The secret to a perfect home

For the last two weeks, my home was immaculate. When dishes got dirtied, they were immediately washed and put away. Laundry was folded and put away fresh and hot from the dryer.

There weren’t toys everywhere with only the three options of being picked up, tripped over, or stepped on; they were all in place at all times. There were no smudgy fingerprints to be wiped from walls and tables and the couch.

Every time I left my house and then returned, everything was just as I had left it. Clear counters, a coffee table I could set my coffee and feet on without having to shove 15 toys out of the way. Carpets that were still freshly vacuumed and dirt-free.

I will tell you the secret to the perfectly spotless, tidy living conditions which I lived in for two weeks…

I was home alone. No husband, no kids. Just me. It was quiet – too quiet. And lonely – too lonely. They went on a two week trip together to end the summer before school started and had the time of their lives while I stayed home and went to work and held down the fort at home.

For the past five days now since their return, my home has been chaos. Unpacked suitcases with clothes spilling out of them on bedroom floors, toys dragged out from the tidy playroom and spread all over the living room – perfect for tripping on. Clutter all over the coffee table and counters. Dirt on the rugs from summer feet running through. A blanket fort built across the living room.

My home was perfect when there was no one in it but me. It was boring and there was very little life being lived in it.

Two weeks of having my family gone made me appreciate the noise, the messes, the chaos and the lives being lived here so much more. I couldn’t wait for dirty feet to run through that door, for toys to get played with and left strewn about while snacks are had and messes in the kitchen are made.

Sometimes it takes absence to realize that we really love and need the things that often make us crazy. I gained a whole new perspective on family life in my home with my family gone.

I learned how much I would take messes and chaos over an empty house. How much I will miss these days when the kids are grown. I realized that I can have one or the other, not both. Or that to have both, I’d have to sacrifice far more than I am willing or able at this time in my life.

I learned that I will take the people and the perfection they bring to life over a “perfect” home that is defined as tidy, organized, quiet, and relaxing any day. My definition of perfect has changed to full of noise, laughter, dirt, clutter and love. I learned that I love my home – imperfect in one way is perfect in the ways that matter.

What is your idea of a perfect home?


Emily Walker writes about making your home a haven, and is a stay at home mom to two littles. While she and her husband have fixed up their 1960s ranch home, Emily has learned lessons along the way in do-it-yourself, making do with what you have, simplifying, and living life to the fullest. When she's not busy bossing her husband around on remodel projects, Emily blogs at Remodeling This Life.

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  1. So true! I feel the same way when my husband leaves for a trip. I’m just too glad when he comes back that I can look past all the mess… ♥

  2. I would love the opportunity to try the whole “he takes the kids for two weeks” challenge to see if I would feel the same way you do!!

  3. Love this. I am a divorced mom and during the summer my kids live with their dad in another state. I love the peace and quiet in the beginning… but I do miss them and their noise at some point.

  4. Wonderful post and so true. I absolutely believe in living lives in a home. The chaos and mess are all part of that.

  5. So true! I love the idea of a perfectly tidy home but I really enjoy going to visit homes that are well lived in and I know as long as I have kids, mine will be the same. Homey and imperfectly perfect.

  6. Oh how I needed that reminder! With three very young (close in age) kids my house sometimes feels chaotic. But you are so right…when I stop and think about it, I would not have it any other way!

  7. SO very true. My daughter is only 3.5 months old I’ll take burp rags, bottles, blankets, toys etc all over the floor etc any day over a life without her!!

  8. “Or that to have both, I’d have to sacrifice far more than I am willing or able at this time in my life.”

    Exactly. Thanks for the great reminder to be grateful for the love and fun and family represented in the chaos.

  9. My parents live 4 hours away and like to have my son stay with them for a full week. The first two days or so, I’m soaking up the quiet, do-whatever-I-want, clean-up-after-no-one life. But then, I wish my little man where here to make me laugh and “mess up” the house with his toys and spills. Love this perspective!

  10. Amy Moran says:

    I thought you were going to say the secret is that there is no such thing as a perfect home:)

  11. This is perfect! I fret so much over my husband and daughter not following the rule of put it back where you got it. You summed up family life perfectly. With love and family comes dirt and noise– and that’s what I truly want anyways. 🙂

  12. Emily, what a perfectly wonderful perspective! Perfectly clean and tidy homes are like mausoleums, full of dead men’s bones. Much better to live life among the living.

