My youngest has a very messy room. Part of the problem is classic hoarding. Whenever either of her siblings is ready to dispose of something, she volunteers to take it. And of course she gets her own toys at birthdays and holidays and whatnot, and never tires of any of them. So it all piles up. And she never puts anything away. She gets all this from her father.
The bedroom of my youth was a sight. It wasn’t a bedroom, so much as a laboratory. An electrical engineer, a chemical engineer, and a mechanical engineer walk into a bar, envious of the stuff I had in my room as a kid. My closet was huge. On one side, all my clothes. On the other side, my workbench. And shelves and shelves and shelves of raw materials. Switches and lights and wires and batteries. Transistors, capacitors, resistors and integrated circuits. Acid and other supplies for etching printed circuit boards. Erector sets and motors and wax and oil and springs.
A retired electric can opener (which became a push-button automatic door opener, like the bad guy always had in Bond movies). A retired oil furnace transformer (which generated those “Jacob’s Ladder” lightning zaps like in Abbot and Costello meet Frankenstein). And all the tools of the trade: soldering irons, 30,000 RPM drill, clamps, screwdrivers, lots of books on do-it-yourself projects and TTL integrated circuits, and one Playboy magazine I bought at a convenience store when I was six.
My mother gave up. She just asked me to keep my door closed. When I started going away to summer camp in middle school, she and my aunt would descend upon my room for an annual cleaning. They probably got rid of stuff, but I never really missed anything. I had plenty.
So as a result of this background, I’m very tolerant of my youngest’s room. Her mother, on the other hand, not so much. The toys and clothes and filth drive my wife crazy. So periodically, I will “help” my child clean. My technique is one that I learned from my sister when I was a kid.
We kids were supposed to clean our rooms every weekend. And before my mother had completely given up on my room, I was supposed to do this too. I found the whole exercise completely overwhelming. So my sister, who was just a year older than me, would come and sit on my bed and read a book while telling me what to pick up. Cleaning a room is incredibly hard, but executing simple instructions is not. After just a little while, my floor would be clear, and all my stuff would be back in the closet, and my room was good enough.
So that’s what I do with my youngest. I settle into a chair and I twitter, and I give her simple instructions. After a couple hours, her room is clean enough. Neither of us are wired properly to make a room actually clean. But we can both get to clean enough.
Last weekend was Mother’s day, and so 8 and I sneaked off to her room on Saturday and spent hours and hours and hours cleaning. We listened to awful pop music, and she picked up and sorted and even threw a few things away. And she didn’t complain even once. Significant progress was made. And by the end of it, she couldn’t wait until Mother’s day for the big reveal. So she got her mother to come to her room at bedtime (something my wife generally refuses to do, because of the mess), and showed off all her hard work. And there was happiness and joy and all was right with the world.
By Monday her room was back to its natural state: a complete disaster.
That’s my girl.