I just want a clean, peaceful house

When I was a child, I frequently would rearrange my bedroom furniture, go through my desk and drawers and sort and purge-although I certainly didn’t call it that at the time-and generally kept my room very organized; silver bracelets in one jewelry box, gold S-link chains in another; Jim Croce and John Denver cassettes in one shoebox and Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, James Taylor and Joni Mitchell in another. You get the picture.

My mother kept a very orderly house, and I suppose I just followed suit. Nurture or nature?

When I had my first child, I initially was completely overwhelmed at the amount of “stuff” that took over our home. How many brightly colored plastic objects did one child need, especially since the box it came in seemed to be far more interesting than the toy itself? How many days did I sit in the middle of the floor, surrounded by rattles, blocks and cloth books, loving my little baby yet desperate for some semblance of order in my home?

Four years later, we had our second child. By then I was at peace with the “stuff.”

As the kids grew, clean-up naturally became part of the play. After all, it was just as fun to put the blocks in the box as it was to take them out. I assumed that as they got older, putting away their toys, making sure the puzzles had all their pieces, and relishing, like me, the sight of a neat and tidy playroom would be a part of the natural order of things.

I know you’re all laughing at me right now.

When it was time for preschool, we enrolled them at a local Montessori school. Among the many wonderful things presented to children was the idea of putting their work away when they were done so that it was ready for the next person to use. I was saved! Surely this process of putting things away would translate to our home.

And it did. For a while.

I adopted what I could from the Montessori model: I placed materials at eye level, rotated the toys so our children weren’t overwhelmed by the choices, put picture labels (before they could read) on the containers so that putting things away was easy. It seemed to be working very nicely.

Soon, though, clean-up no longer was fun. My husband and I, with a shortage of time and patience, did the work for them.

Our kids are now 13 and 17. We have one child who vacuums, does laundry and does not like things on the floor, and one whose room holds piles of rubber bands, old computer parts and gum wrappers.

God’s little joke on me. Nature or nurture-clearly a combination.

We spend our lives acquiring and accumulating, then one day we turn around and we feel suffocated by those very same things.

I believe it never is too early to teach children to respect and take care of their things, not only to respect the toy, but also the hard-earned dollars that purchased it. Understanding the value of things is a lesson for life. I also believe that organization can be learned, and it can be fun.

My motto has become, “don’t let organizing scare you.” They’re just things, meant to be enjoyed and appreciated and make our lives easier and perhaps more efficient. But at the end of the day, we need to be able to catch our breath, find our car keys and feel at peace in our own homes.

I love it that when my children have downtime at home, they are able to relax and let it all go, at least for a little while. The chaos of the outside world is left outside when they close the door and our home is a comfortable, light filled and peaceful place-unless, of course, they’re wrestling. But that’s another story.

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