It is a scientific fact that you can tell your child 500 times to clean his room and he will not hear you, but he will definitely hear the crinkle of a bag of potato chips opened surreptitiously after bedtime. I look at his bedroom and am struck by the thought that housekeeping skills just might be hereditary. It’s kind of scary in there, cluttered, like the inside of my handbag. I look at it and see a giant mess. He doesn’t see it that way. He sees a museum.
My son hangs onto everything. He struggles to let things go. He remembers who bought him what, on what occasion and everything is incredibly precious and meaningful. Like objects are grouped and form exhibits, documenting the phases of his childhood: the train phase, the dinosaur phase, the car phase. He is a highly protective museum docent who is deeply concerned about loss prevention. Every so often, I attempt to get him to relinquish some of his artifacts.
On room cleaning days, I try to channel all the skills I’ve learned by watching too many hours of Hoarders on TV. I reason, coach and cajole. I bargain for the release of toys long outgrown like a skilled hostage negotiator. What I really need is one of those bullhorn things to make sure my message is received.
“Liam, put your hands up and release the box of stuffed animals you haven’t touched in a year. They want to be in a home where they are played with and if you let them go, you will make room in your closet for new toys. Everybody wins.” It’s like a stake out, I’m camped out with coffee, watching for any signs of movement inside.
And this has lead to my sons new founded interest in signs. I let him know that the state of his room needed to be addressed pronto. He agreed. He sat himself down with a piece of paper and a sharpie. This seemed a rather unorthodox method to clean a bedroom, but I was cautiously optimistic… until he spoke.
“Mommy,” he said, “how do you spell KEEP OUT?”
This was not going as planned. At all. I explained that he couldn’t just put up a sign to keep people out of his room. He would have to clean it the old fashioned way. I tried to make him understand how sick I am of looking at that big mess. He smiled sweetly and closed the door. The problem was solved from his perspective. In that moment, I realized I would probably have to ask him another 500 times to get the room cleaned, and I would reward myself with a crinkly bag of potato chips after bedtime.