On Monday night we had to move Stella’s bed out of the kids room, the shoe baskets, roller skates, hobby horses, LeapPad, princess books, floor puzzles, and some other stuff we keep in that corner had to go too (yes all from one corner. It’s New York, remember? And we have three kids in there now). We had to so they could remove the windowsill from, hmmm- maybe 100 years ago. The last swipe test the city did came back positive for lead paint. So, for two days I had to be home from 9-2 so a couple of employees from the Housing Preservation Department could come and go seventeen times, carry in supplies and tools, put a plastic barrier floor to ceiling, tear off wood, clean up all the lead painted parts, take it out to dispose of it properly, put up a new frame, re-plaster the wall where it came undone during the dismantling, clean-up, then paint it all cream, even though the walls are white. Better them than me. Better them than me. (Why does that feel like it always needs to be said twice?)
To move all of the stuff out of that corner was simple enough, except that the only place to move it to was the living room. The room where we usually do most of our living, but had to do all of our living in while the workers were here became the dumping ground for all of it, with the exception of Stella’s bed, which we put in our room. So for two days we had toy baskets and shoes, books and dress-ups in the living room. I started sorting through some of it and my three-year-old Cole and I decided to give some stuff away. We found a conveniently handled recycled brown paper bag from Trader Joe’s and started filling it up. I found it fitting to be recycling in a recycled product. It gave me a good feeling all around.
If you’ve ever sorted and purged you know before it gets better it becomes a much bigger mess than you started with. In our small room where we needed to be doing all the living we emptied baskets and containers and started making piles. Before long the entire room, including the table in the corner, the entry way and most of the hall were covered in piles, making it virtually impossible to cross any area without some kind of puncture wound to the foot (kids toys are like weapons when you step on them, even the ones that look harmless, like plastic beads, they’re round, but when you put 100+ pounds of pressure on that one tiny spot, okay 150+ pounds of pressure, Ouch! But I digress–). The only living we were doing was the get organized kind, and the keep Stella alive by swiping her mouth for choking hazards every ten minutes kind.
After finding containers for the keep toys and putting the others into additional bags, (two more Trader Joe’s and one big garbage sack-oh yeah, that’s what I call progress!) we went to put stuff away. The neatly organized toys couldn’t very well be put back into that bedroom. After taking so many things out of their usual homes I realized how much work still loomed before us. There were dust bunnies, grimy blinds, toys, play money, broken dress-up beads, stray feathers from the costume box, scraps from last year’s art projects, crunchy leaves off the bottom of shoes, a bird could have built a comfy nest with everything on the floor in just that corner.
And so the sort and purge continued. We decided to move everything and really show entropy what we’re made of. We took the rest of the toys into the living room, scooted furniture into different places, swept and scrubbed, dumped and containerized. Even after a full day of working yesterday we have stuff left to do. As soon as I publish this, I hope to wrap up this battle on clutter and get done in time for pizza and a movie night.
‘Tis the time of year for reflecting, and I couldn’t help but notice some parallels between this week of reorganizing and cleaning the kids bedroom and a week ago when I spent seven days on complete vocal rest. (I was recovering from a vocal surgery to remove a polyp, a benign growth brought on by allergies and coughing. I’m all better now, so no worries.) As you can imagine a week of not speaking is challenging. It’s especially challenging with three children under five. But as you might also imagine it sure gives one time to think.
With the kids room we had to get out of our norm, create a mess so we could make it better, cleaner, and easier to use. Now we know what we have; we’ve decided what we value most and want to keep.
Not speaking gave me something similar. I didn’t vocalize for a week. (With very few exceptions, when I was alone with our three-year-old Cole trying to get him dressed and out the door on my own, there were moments when our mutual patience for the longest game of charades ever had run out and I just couldn’t remain silent. And then there was the time I thought my heart might actually break if I didn’t tell Stella I love her as she sat screaming in her bed. This ordeal took a toll on my sweet baby. She just didn’t know what to think of my sudden muteness and though I worked extremely hard, I did have a weak moment on day five when I held her and looked in her sad beautiful face and told her right out loud how sorry I was and how much I love her. The rest of the week, when we didn’t try to go anywhere and my kids watched an unsurpassed and undeniably unhealthy amount of TV and movies it was much simpler.) Being out of the norm allowed me time to reflect on all the things I would normally say and the ways I usually parent and communicate.
So I had a chance to mentally sort and purge. I highly recommend this, if you ever get the chance (I don’t want to do it again, ever, but still if you need to have a polyp removed, know you’ll get more than a clean voice out of it).
The things I am now trying to purge are:
• snarky comments to my husband, usually meant to be funny, but always create more damage than laughter
• judgements and criticisms
• pointless arguments and parenting tactics that overemphasize having my kids do what I want, rather than focusing on what needs to get done and letting them figure things out on their own
The things I now know I have (aka the things I really missed while silent):
• ability to comfort my baby
• giving compliments
• others understanding of me, two-way communication
• telling my kids why I love them
• time to teach and reason with my kids
What a couple of weeks it has been! I’m happy the kids’ room is almost finished, glad to be sharing the love by giving away what we don’t need and trashing the stuff we don’t use and no one else would either. And I’m so grateful I could do this little project while speaking and being understood. Mostly I’m grateful that as this New Year begins I’ve had a chance to reflect. Now I know what I value most and want to keep.
What about you?