Monday, March 26, 2012

Stuff Wars


We built our home before we had any children. Each child in turn learned to eat meals while seated in a high chair. (That chair desperately needed to be retired after five children.) Each child in turn moved from the high chair to the counter.

In the early days we had four sturdy backed bar stools pulled up to the dining room side of the counter. We soon learned to hate these chairs. They were high enough that a young child could sit on a cushion atop the stool and still access the counter. But this made them top-heavy enough that tipping over was relatively frequent. We tired of our children getting injured by this mean.

When we did a little remodeling, we replaced our four sturdy bar stools with four legless swivel stools that were attached to the counter. The problem with tipping stools was forever over.

But this introduced a new problem that would only become apparent as the children aged. Due to compromises made with the original construction, the stools could only swivel out so far. Available leg space at these stools eventually proved too cramped for boys getting their teen growth spurt.

When our fifth child was ready to move from the high chair to the counter, it became necessary for our oldest child to move to the dining table to free up a spot at the counter. While this provided more physical comfort for his legs, it seemed like an exile of sorts. That is, until his brother hit his growth spurt and joined him at the table.

We still have two children occupying spots at the counter, where we fight a constant battle with stuff. From their early childhood each child has viewed the counter space in the proximity of his or her stool as an acceptable place for storing personal items. As our older children have migrated to the dining table, the younger children have gradually spread their stuff over a greater portion of the counter.

A few years ago when we added onto the home, my wife had lovely lockers built to hold the kids’ stuff. Not only did each child end up with her or his own bedroom, each now had a locker in which to store gear. My wife hoped that this arrangement would remedy some of our counter storage problems. But it hasn’t. The kids just have more stuff piled in more places.

We are constantly getting kids to move stuff off the counter. But this requires exceptional vigilance. Every few weeks we have some gathering or event that requires that the counter and the table be fully cleared.  It seems amazing to see the space empty of junk. But the moment the event is over stuff appears on these spaces and begins to multiply.

A childhood friend of mine once told me that the children in his family were not permitted to enter the family’s living room prior to reaching adulthood. I thought his whole home was immaculate, but its spotlessness paled in comparison to the living room.

One day as we stood in the yard, my friend carefully made sure he knew his parents were otherwise occupied before leading me to a large picture window. Beyond the window was the forbidden living room. Everything was white: walls, couches, chairs, carpet, tables, fixtures, piano, d├ęcor, etc.

The furniture was protected with fitted covers that were only removed when the room was used for entertaining. I had never before seen a living room that was separated from the remainder of the home by two locked doors. “This,” my friend exclaimed, “is what us kids call the celestial room.” I was stunned to find out that he had never even been inside the room.

Our home isn’t like that. While the family engages in weekly chores to tidy up, dust, vacuum, and clean bathrooms, we have plenty of unnecessary clutter. Most of the surfaces in our home could be cleaned better. We no longer have toddler toys strewn about; although, we do have some dog toys.

No, our home isn’t the cleanest place in the world. But it is a home. Years ago I saw in a kitchen a plaque that read, “Clean enough to be healthy; messy enough to be home.” That more or less describes our house.

I’m afraid that our kids are only following our examples when they store personal stuff on the counter and on the table. My wife and I have plenty of clutter stored on various horizontal surfaces in the home. So, in some distant future when we become empty nesters, we might simply find ourselves battling our own stuff instead of our kids’ clutter.

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