What’s left behind?

This post may or may not be for the neat freaks amongst us.

And for all you slobs out there, consider it a permission slip to celebrate your authentic self, and join me in this liberating declaration:

Cleaning up is highly overrated.

Because I’ve found that leaving a mess to sit around for a while can increase the shelf-life of your joy. I figured this out one time when I saw two pairs of wet shoes drying out on our front porch swing.

My first thought: “I really need to get those things out of sight.” Smelly and ratty looking, they definitely would have given visitors the impression that the people who lived in the house were maybe slightly tacky and even a little bit gross.

But my second thought: “I don’t want to move them.”

They reminded me of a great time we’d had that weekend, rafting with our daughter at the U.S. National Whitewater Center. They reminded me of smiles and laughter mixed with adrenaline, wet clothes and people I love.

So I left them there. For two weeks.

Not because I was too lazy to move them, but because every time I came home and unlocked the front door, I’d glance to the left, see that nasty looking (and smelling) footwear on the swing, and smile. And believe you me, being able to smile at nasty stuff is a rare and beautiful gift.

Ever since then, I’ve been paying more attention to what’s left behind, and thinking about ways to celebrate the good time or the exquisite moment I just enjoyed.

For instance, I have been known to leave forks in my yard, and toilet paper (“gifts” from “friends”) hanging in my trees for a while.

One time my daughter and her high school friends had been dilly-doggin’ around at our house. After they left, I found a plastic Tarzan Happy Meal toy swinging from the kitchen light fixture. I loved having teenagers in our home, and every time I looked at Tarzan, I smiled. So I let him swing.

And then there was the time that Ben and I went to a party at the home of some very tidy friends. The gathering was great, but before we pulled out of their driveway, we saw them inside the house, straightening things up and frantically vacuuming our “fun droppings” away.

“Aw, come on,” I thought. “Can’t you just sit back and enjoy the fact that we went into your closet and mismatched your shoes and un-color coded your hanging clothes?”

I wish they would have at least taken a minute to savor our calling card, so they’d be reminded that we loved them enough to go to all that trouble.

So here’s a thought: It’s okay to admire a perfectly set table. But how about lingering over the chaos on the table after a great dinner?

How about appreciating a birthday cake after it’s been destroyed, and the scattered, crumpled wrapping paper after the gifts have been opened?

How about pausing for a while to revel in the wet towels hanging in the bathroom after a day at the pool?

Or, like my Grandma Ellis (and many other grandmas through the ages), how about leaving the fingerprints of children on your windows for a couple of days, just to remind you of the precious people attached to those little hands?

Or maybe the precious people who leave fingerprints on your windows are big adults. Whatever.

It’s tempting, I know, to clean up and get on to the “next thing” in life. So if you are the tiniest bit freaked out by a big mess, try this:

Take photos. Then print those photos out, and imagine an entire album of what’s left behind, sitting around on your coffee table.

Your friends will pick it up and say, “What the heck is this?” and you will get to tell the stories of what actually went down. You will laugh and maybe cry and feel the good feels all over again.

And it will actually become an adventure.

Because there’s a risk involved: Some people (maybe you) will go absolutely apoplectic at the mere suggestion of leaving stuff in chaos. And I understand. It’s so counterintuitive, since most of us were taught to clean up after ourselves as quickly and efficiently as possible. Plus, you might end up with ants or mice, or snakes molting in your basement.

But there’s also the possibility of remarkable:

Being intentional about savoring what’s left behind will help you extend the celebration of exquisite moments that are way too fleeting.

Coffee with a friend? Keep the paper cup on your windowsill for a while.

A car covered with mud? Ride it around town and let people know that bad boy has seen some serious action.

Plastic Tarzan from dangling from a kitchen light? It’s still there. Twenty years later.

Oh, why not?

Because it’s all so, so good…

 

Want more where this came from? Check out the very first post (Your Epic Adventure Starts Here), where you’ll learn about starting a yearlong (52 questions) quest to practice living a life of adventure. As a bonus, you will also find the backstory for that ridiculous herd of buffalo on the header photo of this website…

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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