Steven Emmanuel

Growing up, Emily and I shared a room, and we used the extra bedroom (affectionately called the backroom) for a playroom.  I’m pretty sure I owe most of my creativity to the backroom. Well, the backroom and my mom. Because we’d play with our Barbies and My Little Ponies and GlamourGals and set up intricate rooms and scenarios and at the end of the day, Mom didn’t make us clean it up.

It wasn’t until I was a grown up with boys of my own that I realized what a gift that was. I’d visit my friend’s homes and after a play-date watching the little ones work feverishly to invent a beautiful mess of a maze of a Thomas The Train track in the playroom, the announcement came: time to clean it all up, cue the Barney and Friends song.

There’s nothing wrong with cleaning up. And it’s not like my mom never told us to clean up the backroom. But the default was that whatever it was that we built, we got to keep playing with the next day. If we were building in the family room, we’d probably have to clean it up. I’m so grateful that even in our tiny house, our mom gave us a space to create without insisting that we make it presentable at the end of the day.

Now that I’m a mom, I realize not only is it a gift to my boys, to give them a place where their creations can grow over time, but it’s also a gift to myself. Why did I ever fret over making sure every toy was put in its proper bin in the playroom before bed every. single. night? That’s a lot of work for me and for them. Maybe I can spend that little bit of extra time reminding myself that I want my boys to see me be creative. I want to hunt for creativity. Maybe I can teach them by example that yes, I want a clean and presentable home–there are lots of perks to that. But I don’t want a perfectly clean home with no room for messes and risk and trial and error. It’s wise to be purposeful about making a mess.

I now see the beauty in the half built LEGO dragon. I’m glad I didn’t insist they clean up the puzzle that was only 25% complete and in the middle of the table. There’s a time and a place for everything in it’s place, but there’s also a time and a place for creating.

So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. Genesis 1:27

  • Bev Duncan @ Walking Well With God

    Having worked as a preschool teacher…I see the upcoming generations lacking the ab ility to play creatively. I probably sound like a curmudgeon when I say put down the electronic gadgets and give kids a place to let their imaginations soar. When my kids (now 24 and 20) said, “I’m bored,” I said “Good, that’s where real creativity begins.”
    I love the phrase…make a purposeful mess :)

    • Beth Williams

      AMEN SISTER! Kids today don’t understand making do with sticks as guns, or much else. They don’t know how to think or do much without the use of gadgets of some kind. I wish ALL parents would turn off electronics, including TV, for a day or two a week.

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  • Alana @ Grace-Full Intentions

    Such a great post! I agree that sometimes it is best to leave the mess, as is, so that the creativity can simply resume where it left off; however, I also think their is a difference between a purposeful/creative mess and just a mess. After all, I think sometimes the mess can stifle creativity… like, when he can’t even spread out his Legos on the coffee table because some of his other toys are covering it. I really just need to create a space for him to get creative and not have to worry about clearing it off… like a kid-sized table that lives in our hallway or something… I don’t know… Anyways, great post! Lots of food for thought…

  • Jessica

    I completely agree! Right now our dining room is our playroom. I love it because I’m still close by when I’m cooking or cleaning up….but…that’s also the first place people see when they come in the house. Some days I’m torn about that.
    I completely agree with your thoughts! Thanks for sharing!

  • Claire @ A Little Claireification

    Fantastic post. By default, with three boys, I never really try to make sure all of the Legos and Poke-whatevers {and in my youngest’s case – fairies and mermaids} are cleaned up every single night. Sure it gets out of control sometimes and we clean – everything in it’s place to start the mess making all over again. It’s a bit futile, but sometimes an exercise in bi-weekly sanity. If company is coming, we certainly pick up {or slide things under things}. But I would wear myself out if I tried to pick up every night!
    I never felt like I needed permission for this, but your post certainly validates our theories. Love it.

  • Elizabeth@Real Inspired

    We always had a room dubbed the “backroom” too, even in our little houses. Lots of mazes and forts were built there. I’m thankful for a mom that would let us leave our Legos, forts, and random toys until we were done creating!

