The girls and I have been “doing” their room. Doing is the all purpose term I’m bandying about in the place of decluttering or cleaning or some other scary word that could possibly be associated with chores. There is no small power in being vague, and doing makes it sound like it could be a dance or something. “Doing” your room. See? Could be fun, couldn’t it? If you were a teenager and your mother said “be sure and come home right after school, we’re going to start doing your room” then you might think, for one glorious and gracious moment that doing your room might not actually be cleaning your room and throwing away half of your stuff.
If you were a teenager and I was your mother, I might even get a couple of hours of labour out of you when you came home from school before you and your sister figured out that “doing” isn’t really that much fun and you should start making up reasons why you can’t help me, your mother. You might say that you can’t help because exams are coming up and you have to read Frankenstein and Brave New World so you can compare them, or you might say that you really, really have to practice guitar, an activity that you ordinarily have to be tied to a kitchen chair to perform. You might in fact, if you were my husband, even break your leg on a canoe trip to get out of it, once you figured out what “doing meant, and once your wife said something like “we’re going to be “doing” all the rooms!” and looked suspiciously at the box of old and musty “High Times” magazines in the basement. (Having seen the level of avoidance developing around here, I am beginning to wonder if Joe’s injury is a coincidence or if he suddenly thought it might be worth it to fling himself onto a dock with enough force to shatter bone. Anybody’s call really. I’m about to begin considering giving myself an injury to avoid cleaning another closet… so who am I to judge.)
In any case, we have been doing the rooms, and two of the girls share a room. I know, I know. It’s practically an offence under the Geneva convention, but they share a room anyway. (At our trial for the war crime of forcing prisoners to share a bedroom, their lawyer will also point out that we have one TV and one bathroom that doesn’t have a shower. Joe and I are prepared to flee the country.) Once I got them pinned down, the two of them have been incredible. Totally awesome. De-cluttering machines. They each easily filled a big, big bag to go to charity and things are looking way up in there. Floor space has been revealed. Closet space has been regained. Tremendously exciting times, although, there have been a few stumbling blocks. Sam can’t part with some of her soft toys and Meg flatly refused to negotiate the Barbies. Now, at 14 and 16, I did not think these were going to be what resonated for them, but this isn’t about getting rid of your stuff, it’s about freeing up space. I’m not asking them to get rid of anything they love, just to sort out what it is that they love enough to keep… and with this lack of pressure, with knowing that they won’t have anything taken from them, they’ve found it very easy to let go… as have I….
right up until we got to the bins under the bed.
Under their bed are two bins, entirely filled with the dress-up clothes representing the entire childhood of my three girls. If you’re Canadian and grew up watching Mr. Dressup, then you will know that this is our Tickle Trunk, even though it is two Ikea underbed storage bins and not a trunk. In the bins are wonderful things. A bridal veil, a peignoir. A vest crocheted out of wire, a santa hat. A dinosaur costume, a ball gown, a chef’s hat… you could be anything with what’s in there. There are boots and high heels and a devil costume and a pair of wings…
I sewed things, my mum rustled things up at garage sales, The girls got gifts just to fill the tickle trunk and they played with it all the time. Wee girls trouping all around my house exploring the world of possibility without leaving the house – but it wasn’t our house. It was a castle, and a swamp and then an airplane and they were pirates and princess and ladybirds and monsters. They were ladies and faithful servants and mothers and criminals. They ran bakeries, butterfly lemonade stands, did heart transplants and drove pretend jeeps in the desert. They were everything and anything and they played and played and sorted difficulties, ran empires and put on musicals in the living room. (I know this, because I bought a lot of tickets in order to attend.)
The stuff that was in those boxes was the basis of virtually all play in this house for years and years and years. The ladies were still hauling stuff out of those boxes until they were 12 or so. I don’t know if kids still play dress-up, or if these sorts of toys and games have been abandoned in favour of WII and Ipods. I also don’t know if there is any difference between kids who grow up with props like this feeding their imaginations and kids who don’t, but I do know that when the moment came to pull out those ratty boxes, nobody moved.
Nothing in there fits my now adult sized children, it won’t be used again here. It’s taking up space for no reason, and those two boxes should be the first victims when a family is “doing” a room. I know that those boxes of clothes and costumes have outlived their usefulness, were they ever useful, and I know that absolutely nobody is going to want to have a pirate lunch (Joe excepted, but this stuff won’t fit him) ever again. This box is full of useless old stuff… We are on a mission to get rid of useless old stuff. That room is so tiny and is shared by two kids and there’s nowhere to put anything…so can you tell me why not a single person in this family, not one of us… is willing to take a single item, not even a toddler size mouse costume, out of the tickle trunk?
I’m leaving it for today, mostly because I’m leaving. I’ve got a plane to Philadelphia today, and the Philadelphia book fair tomorrow. I‘m speaking at 12, inside on the main stage, and signing after. Should be tons of fun, and hey, if you don’t want to hear me? Barbara Walters is on the same stage at 5. (You need a free ticket to see her though.) If you’re near there, please come and say Hi.
(Ps. Chicago has been rebooked and we’re having a do-over. Details here, and on the tour page as soon as I can manage.)