“I don’t think that I’m broken at all. I no longer think that I’m a mess. I just think I’m a deeply feeling person in a messy world.” — Glennon Doyle Melton

A friend commented on an article I wrote not long ago that I should be careful with what I write, to be careful that I don’t offend people, and I stopped and thought.

I thought for a while longer and smiled about the fact that I am not the same person I once was, who was so afraid of offending that I would sacrifice speaking the truth.

Speaking the truth isn’t about discussing opinions regarding religion or politics, and I try to never give an opinion in either area on this stage. Speaking the truth, for me, is about being honest about topics that are sometimes uncomfortable and awkward because the truth, like life, is sometimes messy. Oddly enough, it almost always ends up as this beautiful thing we didn’t expect, and that is the part I love the best.

As Glennon says, I don’t think you and I are messes so much as we are people passionate about different things in this rather messy world.

The junk drawer in our kitchen is pretty small, as are all the drawers in our kitchen, and that makes it difficult to keep a lot of “junk” in the drawer. I purchased an acrylic tray with several little dividers in it so I can keep the drawer organized. But ya know what? (Yes, of course, you do.) Every so often, I realize that my diligent efforts to be neat and tidy and keep things compartmentalized fail, and the drawer is a big mess. Life is exactly like that.

We can try to put life and all of its happenings into neat compartments, but just like with that drawer, we sometimes try to shove too much into our one life, and suddenly, things get messy.

Life moves quickly from neatly ordered to chaotically messy, it seems. This is why I have chosen never to shy away from messy topics like depression, suicide, failure, prejudice, abuse, and a few other difficult to discuss topics indicative of the “messiness of life,” but to embrace and hopefully pull you from the place in which you are hiding, as you try to not blow a gasket over the chaos in hopes of appearing to have it all together. You don’t need to have it all together to have a wonderful, beautiful, fulfilling life. Neither do I.

When our boys were digging holes in the backyard with their friends, making a mess with homemade Play-Doh, or (horrors) finger painting without sufficient protection for their surroundings, they were living beautiful, joyful lives. Never did they exclaim, “We need more order to have fun!” Adults could learn from that.

When I married my husband 33 years ago, I expected our lives to be a neat, tidy package of wonderfulness. Instead, we have had 33 wonderful years of messy habits, messy feelings, and messy experiences. I wouldn’t trade any of those times for a more orderly marriage or home, although I would be thrilled to have a clean garage and attic.

But when we finally begin going through all of the things in that attic (that was set up in organized sections but is now a hodgepodge of things tossed wherever they would fit), I know without a doubt that the memories will provide messy stories full of joy, challenging me to give them some kind of order and bringing a lot of smiles to our faces.

What does science say about life being messy? Well, it seems that science is showing the value of clutter, while not dismantling the need for order.

In a few studies I found, we see repeatedly that creative people are often messy people. Would we discard Thomas Edison, or Steve Jobs, or Mark Twain because they weren’t the neatest people? Of course not. If you (and I) can set aside our belief that order is a must, maybe we can see the beauty that has emerged from the creatives of society.

Order (and neatness) is important when you need to keep up with bills and birthdays. Order in areas I can control is what helps free me to navigate the messes life provides. But when have we brought too much order to our lives?

When I look at some social media accounts, I see the perfect. When I look at my own life, I see the mess. I, a grown woman, am susceptible to buying into the idea of needing life to look neater, cleaner, and more orderly, and then I beat myself up for not being able to attain or sustain it in my own life. For a younger person, I can’t imagine how much pressure it must be until they realize that social media is pretty much everyone trying to show their perfect life that isn’t really so perfect.

We have a plan, and we are thrown a curveball. Babies are born, and sometimes they die. We follow our dreams, only to find them dashed. We marry the perfect person, and we discover they are not perfect after all. When we let go of demanding order as we push messiness out the door, we discover that chaos and order have been coexisting quite well long before we arrived. And we often find the greatest joy has been with us all along in the messiness we keep trying to fix.

Life is messy, and that’s OK.

Susan Black Steen is a writer and photographer, a native Tennessean and a graduate of Austin Peay State University. With a firm belief that words matter, she writes and speaks to bring joy, comfort and understanding into each life. Always, she writes from her heart in hopes of speaking to the hearts of others. She can be reached at (stories@susanbsteen.com).

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