Here’s why ‘neat and organized’ is over-rated

Dan and I have an amazing contractor and crew—Ben, Randall, Billy, and Cody. 

But they’re awfully messy.


All photos: Marlys

They tossed our deck into a pile of boards. Pipes and wiring are hanging out of what used to be our kitchen. And insulation is falling out of places where new structure is tied into the existing house.


New roof; old deck
Once upon a time, this was a kitchen
Tying new structure into the old
Good thing we’re not keeping the carpet

Walking through our rearranged house, Ben, our contractor, made this observation about remodel projects: 

It has to get worse before it can get better.

Which made me think of when we take on anything worthwhile—let’s say, starting a family. 

There are diapers and sleepless nights and the Terrible Twos when our sweet little angels want to do things their way and by themselves. 

It gets messier from there with the awkward, dramatic ‘tween years, followed by the teen years when our adolescents aren’t speaking to us half the time.

And then this child leaves home and one day returns as a responsible young person who sits long over the dining table in adult conversations with us.

And we wonder how we got it so right after all the mistakes we made and all the messes they made.

It had to get messy before it could get better.

So, you want to keep things neat and organized? 

Don’t get married or have kids. Don’t even have friends because relationships can get messy.

Don’t plan for college or a vocation. Don’t build a business or a non-profit. Don’t coach a team, or teach piano, or take up nursing, or volunteer to help released prisoners integrate back into society.

Don’t plan to do anything significant with your life. 

Because most worthwhile undertakings will get messy and frustrating and overwhelming before they get better.

Dan and I had two goals for this build/update project: 1) To create more space for our combined kids and grands to spread out when they visit; and 2) For resale value when we’re gone and the kids have to deal with selling the place.

Dan had this insight—not just about our house, but about the bigger picture:

We’re building a future … and the future is not just about us.

What if?

I’m the organized, efficient girl with her lists who doesn’t much care for disorder and disorganization. Keeping rooms and closets and our lives de-cluttered has amazing benefits.

But I also know how to relax and enjoy our guests and not care that their toddler is rearranging the books in our bookshelves or leaving handprints on the glass doors.

Sometimes life calls for setting aside ‘neat and organized’ and building a future—not just for ourselves but for the people who will benefit as our patients, our students and clients, as the recipients of our investment in their lives.

And then it continues onward from there in a domino effect.

What if we could invest wisely and not care that there will be a mess and uncertainty and maybe even little pockets of failure before it gets better?

What future are we building?


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  1. Another wonderful post. You made simple, yet relatable points. I’ll look the messy in better light.

  2. Tanya Neelon

    I agree. Some ladies aren’t given the gift of having children but hopefully they will love their pets. My uncle, RIP, never had children or pets and he was VERY FASTIDIOUS about his collections. He fell in love as a widower to a
    lovely, lovely lady who loved him, but never married him knowing that he wouldn’t be a good stepfather or step-grandfather to her children or grandchildren. That made me sad for him because he really lost out in the end.
    Being nice and neat is good but it’s not realistic 24/7 and I would much rather enjoy life and my family that neatness.

  3. Julie Koon

    I’ve always admired your organizational skills, Marlys, and your creative homey style in organizing. No one in your sphere of hospitality will ever feel uncomfortable if their kids mess up your space.
    Great post!

  4. Don Darst

    A talented writer you are.
    Gifted in writing from the heart
    to your finger tips.
    Relatable and honest, I enjoy
    your writings. Understand your feelings
    along with friend for life, Dan.

    • Love your poetic comments, Don. You win the prize for being the first person to post a poem at this website. Congratulations! (Not sure what the prize is, but you win it.) 🙂

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