Spring cleaning in the fall

Today was a giant work day for all of us; the kids and I dug out their rooms and their closets, while Otto did manly things like replace a faucet and put holes in the walls where we’ve had things just propped against the wall “to be hung” for months on end. Monkey made up a little “Spring cleaning in the FAAAAAALLLLLL!” song that he kept singing at me to make me laugh, and Chickadee did a lot of complaining about how it wasn’t her fault her room was a mess and she didn’t realize that I meant the WHOLE closet and such, and the end result was lots of stuff got done and rooms ended up clean and it was a small comfort to me to have a few things set in order after a few days of what felt like utter chaos.

“I don’t know about you, buddy,” I said to Monkey as he set the last of his bins back on the shelves with a satisfied look on his face, “but sometimes once I get everything all organized, I actually feel better. Like life is more manageable.”

He nodded in agreement. “Me too!” he said. “I like knowing where to find everything.”

I was kind of surprised to hear him agree with me. For someone who likes knowing where to find everything, I guess he doesn’t mind his definitions very broad. Because before this morning? I can tell you where you could’ve found everything. IN HIS ROOM. Everything! It was all in there! Under his bed, in his closet, on the floor, stuffed in the crevices of the shelves… need I go on? I don’t think I do. I mean, it was all there. Whether you could lay your hands on any particular item or not… well, let’s not split hairs. I’m sure if you really got a hankering for that one particular scrap of paper or that pencil sharpened down to a nub, you would’ve come across it eventually. Probably.

Chickadee, on the other hand, claims to be unbothered by the mounds of detritus surrounding her, and will never, ever admit to being pleased once items have been sorted and organized. Then again, she went to a sleepover last night which meant that today she was sleep-deprived and delightful. Like, I found a pair of doll socks in Monkey’s room and brought them to her, and that was the most horrible and awful thing I could’ve possibly done. Because I was giving her more stuff to put away! WHY AM I SO MEAN??

I just backed away slowly. It seemed the most prudent course of action.

At some point in the afternoon I walked past Monkey’s room and saw that he had his bin of little Pokemon figures dumped out and scattered to the four corners, and even as my eyelid began to twitch I asked in a light and conversational tone if perhaps he would remember to put them away again when he was done. He assured me that he would, but added that he was just SO EXCITED to have found them all, he wanted to play with them for a while. That made sense—80% of his collection had been buried so deep in the mess he probably hadn’t seen them in months, if not over a year.

After dinner the kids got ready for bed, and I peeked into Monkey’s room, fearing the worst.

His floor was clear save for the book he’d been reading, so as I knelt to pick it up I began congratulating him on remembering to put his toys away, because we’d just been talking about how great it is to know where things are, and—

I was now eye-level with his shelves, and could see that the bin for the little plastic guys was empty. Monkey came closer to take the book from me, and as I started to ask him what in the world he’d done with his Pokemon, my eyes came to rest on a stack of his comic books on the shelf below the bin.

The comic books were covered with Pokemon figures. And some of the figures had fallen off to the sides, of course, but there they all were, tossed all over the shelves, FOUR INCHES BELOW the container that some hours earlier he had insisted was where he’d like to keep them.

I understand laziness. I’m pretty good at lazy, myself. But it’s a special brand of lazy when four inches is too far to go.

“I thought you said you liked knowing where things are?” I asked him, groping to understand. “The bin is right there. RIGHT THERE. Why would you just toss everything here, instead? Right after you’d spent most of the day FINDING all of these guys? WHY?”

“I don’t know,” he said. And he really doesn’t know.

Together we picked them all up and put them in the bin, and I reminded him that this was how his room got so messy in the first place, you know, and he said he knew; and I realized that two months from now his room is going to look exactly the same as it did this morning, and I will come in with a garbage bag again and we’ll clean and sort and organize and he’ll sing and I’ll exhort him to keep it organized and he’ll agree and then he’ll throw stuff all over the shelves an hour later.

I suspect that realization may be contributing more to my exhaustion than the actual cleaning.


  1. Em

    Yes. I can’t decide if it frustrates me more when my daughter’s laudry is in the middle of her floor or right next to her hamper. This same daughter usually gets a nightly request to, for the love of God, make a path for the firemen. I used to worry that this would cause her anxiety. It turns out, she doesn’t much care if the house burns down in the night, nor if the firemen trip over a thousand polly pockets trying to rescue her so long as she doesn’t have to spend a precious minute away from coloring to pick them up.

