Good mothers teach their children to pick up after themselves right from the first. If a child can get out toys, they can certainly put them away. All you need is a place for everything and everything in its place. I once had a lady very seriously lecture me on these principles, back when I was pregnant with the twins, while she was doing the dishes because I could not move without vomiting. Since I also couldn't really speak without vomiting, I didn't try to point out the obvious flaws in her plan.
Anyway, we got a little behind. A lot behind. The place kept moving and the everything kept changing. (Who are these people who can actually design enough places to contain what their kids have? Do their kids not create an entire new fleet of paper airplanes, the frontispiece of three unwritten novels, and seven maps of paradise for miniature plastic horses every time they have twenty minutes of free time? Then there are those who say, "Oh, I can't think in a mess; it really stresses me out, that's why I keep things cleaned up all the time." Well, I also can't think in a mess. That's why it's still there.)
But I've always figured that the least I could do is not make us feel bad about the mess. After all, it's not the ducklings' fault that they don't have proper places to put stuff and I haven't taught them to pick up every day. And it's not my fault that I operate at a preschool level in sorting ability or have moved eight times and lost everything all over again. So when--about once a quarter--it comes time to actually face up to the mess, at least we pitch into it with a right good will. They actually get excited. No doubt we will uncover some lost treasures. There'll be open space for a day or two to get things out in.
I let them pick things up for as long as they stay interested. Then, when they drift away, I start salvaging anything that we will desperately miss. (Library books and clothes, mostly.) I throw away anything I am reasonably sure they won't scream if they find out. I put away anything really obvious that they missed. This process has already taken most of the day and we probably have slighted lunch and I am getting very crabby.
And then--here is my Bad Housekeeping Secret--I get a big box. Or two. Or three. An extra laundry basket sometimes, but the holes are a problem. And I just scoop up everything that's left, put it in the box, and shove it down in the basement (or, now, the garage). No, I do not sort it into Things to Keep and Things to Give Away and Things to Put Away Somewhere Else, because at this point in the project if I try to start sorting I will have to be committed as a danger to myself and others.
For several years I have been telling myself that I will get to these boxes and sort them out afterwards, in a calmer moment, if I can only wrap up the cleaning project and vacuum today. We do filch stuff out of them from time to time--large items of dress-up tend to stick out and every once in a dreadful while a library book misses the initial scrutiny. If I pull a few larger items (firemen hats take up a lot of space) out I can usually consolidate the boxes and keep them in manageable numbers. But they begin to accumulate. I think we're close on to a dozen now.
Some might argue that this proves that these items are of no importance and we could get rid of them. They would be wrong. I know there are all kinds of things in these boxes that *are* of importance and we very much want, like the glass gems we use for tracking life in Magic: The Gathering and also teaching math, and all the pieces of all the puzzles, and three of the Clue murder weapons, and spare golf balls which are essential if you don't have time to get to the chiropractor, and enough writing implements to prevent us from ever needing to buy school supplies again. When we moved this spring I finally found one of these boxes from a previous move and there . . . THERE! . . . was the favorite purple coat I had been hunting for every winter since we moved in, hoping to find it for one of the twins. Unfortunately it was a 3T, so it was no longer any good. But had I found it sooner, it would have been, you see.
But retrieving these items would mean sorting them out from the twenty mixed decks of old playing cards, the plastic ball mazes and pencils that don't sharpen from Oriental Trading Company, and the other toddler snow boot that I finally gave up and threw away the mate to, and I keep waiting for that calm and relaxed day to come on which I feel up to such a herculean task.
I didn't really mean to tackle cleaning the kid zone this week. (One of the many wonderful things about this house is the kid zone is large enough that I can herd the mess upstairs and the living room stays fairly neat.) I was only skirting around the idea and getting ideas. The trouble is, we run on ideas. And so as soon as I had posed the question to the ducklings, "What could we do to make your rooms better?" they were all on fire to get started. And I'm not one to waste energy. So this week we put up shelves and moved dressers and drew lines and sorted through the fall clothes. And when we started running out of steam, I started filling up boxes again.
Over time, with children getting older, the mess has gotten better. I really do think our latest reorganization is going to help. And if it doesn't, I'm sure I can find a way to stack the boxes more carefully so the pile doesn't come over.