why. She told me where she was coming from and why. Do you know what I realized? There are no rules in relationship. There is no “the house must always be clean when people are going to come over” or “the house must always be a mess so friends feel safe bringing in their mess too.”
If there is any rule, it is this: Be true to who you are.
Here’s the thing, if we would have left the house a mess, she would not have been true to her internal environment. And this is doing life together. The truth of the matter is that we are two people with two different internal environments with one shared external space. So there had to be compromise. She just tidied up enough to feel comfortable and show respect. I did the part I could and did not stop doing what I needed to do (finish up work) as soon as my friends arrived. They got the real deal of what life with us looks like.
We fumbled around the kitchen together not knowing what to do or how to ask for help because we’re all figuring this out together. We lean in to discomfort. We allow space for doubt.We are true to who we are.