This morning I came across an interesting article about a dad who finally got so fed up with asking his daughter to clean up her room, he literally moved her entire room to the driveway. Then, this evening I came across an article about the creative benefits of being in a messy space. I’ll refrain from offering opinions on this dad’s approach or the validity of this study in this post, but rather empathize with the challenge of helping kids keep their rooms clean.
Having just had a conversation with my daughter last week about her room for the 103475th time, this is a hot topic. After recently assisting her with a mandated de-cluttering session, I was shocked to see her room regress to utter chaos so quickly. I quipped, “Your room reminds me of this garbage pail kid, Rob Slob, from when I was a kid!!” Needless to say, I got a blank look and now I’ve totally dated myself. By the way, did Jenny Jellie have to have red hair, too?! Talk about getting teased! But, I digress.
Will and Ryan are the complete opposite. Sure, they leave legos lying around, forget to put away the play-dough, and we’ve had the “block city” set up in the middle of the bedroom floor for three weeks now, but it’s different. Generally speaking, they keep things in their respective spaces, are happy to have organized toy bins, and even like to keep their beds relatively made. I can’t complain if I’m actually 2 for 3 in the clean room department, but I’m SO curious as to why keeping her room from mayhem seems to be literally impossible for Eliza.
Is it gender? Birth order? Genetic? Nature/nurture? Laziness? I needed to get to the bottom of this, so I decided to experiment. I asked Eliza to pick up everything on her floor and put it away in exchange for a “BIG” treat (motivation for experimental purposes only). My only instructions were “absolutely everything that could possibly be put away in it’s correct home.” What remained was shocking! Of the 42 things I counted that could have been put away in their “home,” she moved only 3 (THREE!!) items in a genuine effort to earn this treat. We shared a bowl of ice cream and then I followed up with a few questions for my little guinea pig.
I started with the piles of books on the floor. I pointed them out and asked her why she didn’t pick up them up and put them on her shelf. Her answer was one that created a bit of a parental epiphany. She said, “Mom, I left them there because this pile here is from the library, this pile here are the books I’m reading, and this pile is what I’m going to read next. If I put them on the shelf, they’ll get all mixed up, but I straightened them up on the floor just like you asked!” Then we moved on to the pile of pillows by her bed. “Mom, those are there so that when I get out of bed to go to the bathroom, I have a soft landing in the middle of the night. I straightened them up. Don’t you like how this one matches that one – just how you like it when they’re on the bed!”
It really dawned on me. It was like waking up from an eight year slumber. It was like the light now had high wattage bulbs and they were shining right. in. my. face. Duh! I looked around a bit more carefully…. Every last item wasn’t carelessly left in a blaze of bedroom destruction; it was quite meticulously stationed there for a reason. I watched her carefully over the next few days and concluded that things (a lot of things… well, actually EVERY last thing) were placed precisely where she wanted them on purpose. I couldn’t find a single toy, doll, pillow, book, marker, or piece of paper in her room that didn’t have a calculated function – to her. She had a system and it was working for HER. Plus, her room isn’t dirty (she doesn’t like crumbs or used tissues to be anywhere in sight).
I realized we simply have different ideas of where her possessions “belong” and the purpose they serve. Now, that doesn’t mean she’s going to get out of making her bed and helping with chores, but I have gained a new respect for and understanding of her approach to orderliness. I can work with that and hopefully we can come to a nice compromise without so much strife! Now, off to see if I kept any of those Garbage Pail Kids collector cards because I just saw on eBay they’re worth over a hundred bucks!