  • Gina

    I need this reminder. Daily. I try to give my kids a space to be messy and creative in, but sometimes….well, it’s hard to find the balance between constant chaos and creative mess. But I guess it’s all in how you look at it, right?

    Thanks for the encouragement here-and now I better go push the chairs out of the way in our bonus room and let the creativity spread.

  • Lisa E

    What a wonderful post!
    When my Babies were little we always had a designated playroom, and messes were left so they could create. We would usually do a once a month clean out. I’m so glad we weren’t the family that had the immaculate HOUSE, but we had a comfortable HOME! All the neighbor kids wanted to play at our home because they could relax, create and be themselves. Now they are all adults and I’m so proud of the way they are raising our grandchildren. Our empty nest is still “messy” as now I do my stained glass, mosaics and traditional rug hooking!

  • Annie Barnett

    Love, love, love this.

  • Glenda Mills

    You’re my kind of gal. Growing up, my sisters and I…all four of us…slept in the same bedroom. At the end of the day, when we undressed, we all put our clothes on the same chair. By the end of the week, there was quite a mound waiting for the weekend when we would put everything in its place.
    Now when my grandchildren come over, I try and remember not to worry about the things they leave out of place…
    Thanks for sharing!

  • Leese

    SO good! Most of my favorite memories as a child were our messy ones – complex forts we would build, crazy combined worlds of my brother’s MicroMachines and Legos with my glass animals and doll house, or inventing ridiculous marble “roller coasters” that stretched all over rooms and surfaces.

    I don’t have kids yet, but try to give myself that same permission to make a mess while exercising my creativity. Perhaps I’ve taken it to an extreme, going as far as removing my dining room table to give myself more floor space for designing big textile art pieces. And hey, it does prompt some interesting conversations when people come over and realize dinner at my house means sitting around low tables like in many other countries of the world since my real table in the other room is still displaced!

    • The Nester

      Oh wow!!! that sounds like fun!!

  • beth willis miller

    Love this blog post and the video link to “I want to hunt for creativity”… such a wonderful way to encourage creative thinking … just wanted to share a blog post that I wrote on creative thinking…

  • Ashley Urke | Domestic Fashionista

    I love this. I remember back when I used to scrapbook as a high school age student I would ask my mom if I could leave it out for a few days while I continued to work. I know it was difficult for her to let my paper and glue and pictures sprawl out all over the living room but it was part of the creative process. Having to clean everything up would have stunted the creative process. I make plenty of my own creative messes but when it comes to my nephew that I watch, everything gets put away all the time. I do not have him everyday so it is a little different to not keep his toys out but this gives me great perspective to be more lenient with him and to prepare myself to one day let my own children make their own creative messes. Love your creative messy life Nester!

  • Valerie Hohenberger

    The only place I have to create now is on our dining room table which is the first thing people see when they enter our home! I remember using the bed in our spare room to create scrapbook pages, so that I could just close the door and not have to spend ‘creative’ time putting away and then unpacking. Such a waste of energy! I used to have a sewing nook that I would pop into for a few minutes each morning while my brain was fresh before work. I have made many a quilt in there a little bit at a time!

  • Marinalva Sickler

    What a wonderful mess! I let my grandson to play with my pan tops transformed into a beyblade stadium!

  • Judy H.

    I love my parents dearly and wouldn’t trade them for any other parents in the world, but when I and my three sisters were growing up, it was “a place for everything and everything in its place”! If we were in the midst of a creation, we would have to put it all away with the words that we could get it all out the next day and play again. Now, we did not have a “playroom/backroom”, so our play was in our bedrooms. living room and kitchen. Perhaps that was the reason for the required “clean up”. I sewed from the age of 12 and loved it.
    My husband grew up in a family of 9 and he was a true “put away” person with our children. I finally convinced him, “So what?! Kids live here, this is what kids do. One day we will long for these days!” He soon relented and our family relationship got soft with lots of pillows and blankets on dining room chairs and creative with crayons and half finished drawings and paintings on kid easels. Best, we all ended up really okay.

