Growing up, my blue-and-white bedroom was what my parents called “showroom perfect.” My sheets were stripped and washed (by me) every Saturday. The books lining my shelf were alphabetized; my cassettes were grouped by artist. If I had, say, three George Michael tapes, they’d be stacked chronologically.
Everything had its place; I never spent more than 15 seconds looking for a pen or hairbrush.
This trend, this hyper-organization-personal-space-perfection continued through college, early adulthood and into the first few years of my marriage.
Then came the kids.
When they were babies, all their bright plastic playthings lived in two oversized rattan bins in our living room. It was easy keeping their clutter under control; nothing was going to get in the way of my showroom-perfect house.
Now that they’re older, toys are strewn consistently from one end of the living room to the other. Up and down the stairs. I’ve found wee Barbie stilettos in my running shoes and crayons in my underwear drawer. I find LEGOS everywhere so often that when I vacuum, I accidentally-on-purpose suck up the little ones, the ones I’ve stepped on too many times in bare feet, the ones I’ve asked, begged, threatened my son to gather. Too bad you didn’t pick them up the first 300 times I asked, I’ll think to myself.
In our living room we have this closet where all the toys are stashed at the end of the day. There’s never been a rhyme or reason to what belongs in there, just as long as it fit. As long as you could sort of walk to the back and grab a sweater without breaking your ankle, it was considered just fine.
It was considered “just fine” to everyone in my house but me. Miss Type A. So I implemented The System.
One afternoon I spent two hours separating LEGOS, Barbies, paper dolls, crayons, tiny cars, books, dress-up clothes and stuffed animals. Activities we do together: reading; coloring; board games stayed downstairs. The larger trucks, airplanes and fire stations lined the closet shelves. Everything else was shipped up to the kids’ room in neat little bins, stacked at eye level in their closet.
To make it even easier, I put a bin marked “upstairs toys” on one of the shelves. Anything that made its way downstairs was to be dropped into this bin for me to take upstairs at day’s end. On this bin I drew pictures of LEGOS, Barbies and magic wands and gave my family a tutorial. This was The System. I felt so wonderful, so clean, so organized.
Within two weeks The System was destroyed. I couldn’t believe it and took it personally. Am I the only person in this house that cares?
I’d gather Barbies and palm-sized police cars from the back of the closet, toss them into the Upstairs Toys bin with way too much drama and mutter, “Nobody respects The System!”
Then something happened. I toured my son’s future kindergarten classroom, where he will be attending, full-time, in the fall. I got a little (a lot) sentimental thinking back to all the Matchbox cars I’ve tripped over. All the times I’ve threatened to throw out every toy if he didn’t help me clean up. All the times he’s picked up his toys without me even having to ask. The messes my kids make now are going to give way to other messes, like broken hearts and friend drama. Messes that aren’t as easy to fix.
So even though not everyone respects The System all the time, I’m learning to relax my grip on my quest for perfection. Life’s easier that way.
Gillian Van Cooney is a San Diego-based writer, wife and stay-at-home mom to two kids, Dane and Kylie. Besides her family, a fresh pedicure and color-coordinating her closet, Gillian loves cooking, running, yoga and reading.