As I’ve mentioned before, my kids are forever informing me that I’m OCD about the house.
My invariable response? If I’m OCD, I’m really bad at it.
Oh, I’d like to be OCD. No, no, no, not the for real version. But I wish a few areas of my house and yard were just so. I like things just so. Trouble is, even if I can get them just so, that don’t remain that way for long.
Kids have an insatiable desire to touch anything and everything. I just howled when I heard the tale of my dear mother-in-law and her tribe of boys in Kmart long about four decades ago. She turned her back on the older three boys while they were in the diaper aisle. Those rascals got their hands on the shrink-wrapped packages of Pampers, stuck their fingers in the eyeballs of those adorable model babies, and stretched the wrappers until the babies’ eyes were all distorted and scary looking.
They just couldn’t help themselves.
I love the idea of warm, decorative touches strewn throughout the house – a pillow here, a nubby throw there. They never, never, never, ever, ever,ever stay where they’re put.
Whoever dubbed a throw a throw named it well.
But the biggest culprit in my house ? The biggest contender against all that is orderly and just so? The flat surface.
Flat surfaces invite libary books and stray tools. Flat Surfaces say "Sit here!" to pink, plastic cell phones and Tonka trucks, to the fourth grader's diorama of a swamp and to the fourteen pages of coloring sheets the pre-schooler brought home from Sunday school. They beckon "Come hither" to the Cub Scout manual and the neighbor's casserole dish, to the DVD that's due back to Red Box and the pink sock you daughter's friend left under the bed.
1. My husband is one talented guy who can figure out how to make things work.
2. He's doing an excellent job of passing this on to our boys. They might not thank him now, but their wives one day will!
3. We have too much stuff.
Dave and I met and married in our early to mid thirties (me: early, Dave: mid). We owned two of everything: couches, beds, microwaves, stereos. He owned two cars! We moved into a four bedroom house and filled it up.
When I say "filled it up", that is not precisely true. Full, I now realize, is a relative term. Our house was Full when those four bedrooms consisted of our bedroom, Tim's bedroom, a study, and a guest room. Our house was Really Full when we had our room, Tim's room, Kolbe's room, a study, and no guest room. It moved up to Packed when we erected bunk beds for Tim and Kolbe and moved John into the nursery. And as for Ainsley, well, she's lucky she didn't sleep in a drawer (although we did have a trundle bed for a while).
You think you're Full until you achieve Packed to the Gills and even then I don't have to look far to see that, relatively speaking, our accommodations border on spacious.
If there is a secret to household management, a single pearl of wisdom helpful to people of different ages and personalities, to women with varying amounts of energy and disparate approaches to housekeeping, it would be this: Pack lightly.
Last spring I was driven to distraction by Ainsley's endless adventures in changing clothes. Three, four, twelve times a day -- gone was the pink shirt and khaki capris, on came the Easter dress and then the swimsuit and then the Christmas dress from two years ago and then the tutu. I grabbed her clothes (and John's as well) and culled down to the items that fit well and were in season. The rest of their usable clothing I stored out of reach. While a typical cull and reorganize might reduce the stock by 25%, this purge was probably close to 75%.
I can not overstate how much peace this has brought us. Ainsley still changes clothes faster than a model on the runways of Milan. But even if she tried on 80% of her clothes everyday, it's 80% of a much lower number. Then there's John and his Matchbox cars. He likes to dump the whole collection nearly every day. If the collection is twenty cars and not seventy-two, well, it's better all around -- easier to clean up, less to store. This sort of organizational math works with coffee mugs and dish towels, with highlighters and gym socks.
As I sorted school supplies early this month, I was astonished at the stash I have collected. I have colored pencils galore, so many Pink Pearl erasers I ought to sell in them bulk on Ebay, and one impressive stack of notebooks that were something like twelve cents each.
Even when it's cheap, it still costs us something.
In this room switcheroo, I've attacked not toys and clothing, but papers, papers, papers. And two things have made this go around far more successful than before: Dave and I are doing this together and God's grace.
Once in a while a ponder the human cost of dealing with all our stuff. I would hate to consider the cumulative years I have spent shuffling papers and toting plastic toys from room to room, up and down the attic stairs.
And I could get all maudlin about the whole affair, but then there's this: People use stuff. We've invested a small fortune in Legos. Tim reads non-stop. I give Kolbe lots of space to indulge his creative juices. I like buying clothes and books for my daughter. I let John collect bottle caps and all sorts of other items I would deem junk, but he deems cool. (Although I nearly croaked when I found a razor blade among his finds. That cool item was carefully bagged up and tossed. Blech!)
I've always admired from afar La Leche League's motto: People before things. In reality, people need things. When the things begin to encroach on living life, it's time to watch an episode or two of Hoarders: Buried Alive and attack the nearest flat surface.