The collections on the horizontal surfaces in our home's public spaces are particularly annoying to me. The seat side of the kitchen island fills up with loads of paraphernalia so rapidly that it requires a major project to get it cleaned off, even if it was cleaned off just a few days earlier.
Right now the locker bench is giving me fits. Each child has a locker in the family room. The carpeted bench in front of the lockers is currently piled so deep with junk that you'd have to do archaeology to get to the bottom of it. I have repeatedly requested that the kids remedy this situation, but my pleas have fallen on deaf ears. The kids generally won't do anything about it until I get to the ultimatum level, where I promise to eradicate anything I find on the bench after a given date and time. (And I would do it too.)
When the kids actually do move this stuff, it is often only to shift it to another horizontal surface where it doesn't actually belong — whatever requires the least effort at the moment. But when they do this chore, they are always surprised at what their excavations reveal. Stuff that they hadn't thought of for a long time pops up. Even money. And of course, junk that should long ago have been relegated to the rubbish bin. Cries of "I wondered where that had gone," "What is this thing?" and "That's not mine" are common.
And don't even get me started on our storage spaces. Sometimes I think we could brand our house Clutter-R-Us.
So, on a recent visit to the home a friend that is an empty nester, I gazed about the pleasantly uncluttered and well ordered public areas of the house. I wondered if our home would eventually look like that in the future when our kids are on their own.
Thinking about the times our clan would visit my parents' home when our kids were younger, I thought out loud that my friend's home probably didn't look that nice after a visit from the grandkids. My friend responded that this was rarely a problem for him and his wife because "nobody visits anymore." Although I knew that some of his kids lived out of state, I thought that surely his local grandkids visited with some regularity.
My friend responded, saying, "The younger generation doesn't feel a need to do things like that because they figure that everything they need is right here." He cupped his hands as if he was holding a smartphone, moved his thumbs as if he were tapping an imaginary screen, and stared at his hands.
He commented that he sees the same thing when he visits his children and grandchildren that live out of state in "an outdoor adventure wonderland." He noted that they had off-road vehicles, motorcycles, canoes, kayaks, and plenty of outdoor gear. But when he suggests doing those kinds of activities during his visits, his grandkids mostly stare into their mobile devices and mumble something about being busy.
Our kids have grown up with bicycles, skateboards, scooters, and roller blades. But it has surprised me how little they have tended to use these things. My friends and I veritably lived on our bicycles during the warmer months. Not so much with my kids. Their bikes go unused for weeks at a time.
Not long ago when I chided one of my children about this in an attempt to encourage him to spend some time doing outdoor activities, he responded that the only reason we did more of those kinds of things as kids was that we didn't have the "awesomeness" that is now available indoors. He went on to compare the indoor activities I had available to me as a kid with those available to kids nowadays. "If you had then what we had now," he said, "you'd have done the same things we are doing now." That stung a little bit, because I knew he was right.
Still, it seems kind of problematic when we exchange time that once was spent interacting with family staring into various electronic screens. The scriptures teach that in the celestial realm, "the same sociality which exists among us here will exist among us there, only it will be coupled with eternal glory..." (D&C 130:2). It's difficult to imagine people in heaven shutting out those closest to them in favor of entertainment and shallow relationships on a screen.