  13. I love how you point out that sometimes it takes an absence to help us get perspective on the things that drive us nuts. Every spring, my husband and son go on a “Boy’s Trip” for a week, which means I get the house to myself. I always look forward to it, and usually spend the first two days cleaning the house from top to bottom. Then I get lonely, and I realize a house without family in it doesn’t feel like a home at all. By the time they come back, I’m thrilled to be picking up their dirty socks again!

  14. a LITTLE of this would be lovely….starting yesterday, we have a schedule with not ONE day off (nope- not Saturdays or Sundays) until the week after Easter. It is overwhelming

  15. We homeschool, and the house shows it. Clean … yes, but cluttered with books, projects, legos, more books.

    A friend asked once how I get it all done … was I a supermom to do it all … homeschool, cook, housework. Of course, I’m not getting it all done but had thought I should be able to. I finally realized I can’t when I quickly answered her, “No, I can’t do it all!”

  16. Hi! Thanks for reminding me that is true sometimes imperfect in one way is perfect in the ways that matter. I learned it. 🙂

  17. Amen! Give me the chaos, the crazy and the cluttered life any day.

  18. This makes me ridiculously happy and sort of sappy all at the same time. I love this. I’m an imperfect housewife, very very imperfect, and it’s frustrating to always be running around trying to clean up. I feel like I must be doing something wrong. But, I’d rather have the noise and the mess and my girls under my feet then missing them. (they’re 3 and 9 mo)

  19. I needed to read this post. I’m a pretty extreme introvert and neat/organization freak, living with two hardcore extrovert mess-makers. And now that my daughter’s in school, I’ve upped my project load as a work-from-home writer. It is a serious struggle for me to make peace with the dirt and mess. This was a good reminder to be honest with myself about the price I’d have to pay to have the cleanliness and tidiness I crave. Those things can’t bring me the satisfaction and fulfillment I get from my relationships with my family and my work.

  20. The idea of being home alone for two weeks completely overwhelms me!

    I am a big fan of moderation – clutter and messiness make me a grumpy person, so I make reasonable efforts to keep our house clean. And I probably waste more time on Twitter and Facebook than I do cleaning. Still working on moderation there. 😉

  21. I used to complain about the 5 tan t-shirts and 10 green socks, plus all the PT clothes in my laundry pile every week…until my husband deployed for a year! Now everytime I see them I’m just glad he is home! Good post 🙂 Kids and husbands are totally worth the messy carpets and countertops and even worth the occasional “I stepped on a Lego!” pain in the foot!

  22. Wonderful thoughts! I believe the “perfect home” to be one with moderation. I stay at home with my three under six years old and I’ve learned to love, let go, and really value myself and my sanity. Though I try not to, I still feel guilty stealing a few moments for myself in a coffee-shop to re-energize while the kids are with my husband at home. But when I return I am ready for life and whatever comes my way. As soon as I step through the door I feel my heart swell up to embrace my family with love…and I can then happily welcome all the messes and chaos they managed to create while I was gone.

  23. I absolutely loved this post – thank you.

  24. This summer my girls went to “Grandparents’ Camp” for a week while my husband and I took the youth group to camp. The girls left a day before us and I cleaned the house top to bottom and put everything where I wanted it, thinking I’d be happy to come home to a “peaceful” house after our adventures. The opposite happened! I walked in the door and it felt so erie and weird. I was happy that my little girls quickly made it look lived in. 🙂

  25. thank you for this post. as hard as I work to make my home perfect and failing with two under 4, I think I would be the same way after a while. NO you can’t have it both ways.

  26. I LOVE this post. I needed this reminder today as I was immediately anxious about all of the things I need to clean up today. 🙂

  27. I don’t need my family to leave to know that I would miss THEM. However I would never pine for the mess they leave in their wake. Evidently you married young. I became a wife and a mother in my 40’s and I still pine for the days when the only mess I am faced with is the one I choose to make. And I did not spend the time until my 40’s waiting for a family to happen. My life was rich and full and multi-dimensional despite my single status and during those oh so rare moments (moments folks, I barely get moments) when my time is truly mine, I can assure you that I have no trouble reveling in the silence and filling the spaces with my Me-ness! And then DD and DH return and I hug them tight and love them in spite of their messes.

