Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Welcome to the Jungle...

I have always wondered what walking into a rain forest would feel like, and I have even gone as far as comparing that type of excitement to the adrenaline shot of venturing into a strange city. Yesterday, I entertained yet another thought: how has my daughter’s room come to resemble both of those places? After postponing cleaning out her bedroom and play area for a while – I think that’s part of the survival instinct to avoid something that can mean sure loss into the impenetrable – I woke up yesterday morning determined to organize those rooms. Pretty sure I was going to need a gun or a machete to make my way through, but not wanting to scare the kids on my way up, I instead grabbed a handful (a big one!) of large garbage bags and headed toward her room.

I entered Morgan’s room with a slightly elevated heartbeat, my body already knowing I was going to need extra coffee to undertake this task. The scene unfolding in front of my eyes was the mother of all jungles and could put the Big Apple to shame: toys were staring at me from every inch of the floor, as if daring me to come in; her bed was covered in little scraps of drawing paper she had shredded an hour before for a project, and her desk was covered by so many knick-knacks that I couldn’t tell the color of the plastic underneath. I took a deep breath and walked in, ignoring the evil stare of toys stubbornly guarding the entrance to the area under her bed. That was another reality altogether, which I wasn’t all too eager to enter yet.

I made my way to the bed and sat down, trying to figure out where I was going to start. I got rid of the scraps of paper, and put her unworn clothes back into the closet, barely making a dent. A decision had to be made and I needed to figure out something fast before she got back. I tried to think about what she would not miss, what she no longer used, and I continued coming up with a blank. All those toys, once I picked them up, brought something nice back to mind, and I had a hard time throwing them out; even giving them to charity, I felt like I was discarding memories. This approach wasn’t working, until I thought of a different way to tackle the problem…

What if, rather than selecting things she no longer needed, I focused on deciding which things she actually had a use for? Were there a few toys she absolutely couldn’t do without, that she played with every day? Were there any knick-knacks that were particularly dear to her heart or mine?

Feeling a solution was finally dawning, I looked around the room to collect the irreplaceable – a stuffed tiger she had since babyhood, a few board games she loves to play on rainy days, her art supplies, Hello Kitty and her clothes, and a few other pieces of memorabilia. After setting those objects to the side, I looked again, to make sure I hadn’t missed anything important; then, I opened the bags and, one at a time, I filled them without even looking. Very soon, the impenetrable jungle looked like a manicured garden.

I left the room completely satisfied, and Morgan never even missed the things I took out. In fact, she walked into her room and clapped her little hands, saying that everything looked great. Never once did her thoughts wander to the myriad of happy meal toys in a basket under her bed, or to the dress-up set she HAD to have last year and had quickly outgrown. She didn’t miss those things because she never really cared for them; they were just there, an unseen part of her room d├ęcor or lack of.

Cleaning Morgan’s room made me think of how many times we focus our energy on deciding what we need to remove from our lives to make them work, when instead it would be so much easier to think of what we need in them and rid ourselves of the rest that no longer serves us. Humans are hoarders by nature, regardless if the loot is toys, clothes or merely emotions and past experiences. Surely we can approach a cleansing by picking up each individual thing and looking at it again, but most likely, we will only pick it up, find a reason to keep it, and end up just as cluttered as we were in the first place. Sometimes, spring cleaning starts with a simple assessment of what we can’t do without; the rest we can always send to Goodwill.