My Kids’ Hobbies Are Totally Messy, And I Don’t Even Care

Duck turds the size of tennis balls, grease all over the garage, random buckets of clay — it’s all worth it.

Teenagers and messy hobbies in backyard
Ekaterina savyolova/Moment/Getty Images

My youngest son’s bedroom is a bit dicey, to say the least. When I walk by his door, I always peek in and remind myself how happy he is when I see at least fifty pots sprouting veggies in random places. There are sticks and twine everywhere at the moment, because he just taught himself how to make baskets with twigs.

The backyard has been torn apart for weeks now. A friend of mine came over the other day and looked at all of his random-sized garden beds, the fence he was building, and the tree branches he’d cut down for said fence, scattered all over the yard.

“How do you stand this? I’d never be able to do it,” she said, looking down at all the milk cartons he had lined up outside the house. I have no idea what those are for — I think he said something about it being like a small greenhouse for seedlings, but I got distracted by the bucket of clay he was bringing inside at the time.

When I asked him what that was for he said, ”Our yard is filled with clay. You can make things with it and even wash your hair with it.” He washed his hair with it. I know this because I was checking his head for ticks the other night and kept seeing tiny sticks on his scalp.

One side of my garage is out of commission because that’s my other son's space. He goes out there and works on his dirt bike and four-wheeler. He leaves his tools spread out all over the place, and it smells like grease and gasoline all the time. My daughter, meanwhile, has ducks. I heard these birds were messy, but I had no idea until I saw them with my own eyes. They lay turds the size of tennis balls every fifteen minutes. Ducks also have to have fresh water all the time, so when they walk around the yard — yes, sometimes they’re loose and she puts containers of water out in various places. They also like to eat mealworms, which she insists on keeping in the house. When the ducks molt, feathers fly everywhere. I could make a pillow a few times a year with their sheddings.

While I teach my kids to pick up after themselves and our main living areas have to stay orderly because I go to the bad place if there’s too much clutter, I have made peace with their messy hobbies. I don’t love the chaos, but it’s absolutely worth it.

Yes, I miss my neat swept-out garage, but it can’t compare to the obvious joy it brings my son to go out there and fix something.

I do miss my backyard. It’s the sunniest spot on our land, and I love looking out the window in our kitchen and seeing lush green grass. But now I get to watch my son out there building a fence with branches he cut down and do God knows what with all those buckets of clay.

My daughter would be lost without her ducks. They got her through quarantine and she cares for them like they are her children. She spends hours outside cleaning their coop, giving them treats, and holding them.

Friends and neighbors look at me funny and ask me how I can stand to have my house taken over by such huge messes. But what they don’t understand is the happiness it brings my kids.

They choose their hobbies when they are sad, feeling stressed, or need a release. The cleanest, most organized house in the world could never come close to bringing my family this much joy. Why would I ever mess with that?

Katie Bingham-Smith is a full-time freelance writer living in Maine with her three teens and two ducks. When she’s not writing she’s probably spending too money online and drinking Coke Zero.