I like a tidy house. It makes me happy to see the kitchen counters cleared, shoes put away in the closet, and the dining room table empty, except for a big vase of hydrangeas in the center. But, since I have three kids, this is a rare occurrence.
I do not, however, like the paper towel commercials on TV where the messy kids track mud in the house and open bottles of sticky soda that spray all over everything, and their super smiley and fun mom laughs, grabs the faucet and sprays everyone with water. The absurd idea is that because she has really good paper towels, messes can be fun! Are you kidding me? All those kitchen cabinets need to be washed down with soap and water along with the floors and all their clothes. If there are moms like this out there, I am certainly not one of them.
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Some days are worse than others, both in terms of the mess and my response. I get tired of finding forks with dried egg yolk and butter knives covered with peanut butter or Nutella resting on plates. And yet crumbs are usually what push me over the edge. No matter how many times I wipe off the counters and tables, crumbs are a constant. And I sometimes lose it over the crumbs. Especially if I happen to be walking barefoot and get crumbs stuck all over the bottom of my feet. I'm not proud of my overreactions -- sometimes my kids give each other their "Mom's gone crazy again" looks. But I think that everyone has a limit. And mine usually involves crumbs.
My daughters have different tolerance levels too, when it comes to messy living. Some of this depends on their individual personalities and unique areas of giftedness. My oldest, Kate, is by nature an organized person. Her room may get messy during the week, but she cleans it on the weekend without me hounding her. Her closet is impeccably organized with labeled bins and clothes hung in rainbow order. She has a giant white board where she organizes her activities and homework for each week.
My 13-year-old recently decided to organize her bedroom, probably inspired by Kate's room, where there is "a place for everything, and everything in its place." She is more introverted and creative, and spends a lot of time alone in her room. She often has several projects going at once, and doesn't always clean up one thing before she starts another. We got her an eight-cube bookshelf and turned it horizontally; it fits perfectly in her now-organized closet. She has earned the "most improved" award because I can now go into her room to say good-night to her without becoming hysterical.
My youngest, Brenna, wanted a cube bookshelf, too, so she could clean and organize her room. This was no small feat, considering that she is a bit of a pack rat and loves to "store" junk in all the invisible places (i.e. under the bed, inside her drawers and armoire.) One night I heard a lot of commotion in her bedroom and went to see what was going on. My husband had pulled out her Pottery Barn-style dollhouse/bookcase to unplug a lamp, and he found enough garbage to fill a 13-gallon size trash bag! We were dumbfounded: Brenna explained that since she didn't have an actual trash can in her room, she thought it was a good idea to put her garbage behind her furniture.
Here are a few tips I've used to encourage my kids to clean up, some of them resulting in temporary improvements:
• Realize that until they start to care about their bedrooms, they will not independently clean them, ever.
• Give them a garbage can for their room.
• Don't allow food in bedrooms. (Although after writing this, I found cracker and pita chip wrappers behind my daughter's bed. Still, it's a good rule.)
• For kids who like to collect clutter, minimize surface-areas such as bulky dressers and shelves. Instead, install wire book racks on the walls and hang clothes in the closet.
• Provide boxes, bins and file folders for them to organize their papers and collectibles. They may not throw away as much as you'd like, but they can choose what to keep based on the storage space you allow.
• Give each child an opportunity to "makeover" their bedroom at least once during their childhood. My 8-year-old is living in what we affectionately call the "Jungle Room," which we transformed into a girl's room by papering over the jungle-themed border with daisies. She has wanted to change it ever since … forever. Well, this is her summer. I'm not sure what we will find when we start moving furniture, but I think that making the room her own will motivate her to take better care of it.
I've heard people say that someday, when my kids are gone, I will wish I had crumbs to wipe up and messes to clean. I'll have to get back to you in a few years. Right now, the older girls are on a monthlong trip with their grandparents, and I miss them terribly. It is a small taste of what it may feel like in a few years when they each venture out on their own. But for now, I would like to thank the strangers halfway around the globe that are wiping up my daughters' crumbs. I truly appreciate it.
• Becky Baudouin is a freelance writer and women's speaker. She lives in the Northwest suburbs with her husband and three daughters. She blogs regularly at beckyspen.blogspot.com.