About a year ago, I blogged about reading Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up and how it, well, changed my life. When my mom came to visit a few months later, she told me she could really see my “work with that Japanese woman,” and I wracked my brain for whom she might have been talking about (then had a hearty laugh—it sounded like Marie Kondo had been in my house with me, tidying up, an image I loved). I purged books and clothes and a lot of papers, and while I still feel there’s way too much clutter in my house, I’m also pleased with my new sock-folding system and the way my closet looks and how pared down and tidy my bookshelves have become.
But there’s one room in this house that remains a veritable shit hole at almost all times: L’s bedroom. Until about a month ago, he was holding onto the broken, decapitated green dragon piñata he’d had for his sixth birthday (he’s seven in two short weeks). He has an entire cubby basket dedicated to paper airplanes that were folded at least three months ago. There is an unopened puzzle that I keep suggesting we regift. Artwork—drawings, clay figurines, broken colored pencils, and markers in every shape and size and color—spills off the “art table” and onto the floor. And the bin full of “stuffies” is overflowing. I think he has every kind of mammal in there, as well as a beloved alligator and some sea creatures. Once or twice a month, we wrangle and wrestle and bribe until the room gets clean enough to be vacuumed, and I find myself surreptitiously recycling drawings of lightsabers and Luke Skywalker and mythical animals, wondering whether I’m sending off the work of a future genius or just a cheerful, Star Wars–obsessed kid.
The whole thing drives me insane. Sometimes, I ogle Pinterest like it’s porn. I see these tidy, fun, colorful kids’ bedrooms with bunk beds and neat filing systems and clothes all hanging in rows in the closet. Why, I think to myself, can the clothes never make their way into the dirty clothes bin in MY kid’s room? Why must there be floods of tears when we consider recycling the piñata after eight long months (he’d named it, and everything)? And I should add that this is not a kid who gets new toys every week (though the grandparents do keep him in new stuff on, I’d say, a quarterly basis). The same blocks and Legos and animal figurines have been in the rotation since he was three; the marble game is still a hit; the markers get used until the end of their colorful little lives.
He just. Can’t. Part. With. Any. Of. It.
I try not to holler and yell and fight with L, but I would say that most of our arguments center around his inability to get rid of stuff. I worry because for me, my head can only be as clear as my space, and when I enter his room I start to sneeze (this may be psychosomatic) and it makes me tense. I love to see him happily drawing away, but I also worry that the capless markers will stain the rug. Most of all, I just want to simplify, and that doesn’t seem to be within my son’s psychic reach. Simplicity? No. He prefers chaos.
“It’s good to get rid of things,” I tell him. “Really.”
This conversation reminds me of one I’ve had with my parents, who live in a whole house that’s something like L’s room (not as messy, of course, but about as packed with stuff). My dad can’t get rid of anything. He must own 5,000 books, and they spill out of the bookshelves and into boxes and onto the floor. In the attic, my parents house the discarded things of their three children (I fully confess to contributing to this), along with hundreds of letters and items of clothing and artifacts (and an insane amount of luggage. Like, probably thirty suitcases and duffel bags, if I had to guess). I know it drives my mom insane, because she tells me. I know she desperately wants to pare down and simplify, because she tells me. And so when L gets into his mode—”Recycle all but five paper airplanes,” I say, and he replies, “I’ll recycle five, total”—I feel a bit like my mom, craving a simpler life and a simpler space, but not sure how to get it.
I guess this is what it’s like to be a wife or a parent: you have to accept difference in your family and the very basic reality that not everyone feels the same as you do. But I can’t help but wonder whether, for L, his penchant for holding onto stuff is a bit like the way he holds a grudge, or the way when someone has done him wrong it takes him at least twenty minutes to work through it. When L is upset, he just needs to be heard—sometimes for what feels like hours.
And maybe, I suppose, when I push and push for him to get rid of stuff, I’m just not really hearing him say this: this is my room, and this is how I want it to look. I am my own person. A messy, complicated, and hoarding kind of person, but nonetheless, myself.
I think there’s a lesson here.
You might also like:
Sejal Shah on “What We Keep”
Ruth Whippman on why our obsession with Marie Kondo is anti-feminist