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Mental Notes
Musings on creativity, psychology and living better

Make a Mess!

Wednesday, August 19 8:40 AM

This week while my teenage son was home alone he made some skate wax. He used my best pot to melt down candles, crayons, and butter into a sticky mess. Then he filled an ice cube tray with the mix and let it all harden. My ice cube tray and pot will never recover.

My first reaction was to get annoyed, but then I reminded myself that as an art therapist, one of the things I work on with my patients is the ability to tolerate getting messy. What they learn is that most messes can be cleaned up. And that a certain amount of chaos or destruction is an inherent part of any creative process: you can’t make an omelette without breaking a few eggs.

This led me to think about how reluctant we sometimes are as parents to let our kids get messy. We lament the amount of time they spend in front of screens, but we are quick to berate them if their activities lead to more work for us, like cleaning up after them or having to get them to clean up after themselves.

We work hard on creating a nice home and fill it with nice things, but our kids are not furniture or ornaments, and they need to inhabit the house in a way that makes it a home. As my sister-in-law told me a few months after her last child went off to college, sitting around looking at your tidy apartment gets old pretty fast. The connection and liveliness of having her children around by far outweighed the pleasure of order restored.

So before your kids are grown and out of the house, ask yourself: how messy are you willing to let your child, (or yourself) get? Would you be willing to allow for a little more chaos in your home, in order to encourage creativity, exploration and connection? Knowing that messes can be productive and that order can be restored is a good lesson for all of us to experience. It can allow us to be more resilient to change, take more risks towards growth, and move on when things don’t go according to plan.

Your kids will never remember that 587th youtube video they watched this summer, but they will forever remember that time you let them build a fort in the living room and had a picnic with them inside. And those pillows will find their way back onto the couch eventually.