October 6, 2011

Too much of a good thing?

Do you know the first thing that my youngest son said the day before we left for Walt Disney World?  He did a victory dance because it meant that we wouldn't have to do chores and don't have to pick up while we are on vacation!  I told him that we would probably have to tidy up a bit each morning, but that is easy with only a few things.  I laughed and did a victory dance with him.  Woo hoo!  No cooking or cleaning up after the cooking.  It should have started me thinking, though. Another question had been tickling my brain for months:  How can the bedroom of one set of siblings become a disaster area with wall-to-wall clutter within thirty minutes of vacuuming it?  I mentioned a few times after hearing moans from my request to clean up their room that they probably have too much stuff and need to pare it down.

Since returning from Disney, I have discovered that the last statement was like saying that Niagara Falls is a cute, little waterfall.  On Monday, after their daily clean up/organize routine, I went and did more than a quick visual check.  I opened the closet door.  No, nothing fell on top of me, but I couldn't see two of the walls nor could I get into the closet.  Then I happened to look at the end of one bed which is not quite against wall.  It was stuffed with stuff.  I saw the same thing under the other bed.  And when I opened one child's "project bin", I found shoes, books, as well as clothes of undetermined cleanliness.  I questioned the culprits like I always do about the proper places to put clothes, both clean and dirty, books, toys, precious things.  Yes, they definitely knew where they should go.  The problem was in implementation.  I told them that there would be no video games, TV or pleasure reading (the WORST) until their room was pristine.  I gave them some garbage bags.  I started to take stuff out of the closet, just to make more room to go through stuff.  They informed me that they could handle it and that they would "surprise me."  They brought down two full garbage bags the first day.  The incident sparked an flurry of "organizational desire" in me that resulted in the games and toy closet being culled and organized, a re-thinking of our current LEGO organization strategy to eliminate using coffee cans and just dedicate two of the three-level bin shelf for LEGO pieces and the beginnings of culling clothes in everyone's closet.  The kids have spent an hour or more each day after school on their rooms to pick up the clutter.  Today, the day before we have guests come, I told the kids that anything left on the floor by 2 p.m. would be eliminated in one way or another so that we could start cleaning the downstairs.  A friend is having a garage sale fundraiser and I LOVE giving my stuff to others to help them raise money for good causes.

At 2:15 p.m., after finishing up in the other siblings' room,  I walk in the room that inspired this organizational focus.  It is STILL a disaster area, but not as much.  I send all kids outside for fresh, cool air and relaxing play and start tackling it.  I see something poking out from under the desk drawers.  I pull out twenty different things, including garments of undetermined cleanliness, garbage and at least one book.  After cleaning up that mess, I look under one bed and find the same situation, but covering the majority of the floor.   It dawns on me that they basically spent two days trying to hide stuff in different places, thinking I wouldn't look.  I stop, livid, and call a friend to talk me down so that I don't torch the place.  She prays for me, which helps tremendously and I go back to work.  I call Eric to tell him the situation and make sure he is okay with me putting a LOT of stuff into the garage sale bag.  Five minutes later, I have half of their clothes in a give away pile.  A thought starts to form in my mind.  I call Eric again and get his approval.  I grab an empty bin and start filling it with stuff on shelves that is not garbage, in desk drawers and under the bed.  If they cannot take care of their treasures, then they will be removed and stored until they learn how to take care of their most basic items--clothes.  By 3:30, I still have half a bed to excavate as well as finishing work on the closet and a few other places.  I am exhausted and thirsty and need to stop to write out some stuff to Eric and get the kids ready for John's Karate practice before leaving for my own commitment at church.  I say nothing to them, but tell the kids whose room I am giving an extreme makeover that they are not allowed in it, or even to see it.  I am realizing that the job will not be completed before I need to go and I REALLY want them to wait until I am done to see the results as well as prevent them from trying to "fix it themselves."  I grab a couple of roller-board suitcases, empty the drawers of their remaining clothes into them and have them join their other siblings.  My husband comes home, we have a quick discussion while I go off to my commitment.  Tomorrow I will finish their room and organize my closet to hold the additional bins of their stuff.

All the while as I was working in the room, I kept thinking of how much time we spend cleaning up our stuff.  The stuff we have has taken control of our lives to the point where the initial joy of the vacation for one kid is in not cleaning as opposed to the joy of going to an amusement park!  For the last two weeks, I have been spending most of my time outside of school time in getting the kids to pick up after themselves, which leaves me feeling grumpy and tyrannical and little time for recreation and rest.  I am not accusing my kids of being lazy or even from being different from their parents, but they have trouble differentiating between trash and treasure in today's throwaway society and they are overwhelmed with stuff to the point that they can't really treasure it as they should.  Even I get overwhelmed with taking care of stuff, which is only partially due to being organizationally challenged.  What is the solution?  The only thing I can think of is to significantly reduce it to manageable levels, taking a minimalist approach.  Do they really need building blocks, Kinex, Lincoln Logs and LEGOS?  Especially when they spend the majority of the time with LEGOs building shelves full of creations?  How much arts and crafts stuff should we keep?  Honestly, I don't have answers, but I feel as if we are starting on a journey that will give us more free time to enjoy each other, enjoy the blessing of our house, and maybe even change our hearts to be content with less.

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