The life cycle of clutter begins with small, manageable collections of things you’ll deal with later: a neat stack of mail you don’t have time to read, a broken toy you can’t fix right now because it’s lunch time, a few pairs of shoes that seem to multiply by the door.
The collections grow. Neat stacks become piles. Piles become mounds. Mounds are occasionally manhandled back into something approximating neat stacks.
Don’t get me wrong, my husband and I aren’t slobs . . . exactly. We don’t leave molding pizza boxes lying on our coffee table, and we’re rarely more than seven loads behind on the laundry. However, we do enable each other’s tendency to clutter; he ignores my teetering columns of 12×12 scrapbooking paper, I overlook his “change tray” that’s so full of change (and spare keys and old receipts and paper clips) that I only know there’s a tray under there from memory.
But we also have similar tolerance levels for disorder; we can only take the mess for so long before the visual chaos drives us crazy and we both declare ENOUGH! We must recycle every paper! Toss every broken toy! Scrub every surface! Sentimental attachments and good intentions are nothing in the face of our relentless cleaning.
So we found ourselves one weekend, in the throes of a cleaning frenzy normally reserved for the third-trimester nesting mania of pregnant women. As countertops were revealed and corners of the floor previously occupied by items earmarked as Target returns finally saw the light of day, our 4-year-old got bored. “I want to help!” she insisted, but we were focused and methodical, no time for a toddler’s haphazard sorting skills or vacuum phobias.
Then I had a moment of parenting (and cleaning) inspiration. “Do you want to polish the floors?” I asked, eyebrows raised in the universal parental expression that overemphasizes the promise of fun.
With her enthusiastic, “YES!” I trotted off to the hall closet. I returned a few seconds later — with two panty liners.
I spritzed them with floor cleaner.
And I stifled a laugh as I stuck them to the bottoms of her feet.
Such a simple solution. She happily slid around the kitchen, laughing and skating until I couldn’t tell where the fun ended and the chore began.
So I took a page from her book and made more room for smiling in my work. I read old birthday cards before filing them away. We played with bubbles in the sink instead of scouring it with bleach gel. I skimmed a magazine article before slipping it into the recycling bin. It was a slower way to tidy up, and probably not as effective, but it felt good. It felt like we were purging more than just a bunch of old magazines and mail.
When we were finished, we invited my in-laws over to celebrate before the place fell to shambles again. “Oh, don’t be too impressed,” I demurred when they complimented us. “It didn’t look like this at 8 A.M., and it won’t look like this tomorrow.”
I couldn’t find the words to explain how simply changing my attitude (and, I guess, lowering my standards) had made cleaning so much easier. Or to explain what it does for us, psychologically, to be able to let our tired eyes rest on the tranquility of a smooth, polished table, free of the things we meant to deal with later.
But I had an even harder time finding the words to explain those “fun sticky cleaning pads for your feet” that my daughter kept raving about.
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This post was written by Robyn Welling exclusively for BonBon Break Media, LLC.