    • Thanks–nicely put! I grow up as a the last child at home with a single parent, where it was very, very quiet and pretty orderly. I entertained myself endlessly with my books and building and art materials which were stashed way well in containers when I was through… So, now as a mom of three lively chaotic kids and a husband, the noise and chaos get to be a bit much. I love to spend time with them, but always appreciate an orderly, tidy quiet moment as well.

  28. I love this and it’s a good reminder for me. Every once in awhile I want to just be home. alone. and then it’s so quiet that I almost feel paralyzed!
    Our house has been on the market all summer, so my kids have gotten quite good at quickly cleaning up and it has even needed to look nice for showings a few days in a row! 🙂

  29. I just love it when everyone is around. Too much craziness going on, but the house if usually full of life. I have never enjoyed being in the house alone.

  30. Emily, I can totally relate. I’ve learned that where there’s life, there’s mess. Whether it’s in a barn or in a stay-at-home mom’s house with four children. Great post!

  31. Enjoyed the post. I was JUST thinking this morning ‘a perfect home is a boring home’. I have two young ones and they are always making a mess, jumping around, etc–but they are also two of the most fun-loving kids I know. Not to say kids have to make messes to have fun, but it helps to remember that theirs’ are a good sign…usually.

  32. This was soul food. Thank you!

  33. Love this post! It is so true. I homeschool and the house is never very tidy, but when I look at the toys etc lying around, instead of thinking of the mess, I think of the fun and learning that has taken place and how this has made my boys happy. To me, this is a perfect home.

  34. A great post and a great reminder! 🙂

  35. Charlotte says:

    I must tell you that although those years were fantastic ( 5 children in 7 years and 19 years of home schooling…), there is life when the nest is empty. You can’t even think of life without those little ones at home (I couldn’t imagine it either…), but when they leave home, they’re young adults. And when they’re walking with the Lord, there’s just so much to be grateful for. I have learned to enjoy a quiet house, and grandchildren. All the seasons of life can be a reason for praise!

  36. Three cheers for this post – outstanding.

  37. thank you.
    My ADD demands neatness and creativity simultaneously and I *dream* about a clean home sans toys, broken crayons, paper scraps and missing sippies with fermented juice under the couch.
    In this season I’m choosing my kids over a clean house and I *learning* to be ok with that!

  38. It can be very frustrating at times but it important to try and find the right balance.

  39. Same here…. I would have a perfect neat/clean home when they are not around, and ended up with NOTHING to do!

  40. aw, this is good. great reminder to be thankful for the 5 little boys making a mess of my house and making it a home!

  41. Great post! I often agonize over the fact that I am often tripping over toys and that there is kid clutter all over my house, but it is wonderful having little ones around! My house might be neat someday when they go off to college, but it won’t be as fun.

  42. Ooh.. LOVE this post.. And agree, wholeheartedly, I miss the noise, the mess and the homeliness that having a family around brings.. Sure, I savor the quiet for the first few hours but then, I get all impatient and want the ‘noise’ back! 🙂

  43. Reminds me of one of my new favorite songs “Dirty Dishes” by Scotty Mccreedy.

  44. There were no smudgy fingerprints to be wiped from walls and tables and the couch.

  45. Investigate out my Farmville Guidebook in the event you get a moment.

  46. This is heart warming Emily. Shed a tear reading it! The kids are really great and I love the clutter they make because I know they are having fun. The silence is killing me too when they are away!

  47. Very valuable lesson learned and shared for all of us. I home schooled three children and I think we never had a perfectly clean house. There were always projects, science experiments, art and crafts as well as the general mess of having children in the house all day every day. They are now all grown except one, and the house is much cleaner. I enjoy the clean and order I have now, but I am so thankful to have had those messy un-replaceable years first.

  48. I can’t remember how I got to this post but I’m glad I did! 🙂
    As I was reading the first part I was thinking “how in the world did she do it?” And then I came to the part that explained it all! It is lonely and too quiet without you family at home!
    Laughter and love are what make a house a home.

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