I asked my children to clean their rooms last weekend. They apparently misheard me and thought I’d asked them to cut off their left arms and responded with all the drama one might expect to accompany such a request. The wailing and gnashing of teeth was truly epic.
After exhausting all their protests – a process that took a good thirty minutes – the kids finally got down to the business of cleaning their rooms, at which point they began manifesting odd vision problems. My son became unable to see dirty shorts. My youngest daughter proved eerily able to stare directly at a pile of Barbie dolls without noticing them. And my eldest seemed genuinely baffled when I pointed out the stuffed animals on her floor, the board games that belonged in the art room, and the overflowing basket of clean laundry.
Note to self: schedule eye exams for the children in the near future.
Obviously their vision is fine, but their habits of tidiness could use some repair. They’re only partially to blame as their “clutter blindness” is almost certainly genetic. I have an uncanny ability to leave open every cupboard in kitchen while I’m cooking. Every single one. I will sometimes walk into the kitchen and do a double-take, wondering who on earth has been poking around in my cupboards. Oh, right. It was me.
My car is an unholy nightmare, a perpetual graveyard for fruit snack wrappers, mismatched socks, sporting equipment, and crumpled papers. I’ve been known to live out of my laundry basket for weeks at a time and the concept of “making the bed” is utterly foreign to me. So like I said, the kids come by it honestly.
But every now and again, I remember/realize that visual clutter is stressful. It’s emotionally exhausting to be surrounded by endless mountains of stuff that isn’t where it belongs. If I find myself inexplicably edgy or short-tempered, it behooves me to look around the house and see if it might be time for a Great Family Pickup. (Spoiler alert: it’s always time for such an activity.)
We finally got the house into shape and I have managed to keep it clean for forty-eight hours and counting. It’s quite an accomplishment and one which has not come without effort. The moment we were done cleaning, the backsliding began. My son came into the house and kicked his sneakers off in the middle of the living room. My daughter abandoned a coloring book and markers on the art room table. A baby doll mysteriously appeared on the kitchen counter next to my keys, some lunch Tupperware, and a paperback novel. Constant vigilance is required!
But constant vigilance is also exhausting and thus we ebb and flow, with more ebb than flow. This summer we managed to settle into a pattern of managed chaos thanks to the fact that I was hosting a nanny share at my house several days a week. On the one hand, having four preschoolers in residence absolutely guarantees a certain level of mess. On the other hand, the societal peer pressure of having the parents of said preschoolers passing through the house also guarantees that certain minimal standards will be met. At the very least I made a point of clearing the breakfast dishes off the table each morning.
Now that we’re back in school, that built-in tidiness safeguard is no longer in effect. It took just over a week for the rising tide of clutter to start to drive me bonkers. Thus the big cleanup last weekend. In addition to cleaning, I also decorated my house for fall in the hopes that the sight of it neat and tidy and adorned with pumpkins would be so inspiring that I would be motivated to keep up with the housework.
It’s a vain hope, of course, but I’m content to walk that fine line between aspirational thinking and self-delusion.