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Dirt Doesn’t Hurt

Learning to love the messiness of life.

by Ashley English . photo by Lynne Harty, courtesy of Lark Crafts

I must have been seven or eight years old when I began to curate my bedroom. Every curio, doll, garment or object I owned was bestowed specific placement, presented in painfully studied ways. I’d tweak the exact position of my hand-held mirror on my dresser, or the arrangement of my Strawberry Shortcake figurines—as though I were presenting a retrospective of Western Preteen Female Artifacts at the Met. “A place for everything and everything in its place” became my de facto mantra. It followed me into junior high, and on through high school, college and rental properties. Then it paused, significantly, at the front door of my husband’s home.

My husband and I had our first date on New Year’s Day 2007. Determined we’d found our other half in one another, we went for the jugular and took the nuptial plunge just four and a half months later. We both work from home, and, as such, have had more than ample time to view, opine over, ruminate on, and, in the end, embrace each other’s idiosyncrasies. If I am a tenacious worshipper at the alter of “Broom and Dust Pan,” he is an equally zealous devotee of “The Order of Dirt, Dust and Debris.” In short, he’s messy. And, as it turns out, that’s just fine by me.

We live a mile down a dirt road, on 11 forested acres. We own an 80+ pound German Shepard and a vertically challenged, chunky Lab-mongrel mix who tips the scales in the arena of 65 pounds. They are young and active and curious about all the temptations the forest presents. Accordingly, they often run off in hot pursuit of some marauding squirrel, or in response to the woeful howls of the hound dog that lives over the ridge. They come back covered in the grime (or dung) that is the calling card of the great outdoors. Our 16-month-old also shares the dogs’ devotion to dirt, seizing upon every opportunity his tiny hands can grasp to revel in squalor.

My inclination towards order is, I believe, genetic. My paternal grandfather was a chemical engineer with a similar penchant for keeping everything in place. And my father, whom my siblings and I now call Pop, rings me every morning save Sunday at 9:30am sharp. “What’re you up to today?” he’ll ask. “Well, I’m thinking of rearranging the pantry.” “That sounds like a great time!” he’ll reply, without a hint of irony. We share devoted relationships with our brooms and never let dirty clothes pile up on the floor. Fastidious attention to detail is what I call it, although this type of organizational behavior has a number of other names.

My curatorial self hit a crossroads at Huxley’s birth. I was freaking out on a daily—no, hourly—basis over the dust bunnies, caked mud and sullied floors that besiege my home’s interior. Should I scream, or just go with it, dustpan in hand? These days, I choose the latter. Life is much too short, and too divine, to cook simple meals instead of complicated ones so that there’s no great mess to clean up afterwards. Vacuum cleaners, mops and dust cloths can clean up the sumptuous repasts, dog fur and mud cakes that life throws my way. While I still pursue order like my youthful self did, I look the other way much more often. Now I curate happiness, embracing the dirt alongside the delights.

Read more of Ashley’s writing at www.small-measure.blogspot.com.

Posted on Tuesday, February 28, 2012 at 11:08AM by Registered Commenterrimas | Comments1 Comment

Reader Comments (1)

As a mom of a 22 month old, I totally relate. We got a sand pit (well, some sand at the beach and a large kiddie pool we found on the street), which we love, yet I can't quite get used to how much sand ends up in the house, and how messy our house gets. Like you, we make sure the kitchen is really clean at the end of every day. But otherwise, as long as there isn't bits of food floating around the house, we try to roll with it. Which seems to work, even though it doesn't come completely naturally.
February 29, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJo

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