    Your kids will be grown (just) before mine are. Please blog the minute you figure out how much of this it takes to make them do it on their own.

  2. Half Assed Kitchen

    At least it’s in his room. My six-year-old keeps a “stash” behind our sofa. It’s quite absurd. But also lovable.

  3. Sharon

    This is a hard pattern to change for someone else. We had a small house and had to make the most of every inch of space, and I had minimum standards of “pick-up” to keep my sanity. Alas, as hard as I tried and as much as I helped, strategies to organize didn’t take for everyone. It’s hard to watch a grown child become overwhelmed by their stuff, but there comes a point where it’s up to them. Keep trying for Monkey’s sake, and your sake too. Also know that some people just don’t “work” that way and will always struggle with how to manage their material world.

  4. PattiH

    Yes, yes! That’s me, and we NEVER change! My poor husband has endured living with me all these many years, and now wonders if there’s any way to teach the young’ns before he gets lost forever amidst the debris. To be fair, I just close my eyes and throw a lot of stuff out to keep a path clear (if I couldn’t find it before, might as well just dump it altogether!). And the amazing thing is: everything on my computer is organized into files, nothing gets lost, ever!

  5. mythoughtsonthat

    “I don’t know”, he said. And he really doesn’t know.

    Well, don’t those words sum up exactly what it means to be nine!


  6. KG

    you need to have a warning label or disclaimer on your blog… that also applies to responses.

    I almost choked reading Ems reply I laughed so hard, the Polly Pocket image was just too funny!

    HAK made me smile because I just cleaned out a box of club crackers, a bucket of chocolate covered almonds from costco, two flashlights, 7 hair bands & a partridge in a pear tree from behind MY sofa… LOL

  7. Shawn

    oooh! I am so in the fall cleaning mode that at this very moment I cannot sleep because I want to go get a garbage bag and find a closet but I am exhausted. I have cleaned ALL day. I want every useless thing out of my house.
    OCD anyone???? Oy.

  8. Anna

    yes. I just got a day in the house without the kids, and I cheerfully resorted puzzle pieces and game pieces, knowing that I’ll be having the same thing conversation on Monday.

  9. mama speak

    I try not to dwell on it too much (and mine are younger–6 &3, but I try to have 5 min room rescues a couple times a day. I know you know about Fly Lady so I don’t have to explain. I did find that sometimes 5 is too much, so we’ll have 1 min ones or the new fav is to set a timer for 1 min and they each have a laundry basket to put as much of their stuff in (that’s already out) then I set a stop watch & we time how fast they can put the stuff in laundry basket away. It’s a race & a game so they like it. I write their best times on our white board. They think it’s fun. I don’t have to get on them as much about picking up and if it doesn’t get done, at least I know we did something, right?
    I’m always looking for ideas to motivate them to do it. Cause that’s the only way it’ll happen, so let me know if you think of any.

  10. Sara

    I was going to do this yesterday, but it had been a LONG week. Instead, I went to my bedroom, closed the door, got in my bed, and read a good book. Then I feigned sleep whenever my children came in to ask me something. I knew the mess would still be there when I got up. Wake me when they’re handing out Mother of the Year awards, would you? Because I’m certain that one will have my name on it…

  11. annette

    I hear the ,”I don’t know.”, respone way too much around here as well. I have an ADHD son we adopted from Russia at 6 yrs old. He will be 10 in November. I have found over the last month 100 Kumon sheets(supplememtal homework program) that had been strategically ripped from packets over an extended period of time shoved under my credenza in my office. He got in HUGE trouble and I made him do all of the worksheets. This was about a month ago. Friday, I find
    a stash of 20 more, some obviously from this last week,shoved under my bedroom armoire.

    When i picked him up from school I asked him to identify all the places he hid Kumon sheets. The response ” I don’t know”.

    Then, as I sit down to do my computer “stuff” this am, I look up and note that behind the credenza, I can see thru the glass door on the wall unit. There are KUMON SHEETS SHOVED at EYE LEVEL! God help me. He is sleeping now and I am afraid if I wake him I may have to hurt him!!!

    I am not even going to start describing his room. It sounds like you have been in it. Just suffice it to say at one time
    I found his school uniform belt neatly folded up in his DS case.

