If a set of balance scales existed that could weigh the benefits of a tidy house against the benefits of time well spent with the kids, mine would be unable to provide an accurate reading. In keeping with the condition of the rest of the house, the pans on the scale would serve only as available flat surfaces on which to pile “stuff”, so both sides would be overflowing with toys, craft supplies, school work and more.
When the kids were younger, I was… well, also younger, and perhaps, therefore better able to tolerate the mess. That was a time in our lives we decided to worry less – a lot less – about maintaining a spotless house, and more about spending precious time with the children.
Back then, when my husband would return home from work and ask if the kids and I enjoyed our day, those of us who were able could unequivocally answer yes… which I’m quite sure would have been an unlikely reply had I spent the day trying in vain to find the time to tidy.
Instead, my answer would involve a glance at the bottom of my socks as I would cheerfully recall our activities based on what was stuck there. Shards of craft paper, play dough, paint and glue globs all provided tell-tale signs of the projects we created and the fun we had.
I naively took comfort in the thought that as the kids grew older they would willingly take more responsibility for their own messes.
But alas, as I continue to pick up dirty socks, sidestep stray shoes, trip over scattered toys and shuffle school work from counter to table (and back again), I can’t help but think of the words once spoken by George W. Bush, but used so much more appropriately here. Kids: you’re either with me, or against me.
Their allegiance is crystal clear, unlike the windows in our house. My eight-year-old daughter and 11-year-old son are very obviously against my efforts to organize our home, and instead, remain loyal and committed to maintaining the mess. I do my best to motivate them to, at the very least, keep their bedrooms tidy, but my popularity plummets when I insist that they persevere and get the job done.
In theory, it’s the over-abundance of kids’ toys, books, loose papers and other items (step 1 – identify the problem) that materialize more quickly than they can be effectively sifted, sorted, stowed…or scrapped.
Organizing their school work and other special projects is a painstaking process which is now, by necessity, veiled in secrecy. There are several steps that are taken before an artistic masterpiece or brilliant academic work can come to rest in the garbage. First, it needs to hang on the fridge, or occupy some other area of high regard for a suitable period of time.
Next, the piece comes off the fridge and gets hidden in a cupboard… but only when the artist or scholar is sound asleep. Since its absence is often detected the following morning, the work is returned to the fridge, and the process begins again… and again. For those tucked-away projects that remain unnoticed for the requisite amount of time, the final step is the garbage.
However, we don’t often reach the final step (every piece of their work IS special, after all), and I continue to be enticed by tantalizing magazine and newspaper titles that promise simple and guaranteed methods to banish clutter and organize those items that remain.
I eagerly devour (careful not to drop bits on the floor) the information only to be disappointed yet again. “The answer” remains an elusive prize, and I resent the time wasted reading the article; it could have been better spent reducing clutter by discarding a number of items that I haven’t used in a year, or more.
To be fair, I must (reluctantly) take some (limited) responsibility and admit that it’s not just the kids’ stuff that causes our problems.
The coffee table is littered with neatly folded newspapers, outdated magazines and untouched books. I rely on – and am certain I’ll get to them someday – these informative and intellectually stimulating resources to keep my mind open, alert and optimally functioning.
Unfortunately, though there appears to be a disturbing similarity between these reading materials and the mind I long to cultivate… they all remain unopened, neglected and scattered about.