It’s a Miracle—I Can See the Floor!


I’m so thankful today that my children have turned a corner on the messy room front.

Last week my son was crying hysterically and nearly breaking out in hives over the thought of giving away, reorganizing, or, essentially, moving anything in his room even one inch to the left. Thankfully, yesterday was a much better day.

Rewind to Tuesday night, when I asked the poor kid to give me his band rehearsal schedule. This request was followed by a good five minutes straight of rummaging and the crinkling of papers. Somehow, despite the spring break backpack cleanout, he was still lugging around a library of books and a giant wad of possibly important papers.

My husband and I confronted him. He got defensive. And after a while, he put his head in his hands so we could have the talk…again. This time, we extended it to include his wreck of a room as well.

Jake confessed that he gets nervous when he’s in a really clean environment. Ignoring the possible OCD implications, I remember saying that if “really clean” is a museum where the alarm goes off every time a speck of dust floats by, and “horribly messy” is a room where even the firemen can’t find you, then I’m aiming for “moderately straightened up.” Like a room where you can see the wall from baseboard to crown molding, or a table where you can actually eat.

And it’s not just that cleaning is important for its own sake, I said. It’s that a tidy house has more room for other people to sit down and spend time. It has the flexibility to become what you need it to be (a dining room, an art room, a game room, a cardboard military installation) whenever you want. And it has the kind of open space that you need when, heaven forbid, you’ve got to get to an injured child—or a barfing dog—fast.

We also talked about a proper perspective on our possessions. They’re a blessing, of course. But if we hold on to them too tightly, then they’re taking the place of what’s really important—God and other people. And if we give up our possessions, or pass them along, or lose them forever in a fire or worse, then you know what? It’ll still be OK.

I don’t know what the magic words were, but somehow the attitude changed, for both of the children. They were eager to straighten up their rooms last night, and they even said they enjoyed it. They graduated from shoving all the miscellaneous knick knacks into the closet, and actually made organizational strides. They added new, fun elements to their spaces, including a music shelf and a “Book Shack” fashioned out of a foldable play tent. Cool.

We have a family goal that by the end of the summer we’ll have made their rooms more manageable. I know what I can handle (1,800 square feet, 2 kids, 1 dog, shoulder length hair, 30-minute meals, 4 hours in the car—max), and it’s important for them to know what they can handle. By August, we’ll get there.

You know, thinking about it now, I have a feeling that there was one story that made all the difference to Jake. I told him about a college friend who, with some open space and a roll or duct tape, turned one room of his apartment into a basketball court. You just can’t do that unless you’ve done some serious straightening up.

I guess we all need something to strive for.



  1. Lorraine said,

    May 3, 2009 at 2:29 am

    I can empathise with Jake. I’m a lot older than him and I have difficulty dispensing of, or moving on, things. You just never know when they/it might come in handy. I’m just the same at school. Someone told me once that teachers tend to be “squirrels” and that can be difficult because we don’t have squirrels down here!

  2. Cheryl said,

    May 3, 2009 at 7:47 am

    My mother’s been cleaning out, and just came across a watch from my childhood. Snoopy is in the center–his tennis racket is the minute hand and a tennis ball is the second hand. I’ve been playing tennis since September, and I love it. Amazing that 30 years later an unloved watch from the bottom of her jewelry box would become such a relevant (and precious) thing to me!

    So yes, you never know when something might come in handy.

    Just let’s not tell Jake that.

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