As I watched my computer's screensaver scroll through pictures from the last few years, I smiled as I saw formal pictures of our wedding give way to holiday celebrations, pictures of our son and family get-togethers. The photos are familiar. So usually, I scan the faces, without really looking at the picture.
But tonight, I looked a little deeper. I looked behind the people, behind the faces, to the background of the picture. And what did I see? A stray book on a chair that I now remember reading to my niece last Thanksgiving; framed pictures strewn on the floor because we'd just moved into our house; pillows on the floor from the day I made a fort for my son. I saw a dress thrown on the bed, an outfit that had been considered and then discarded, and a dirty fork on the table from the most delicious slice of chocolate cake. These were details I'd forgotten about the days the pictures were taken. In fact, in one of my favorite wedding photos, there is a sneaker lying on the floor by the train of my dress. At first it bothered me. Now, I'm so glad it's there.
Some people may look at these photos and say they are messy; that the extraneous items take away from the picture itself. Why couldn't we pick up the clutter before we took the picture? Who wants to look at pictures that were take in messy rooms?
I do. (well, I try to. The control freak in me still has to be managed. I have to remind myself that later I always enjoy looking at the little things that make the pictures imperfect.)
Yes, the people in the photos are important. I want to remember what we looked like, what we were doing on the day we took that picture. But I also want to remember the details.
And where can I find these details? In the messes I forget to tidy.
In these "messes" I can find our moods, our likes and dislikes, remnants of a menu, of a game, or details of a day that was chaotic and maybe even rough, but still a memory we want to keep.
We always have the choice to make our pictures perfect, to keep everything streamlined and clean. Then, when we go through the albums, we can look at perfectly poised people in immaculate backgrounds and it'll look like we had it together and everything always turned out exactly the way we wanted it to.
But we have another choice. We can leave the clutter, embrace real life and give ourselves permission to enjoy the stuff that didn't turn out "exactly right." And in a few years, when we're scrolling through the photos, we'll spy a sneaker next to a wedding dress and say, "Remember how we went running the morning of the wedding? And you got a blister and almost couldn't wear your wedding shoes? Oh, wow! I'd almost forgotten about that…."
As we come up to this season full of holidays and families, let's ease up on the perfection expectations. Don't clean up the mess too much. Allow it to stay. The clutter is part of the ambience.
It gives the pictures character.
Sarahlynne is a Parenting Guru and a work-in-progress when it comes to tempering her perfectionist tendencies.