I have been actively avoiding responsibility this week. I was sick all weekend and although I am finally starting to feel some better, I just don’t want to do anything. I did stuff last week. It made me sick. (I know that it didn’t actually make me sick, but just go with it.) Last week was all about cleaning out clutter. I got rid of unmatched and warped Tupperware, bagged up some old clothes for donation, and set aside some items to sell (someday). I even convinced the kids to get rid of some of the plethora of toys that they move around their rooms while looking for the toys that they actually play with. But the biggest cleanup happened in my eight year old daughter’s room.
I used to imagine that my kids’ rooms would look like a cross between my own childhood room and a Pottery Barn catalog. When they were babies, keeping their stuff neatly arranged was easy – they couldn’t actually play with any of it and it stayed wherever I put it. When they were toddlers, I just gave them a few toys at a time to play with and kept the rest out of reach. But as they got older, they gained access to all of their stuff all of the time and my catalog dreams were shredded along with most of the paper in my house and it all ended up on the floors of their rooms.
My daughter loves her stuff. I mean, she REALLY loves it. She never wants to get rid of anything. Ever. Her favorite things are her stuffed animals. She had probably close to 150 stuffed cats, dogs, birds, unicorns, hedgehogs, foxes, wolves, horses, etc. Name an animal – real or imaginary – she probably had at least one of them on her bed. She has been found asleep on her floor some nights because she has carefully arranged and tucked in 50-60 stuffed animals into her bed and there is no room for her. When I informed her that she needed to par it down, I could see the panic in her face. I suggested that she arrange them in a line, starting with her most favorite, going to her least favorite, and that we could start by giving her least favorites to some kids who don’t have any stuffed animals. She liked that idea, but an hour later, I found her in her room hugging an armful of animals, and she said “I can’t. They’re all my favorite.” Sigh.
I was beginning to think that I would one day I’d walk into her room to discover that she had disappeared under an avalanche of poly-fill stuffing and faux fur.
I know what you are thinking: “Well, why would you keep buying them for her if it is such a problem?” But see, *I* don’t buy them for her. Grandma does. Her friends do. Her siblings do. Every birthday, Christmas, weekend outing, etc., she gets a new stuffed animal. She names them all. They have distinctive personalities with likes and dislikes. This one prefers the shelf to the bed, that one likes to be near the window, the one on the floor is feigning sleep because he doesn’t want to play with the two under the dresser – there are entire sagas played out in her mind about these animals. I love and admire her creativity and imagination and I didn’t want to squelch it in any way. She wants more than anything to have a REAL animal of her very own. Sure, we have a dog (who she loves), but she wants her OWN animal.
As most parents will tell you, you can send your kids to “clean” their rooms all day long, but if you really want it cleaned you need to go in there with them. So last week, I went into my daughter’s horribly cluttered room with her, and helped her clean out things so that she could manage it better. We went through her clothes and got rid of anything that was too small, torn, or stained. We tried on all of her shoes and eliminated the ones that were snug. And we tackled the stuffed animals. We had already taken 4 trash bags full of clothes and shoes out of her room, and so I used that momentum to tackle the zoo that she had collected. We went at them with the understanding that we were going to be sending at least half of them to new homes and we used the “no touch” method. I would pick up an animal, hold it for her to see, she would say “Keep” or “Give away” and I would either put it into her toy bin or into a garbage bag. She didn’t have to touch them at all. She did great. Better than great, actually, because she got rid of 3 trash bags full of stuffed animals.
After we had accomplished the cleanout of things to sell or give away, we had to tackle the trash that was in her room, and how an 8 year old child can have that much trash is beyond me. There were a few broken things, and some stuff that was simply beyond donating, but the “art” was the main culprit. You know, in college, I participated in “Earth Day” and I signed a petition urging my campus to consider electronic textbooks and computer based testing to cut down on the use of paper because it killed trees. Little did I know that one day my child would have enough paper in her room to handwrite the complete works of Shakespeare on in print large enough to be read from across the room. There must have been 3-4 reams of paper with just a mark or two on them, all wadded up and torn. They were in stacks on her shelves, in her closet, in her dresser, behind her dresser, and under her bed. And we had to look at all of them because she was afraid that she might accidentally throw away her masterpiece. I wanted badly to tell her that she wasn’t Da Vinci, but I didn’t. We went through all 12,000 sheets of paper and kept less than 50. We hung a few up and neatly stored the rest in her desk.
Once the dead forest was removed, I saw something odd under her bed. I started pulling in out and was bewildered. She had 10-12 collapsed cardboard boxes stacked up under her bed. There were one or two big boxes, but there were also a lot of broken down shoe boxes. Underneath the stack were wads of poly-fill and some fabric pieces. It looked like a rats nest. I asked her what it was all for, and she told me that she was saving it to build a house for the cat that she was going to get someday. All I could picture was that my daughter was going to be a hoarder and that she was going to have a cardboard shanty town for cats in her living room where normal people would have a piano. I convinced her that the cat that she might someday have would not need a cardboard house and we added the cardboard to the recycling bin.
All told, we hauled out 5 trash bags of trash (not counting the recyclable cardboard). You would think that her room would now be a sparse and barren place after a total of 12 bags of “stuff” was taken away, but it isn’t. However, now she can find her stuff and she can manage it herself. I was very proud of her and the way that she tackled this with me.
Unfortunately for me, I have 3 more kids with hoarding potential and rooms of their very own. I need to recover before I can tackle their rooms. And I need to buy more trash bags.