I feel like stainless steel appliances were created solely to torture parents. The “faux” stainless we had in our last house was manageable, because you could simply wipe down the surfaces; however, now we have the real deal, and I would give it up in a heartbeat. Not only is it inconveniently non-magnetic, but cleaning it—as anyone with stainless knows—is an exercise in frustration: washing with soapy water, rubbing oil into the grain to make all the stains vanish, and then buffing to a shine. There is no such thing as a spot touch-up—it just smears everything. Our kitchen looks terrible, all the time, covered in hand prints, smudges, and lick marks.

Yes, you read that correctly: lick marks.

Recently, I spent a sweaty half-hour trying to restore some semblance of acceptability to our kitchen appliances. Because we try to minimize the use of chemicals in our house, I used olive oil. As I stood, admiring the once-again shiny surfaces, I heard: “Slurp, slurp, shhhhhlurp” and turned to witness our 8-month-old Great Pyrenees puppy leaving giant tongue marks all over the dishwasher door. Apparently, she likes olive oil.

In this moment I well and truly gave up the dream of having a clean and presentable house while also raising a preschooler, teenager, and a very large (and, apparently, hungry) puppy. My defeated sigh echoed for miles (or at least, throughout the house).

And then, I shrugged it off. In the grand scheme of things, this is not the hill I’m willing to lose my sanity on. I need that for more important struggles, like keeping everyone fed, healthy, and safe.

For a long time, the chaos of scattered books, toys, and dog hair that is our daily environment used to ramp up my anxiety. I constantly felt like, no matter what I did, the mess only ever disappeared momentarily. In a blink, everything fall apart again. Well, I’ve realized this wasn’t anxiety speaking—it’s the truth! This is our reality right now.

I could burn myself out cleaning all day, finally sinking down onto the couch in satisfied exhaustion. But then my stepson will decide it’s time to make mac and cheese—from scratch—and the kitchen is a disaster once again. Or the dog will brush against the couch, leaving behind a swath of her gorgeous white, highly visible, fur. Or my preschooler will just…cross the room, dropping a trail of toys and scattered cushions in his wake.

The endless mess could lead to and endless cleaning obsession for me (and it’s tempting). But at what cost? If I focus on the mess, I won’t get to notice the glee in my son’s face as he finally discovers how to wrangle the scissors and cut a piece of paper into eensie weensie bits for the first time, or how my stepson stands a little taller when he’s cooked a meal for himself and managed to get the cheese sauce “just right.” Our dog sidles up against the couch because she loves us and wants to be as close as possible. I’m not going to break her heart by banishing her to her bed because I’m worried about a bit of dog hair.

Wise people say that if you can’t change your circumstances, then you need to change your attitude. Hence my new habit of shrugging it off. “Good enough,” “Oh well,” and “Whatever” have now become daily utterances. Coming from someone who has struggled her whole life with anxiety and perfectionism, this is a big deal for me. It’s actually really empowering.

This is not to say that we live in squalor. Not at all. It just means that, apart from designated cleaning days (or in the case of a particularly messy explosion), I am trying not to sweat the mess. Our house is a home, and I’m learning to be more proud of the vibrant love, learning, and bonding activities that happen here than whether a guest leaves with some extra fur attached to their pants.

Kelly McQuillan is a writer, musician, teacher, and fledgling mother living in Comox, BC. kellymcquillanwriter.weebly.com.