  • Libby

    Preach girl! I love this! My sister and I had a play room in our tiny house thankful for my mom who let us leave our My Little Ponies and dolls out once we just FINALLY got it all set up by the end of a day – so that we could continue with the genius that was our creation. :) I appreciate this encouragement to make a mess on purpose.

  • Rebekah Lyon

    Love.This! Thank you (from one creative to another :) My office is always a beautiful, cluttered mess with all kinds of creative “starts.” But I need to carve a special place for my kids to leave things for an unlimited amount of time. Thanks for that reminder. Enjoy all the creative messes! I know I am :)

  • Oana79

    We live in a small apartment and I can’t see mess as the place would seem unbearably cluttered. You were lucky to have had a playroom. But I also think kids need to understand how to create order, not only mess. I have friends who are in their early 30s, are very creative but their rooms are a permanent tip. Balance is the key here.

  • Barb Kennedy

    I wish I could set the clock and time back let say 25 years ago, how I do it all over. At the time my boy were small, I was so insecure about myself that instead of enjoying the moments with them I was more uptight about house. So for any new mothers or still moms with youngins those time with the kids are precious and time goes by to fast, who cares about messy house when the home is filled with laughter

  • Sarah

    This couldn’t have come at a better time – thank you! As I stress to find ‘balance’ in my days and find God leading me through a season of “no” I think letting my girls be creative, without being perfectly clean, is a good thing.

    thank you!

  • Beth Williams

    Parents should encourage creativity. It allows the child a chance to think and learn, useful skills in this world.

  • Jackie

    Nester, you inspire me!

  • Kristen Strong

    Yes and amen and you’re so. dang. smart.

    Inspiring post that helps me relax in parenting and housekeeping, that ensures our house is one that nurtures creativity and easy fun. Perfection.

    I just love you.

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  • Cassi

    I just happened to find you by accident and I am so glad I did. Growing up, my mom sounds like your mom. She rarely made us clean up our “creative messes” and I know that’s where most of my creativity came from. Fast forward to now, with a 2 1/2 year old and a 4 month old, I am trying to be this make believe woman who has a spotless house, homemade dinner every evening and laundry always caught up. I’m missing out on so much while trying to be perfect. Thank you so much for your post. It has quite possibly changed my life. :)

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  • Lasso the Moon

    My mom was the same way! And I know I have her to thank. Ive always heard that broken or unwrapped crayons inspire more creativity in children that a pristine box with the same colors, and I think that could be translated in many different ways. That’s what I thought of when I saw the two cups of sprinkles at the top!
    Thanks for your insight.

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  • Jennifer Sikora

    Wow — I really needed to hear this. I am one of those moms who has a hard time with clutter so I always make them clean up their mess. Thanks for the reminder.

  • Rachel C

    When my brothers and I were young, my dad built us a low play-table. It was a sheet of plywood with metal legs from a folding table attached to the bottom and a strip of wood around the edges to contain everything. We built massive Lego cities on it, playmobile villages, and set our train tracks up on it. Since it was so low we could stand around or even sit and play, and since it was elevated we could leave our creations up and play for weeks if we wanted! My mom was happy since she could still vacuum and we loved not stepping on our toys or having the dog knock them over. When we weren’t using it, it was just folded up and put away! I can’t wait for my kids to grow up a little so we can have one just like it :)

  • Jeanette @ Creating a Life

    I’m a pretty messy creator, and my kids are too. It wouldn’t be fair of me to demand they clean up whatever they’re creating daily, when I rarely do that! You’re right, there is a time to clean up {like when we can’t find a path to our beds- haha} Our kids only get one childhood, there are no do-overs! Freedom and space to imagine and create is a precious element of growing up that we can’t afford to deprive them of. Thanks so much for the encouragement!

    Creating a Life

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