Monday, March 5, 2012

The Things We Hold Onto

In the beginning...
I look into the abysses that are my daughters' rooms.  I am NOT going in there.  Hurricane Katrina has nothing on my Princess and Birdie.  Clothes are strewn about their rooms with great abandon.  Toys clutter the floor while their toy bins stand open and empty.  Books are in piles all around the room-- sometimes the books are piled by topic and sometimes they're just piled up to clear a path to a pile of something else.  There are bits of trash and paper and "treasure". (Treasure in this instance translates to most folks as "random, formerly shiny crap found in the Target parking lot".)  And then there are the stuffies-- tons and tons of stuffed animals fill every gap, nook and cranny that remains in the room.  How would I get in if I wanted to?  Why would I want to?

The wreckage of their rooms amazes me.  How can two children be so messy and yet require so much structure in their daily routines?  It just doesn't mesh for me!  Neatness and timeliness would seem to go hand in hand.  I know that the mess frustrates them sometimes because I have to listen to them wail in despair when they can't find their very favorite ___________ (fill in the blank.)  Yet when I try to help them clean their rooms or just clean the rooms myself, their anxiety levels go through the roof!  I get barraged with questions like "How will I ever know to look there for that?!" or "Why can't I keep my collection of thirty-six and a half broken rubberbands?!"  They make statements like "If I put my things away, I will forget what I have" and "It's not a mess, Mom, I just have all my stuff on display in the floor."

I think about the things I have held onto over the years.  I am not terribly sentimental, but I have still several things that I hold onto for no apparent reason.  Logic would argue I should discard these items because we move a lot and the items aren't really useful.  For example, I have the teddy bear and the stuffed frog that I was given when I had my tonsils removed at age 6.  I don't sleep with them anymore, they aren't particularly beautiful, and I don't let my kids play with them... so why keep them?  I suppose it's because they comforted me during a very stressful event in my childhood.  They made me feel loved.  I can still hug the bear and remember my Grandma Pat's personal scent of freesia and coffee, or hug Froggy and feel my daddy hugging me back.  They keep happy memories close to me.  All the little sentimental tokens I have collected have a similarly warm memory attached and for that reason alone I will keep them.

It occurs to me that their arguments might be more than just whining about change and chores.  Maybe my Princess really is worried that she will forget what she has (or has done) if her things are put out of sight.  She remembers every stuffy's name and who gave it to her.  And what if Birdie really does have her things on display so she can see all her treasures?  It makes her happy to remember where and how she acquired each little thing, so I could believe this.  Knowing this doesn't make their rooms look any less abysmal, though.  Maybe eventually we can work out a compromise... hopefully before they go off to college.

Even though Princess's innumerable stuffies make her room virtually impassible, those same stuffies make her school day manageable.  The stuffed animals have such a positive impact on Princess's success at school that they earned themselves a place in her IEP!  Each day, Princess takes one of her tiny, furry friends to school to keep in her desk.  When she starts feeling anxious, she just reaches in and pets her stuffed critter and her unstable world evens out a bit.  Her stuffed friend goes to music class and fire drills were it is too loud and to assemblies where there is too much touching.  Princess's furry friend is an anchor for her-- literally something to hold onto.   It helps her stay focused in a constantly changing school environment by being reliable and consistant.  It takes P to her happy place while she's away from home.  It also bridges a social gap for Princess by giving her something to talk about with classmates.  Every day several of the kid's in P's class drop by her desk to see the critter of the day.  :)  When I think about her stuffies this way, I understand why they are too important to her to put away.

For my Birdie, having her things at school has a mixed effect.  Birdie's treasures-- her personal library of factoid books, rocks from the playground, paper clips,  a piece of ribbon found in the hall, countless other trinkets-- are comforting to her when she feels emotionally overwhelmed or disorganized.  They help her define her own personal space in a very crowded room.  The same trinkets that provide comfort, however, also contribute to Birdie's disorganization and sometimes her stress.  The copious amounts of things that Birdie collects fills her desk to the point that she can't find her school work.  Even more stressful than losing her work is deciding which of her treasures can no longer stay at school... it's like asking her to pick which body part she feels she can do without.  I feel sad that she needs these things so desperately at school.  She loves these little discoveries and thinks they are all beautiful and important.  I hope that parting with these things she relies on will help her see can make herself a place in the world without "stuff"-- she needs to know she defines her space.  Her trinkets and treasure may make her feel better, but they are just things.  I think she may be too young to know this yet, but she often surprises me with her insight so I'll cross my fingers.   In the meantime, Birdie's teacher and I will help her to get organized everyday so that there is space to collect the next day's treasures.

I wonder if this need for things to hold onto will last forever?  I know I still have a few things collected over a lifetime that I don't want to part with.  Knowing I have these things makes me happy, lets me remember happy times and people I love.  Is that what my daughters' stuffies and treasures do for them?  Probably, but I bet they don't realize that's why they want those things around.  I don't know for sure.  (They usually understand the world much better than I think they do.)  I do know that I need to figure out how to help them find balance and some semblance of organization.  At some point, I am going to have to plow my way through their rooms, find the bed, and change the sheets-- whether they like it or not.


  1. Your writing is getting better. I really enjoyed this one. <3

  2. Maybe they could just have... A whole LOT of clear cubbies along the walls to display their stuff in?

    At some point, though, we all have to decide to let some things go.

  3. Thanks for the feedback, friends! :)

    @ Luke, I will definitely have to look into the clear cubbies. I had shunned the idea in the past because you can still see the stuff inside. I believe seeing the stuff is preferable to the alternative of wading through the stuff, though. :)

  4. My husband and I both have things from our childhood that we refuse to part with. Hopefully your daughters will outgrow keeping everything and want to keep their room a little neater. If not, at least you can close the door! My daughter is only 2 and she seems to have a million stuffed animals. I don't know why people keep giving them to her!