  12. Megan

    Sigh. Child 2 just left home and due to a panicked search for something essential just before leaving (and I mean PANICKED) its room is… terrifying… no, horrifying… no, EPICALLY disastrous. It was only allowed to take one small suitcase with it so all of its belongings are still here and cleaning the mess is currently my favorite procrastination. So, word of warning, some of the little darlings never, never ever grow out of it [at least in your house].

    *note: two weeks later during a phone call Child 2 chirped happily, ‘and I’m SO GOOD at keeping my stuff clean! No, PERFECT! I LOOOOOOVE being tidy.’ I love my Child but…

  13. Ani

    Weird room-cleaning vibes must be about, I made my two urchins clean their rooms this weekend too. Luckily Child #1 has stopped stashing candy wrappers behind his bed (probably because he has a new bed and no hiding place). However, he has had a head cold and has NO aim in flinging the tissues INTO the trash can. EEEEEEEEEWWWWWWWWWWWWWW.

  14. Dawn

    I think you’re born neat. Or messy. I have two kids. One is a neat freak who nags ME about the state of the house. The other one couldn’t be neat if you held a gun to her head. When she was younger, I had to be very specific in asking her to put something away and say, “Please put this in one of the desk drawers in your room.” If I just asked her to put it in her room, she would set it down just inside the bedroom door. She wasn’t being defiant. In her mind, that satisfied the requirement of it being “in her room.” *sigh*

  15. Randi

    You know, I’m starting to think that the whole drama thing? Is due to being the oldest sibling in a family of two siblings. Toad is EXACTLY LIKE THAT! And he’s a boy! It’s SO UNFAIR that we ask him to help feed the dogs, why can’t his sister do it?! (even though she did it the night before). It’s SO UNFAIR that he has to clean up his room. LIFE IS HORRIBLE!

  16. Jane

    It’s unbelievable how you are all living my life!

  17. kate

    my husband has a basket to throw his keys, spare change, wallet keys, and misc in. And yet every night, when he comes home from work I see his keys and wallet resting neatly… right next to the basket. Seriously. MY HUSBAND. who is 37

  18. erin

    I cleaned my bedroom today. It looks great except for all of the stuff I piled on the bed which still needs to be sorted/filed/shredded/put away/thrown away/etc. I am considering sleeping on the couch tonight. Sigh.

  19. Summer

    I too spent the bulk of the weekend fall-cleaning my son’s room. There were Legos and Pokemon cards EVERYWHERE. In weird places, even — I found Legos balanced on the top edges of the sides of drawers.

    I’m scared to let him back in there.

  20. Liza

    I walked into the living room last night after changing Noah’s diaper after bedtime, to find my wife dropping a bunch of toys onto the middle of the living room floor.

    Normally, she is the neat one.

    My head exploded. “WHY COULDN’T YOU PUT THEM IN THE BINS? THE BINS RIGHT OVER THERE???” You know, 4 feet away. Near the wall.

    I don’t even care if they go in the right bins. I just hate stepping on them in the middle of the night.

  21. Laura

    I never, ever, EVER thought I would be able to walk through my house without stepping on a Lego block. But THE TIME HAS COME!
    My baby will be 18 on Wednesday!

  22. Katie in MA

    At least it’s contained (mostly?)(I hope?) to their rooms. Then you can at least close the doors when all else fails…or surprise company shows up. Not saying you should give up on their rooms, but just knowing that option is availble might keep your eyelid from twitching.

    Or not.

  23. Grizzly Kitteh

    It’s not really a choice… It’s like we forget where the things belong temporarily (until someone asks, of course) :D

  24. Tracy

    All of my children are grown but can I just say, “Life is way to short to stress over messy rooms.” Just go through the process once or twice a year and leave the rest behind closed doors. It’s alot less stressful. I’m just sayin’.

  25. Lauren

    For those of you looking for the answer as to when your child may begin to do it on their own, the answer for me was: COLLEGE. It was the first time I had to share a room, and thus, the first time I had to consider someone else’s needs in my space. The kitchen was still a sty though. That only changed once I was a busy adult, and enjoyed making my home a calm, clean sanctuary.

    That is all to say, the answer is: not as long as they are under your roof, with someone to harangue them to do so. Sorry.

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