Wet Mess vs Dry Mess

If you’re someone who would say “Oh, I can’t handle letting my kids make a mess! It stresses me out too much!”

…Well, first step, let’s differentiate between “wet mess” and “dry mess”.

These aren’t strictly liquids vs solids here. We’re using the words “wet” and “dry” in a more abstract way than that. But it’s an easy shorthand for thinking of it. Paint, shaving cream, slime? Wet messes. I’d also add anything that acts liquid-y or can spill massively in a liquid-like manner to my “wet mess” list, even if the thing itself is a solid. To me, a bin of rice is a “wet mess”. If I have to use water or a cleaner spray to clean it up, it’s a wet mess. Markers, glue? Wet mess. And, in my experience, “wet mess” is what people think of first when they think of letting their kids play with “sensory” play.

But dry messes are nothing. Arguably, at all times, I live in a house that’s just a living dry mess. Dry messes can be picked up by my hands, in discrete and solid pieces. Pipe cleaners all over the floor? I can scoop those up no problem. Pom-poms? Foam stickers? Uncooked noodles? Even cooked noodles, to me, are a borderline dry mess as long as I don’t let the kids break them into pieces. I can grab handfuls of noodles off the floor and chuck them into the trash.

Wet messes in my house are more likely to get played with in the bathtub or the backyard or on a tarp. Dry messes are NBD and I don’t care if we play with them on the floor or the rug or the couch.

But it’s OK if you don’t feel that way. If you grew up in a spotless house or with clean-freak parents, or if you’ve grown into a need for more housekeeping than I eternally demonstrate in the back of my own photographs, it’s OK if you don’t have the same approach to mess that I do.

I’m just saying, messy play is good for kids. And if you have a hard time allowing mess, maybe don’t jump feet-first into wet mess. You’re going to hate it and struggle and be constantly reinforcing your belief that you can’t “do mess”. Try allowing dry mess, maybe on a tarp or in the backyard or in the bathtub (you can totally put pompoms or pipe cleaners in the bathtub!) See if you can stretch your boundaries a little bit.

[Image description: Two side by side pictures, labeled “wet mess” and “dry mess”. The “wet mess” picture shows a toddler in the bathtub, covered in ultra-washable soap-paint that is smeared everywhere and on a small pourable container that he’s holding. The “dry mess” picture shows a toddler on a wooden floor, surrounded by loose pipe cleaners. Beneath the pictures, it reads, “If the idea of ‘mess’ overwhelms you, don’t jump right into ‘wet messy’. Stretch yourself by first letting your kids play ‘dry messy’.” End description.]