Have you ever noticed your house instantly becomes messier the moment someone else steps into it?
I was hanging out with one of my mentors recently, catching up and shooting the breeze. He had yet to see the house we bought back in December, so I suggested we stop by my place just to show him around. He was game.
We get to my house, I unlock the front door, and was immediately struck by the mess the moment we stepped into the living room: blankets laying around everywhere, random clothes jumbled in the corners of the couch, books scattered across the coffee table, dirty dishes laying out, coffee grounds spewing out of my Baratza burr coffee grinder (that thing makes a mess). So, like what any good civilized human being would do, I say,
“Sorry about the mess.”
Here’s the irony in that statement. My wife and I live in that mess. In fact, I was completely comfortable with the mess before someone else stepped into my home. It was comfortable. It was “lived in.” There was no pressure in having to have our home put together for anyone else. We embraced our mess. But in an instant, my normal living situation became something I feared would be repulsive to someone else.
We are physical beings who live in physical spaces. The places we inhabit reveal the persons we are. So maybe, how we feel about our messy house reflects how we feel about our messy selves.
The social dynamic of visiting people’s homes has dramatically changed over the decades. People used to visit others’ homes all the time. Front porches once acted as gathering spaces for neighbors. Now they’ve been replaced by massive garages pulled away from the road. Living rooms were arranged for the couches and chairs to face each other. Now they all face a giant screen. The home has gradually transformed into a “fortress of isolation,” reserved only for our private selves. There is an intimacy and vulnerability involved in having people over that our society does not know how to handle anymore. Perhaps that’s why American hospitality is focused so much on having our home entirely put together when we do invite others over. We dare not show our mess.
So we prefer to go to coffee shops. Restaurants. Parks. Anywhere but home. There’s something much less intimate about meeting in a coffee shop surrounded by busyness and noise. You can use the activity around you as an excuse to not share something that needs to be confessed out of fear that “someone may overhear you.” It might be able to scratch the surface—but you can’t go deep.
But inviting someone into our homes – that’s intimate. They see your messy floor. Your dirty dishes. The chaos of the kids running around in their underwear. Your unpaid credit card bill that accidentally got left out on the table. And, most notably, the silence of a safe space. The openness between you and your friend on the couch unhindered by a table and two coffee cups. The warmth of a home cooked meal. The result is a safe space to share our personal “mess” without fear of how the other may react.
The space creates the interface. Where we are often determines how we act. Ironically enough, the intimacy of our homes we fear of letting others into becomes the surest space to foster the intimacy of friendships who can see us in our mess—and love us anyway.