I'm a bit embarrassed to share these pictures with you, but it's a reality of life with 3 young kids. I walked into Mia's room the other day to find this:
I would love to tell you that this is a rare occurrence but lately it's the norm. There are a few reasons Mia's room regularly looks like a yard sale in a wind storm.....(1) we need to address proper storage and organization needs (2) she has a couple of "get-into-everything" brothers that like to play in her room (3) she has entirely too much stuff and (4) I have not really taught her to take care of her space and consistently held her to doing it.
We'll be addressing the proper storage and organization issues over on the house blog but here's where we need to face #3 and #4 - excess and responsibility/accountability.
Every time I came upon this scene I became frustrated and even angry. Let's clarify...I would become frustrated when I would find Mia's room this way, direct her to clean it up and 15 min later find it in the same condition, with her twirling around in a tutu she picked out from the rubble.
I would end up "helping" her (i.e. cleaning up for her), talk to her about how allowing her room to get this bad is unacceptable, and move on. Surprise! Two days later, same thing.
At one point standing amidst the mountain of toys and clothes, Mia said, "Mama, I don't know how to clean this up". Oh.
I guess I assumed it was obvious to a 4 year old that cleaning up her room was as simple as picking everything up and putting it back where it belongs.
I had been telling Mia to pick up the mess, would leave her to it and return to find no progress. I assumed she was being lazy (and perhaps she was a little). But Mia's room would become so messy that she was starring at an insurmountable task. The job was so overwhelming that she could not even find a place to start or focus on one thing to pick up because she was so distracted by the enormity of it all.
Oh my, she is my daughter. How many times have I felt so overwhelmed by all of my responsibilities, my growing to-do list or emotional stress, that I could not pick a place to start and just stood frozen. Or found some other mindless thing to do to take my mind off it....except instead of twirling around in a tutu, I would hop over to facebook..or email...or whatever.
So, this particular time and the next few after that, I sat and talked her through cleaning up her room. We tried two approaches.
One, stand still and pick up the closest thing to you. Hold it in your hands and ask yourself where it belongs. Then go put it away. Now do it again until everything is picked up.
Or two, look around the room and pick up all the books you can find. Put them away and now do it with your clothes, then dolls, etc.
And make a pile next to the door for anything that belongs in another room.
Both methods were effective and Mia could work with both. Once we were able to see more floor than toys, she was usually able to finish the job on her own without direction. But until then, she would still be so overwhelmed that I would have to direct her each time to the next item.
Now, we discovered a few things in doing this. The first was that not all of Mia's things have a home or one that's really working. And we realized that she has way more than she uses, needs or can properly manage.
I'll be posting more over on the house blog next week about what works and what doesn't as we give Mia's books, toys, clothes, and special things a proper home. We began today by pulling everything out (most of it was already on the floor) and took inventory of all her stuff.
We found 5 pairs of slippers. They were all adorable but how often does Mia wear slippers? Seldom to never. I told her she could keep one and we were giving the rest away. Tears.
As a family we have really been trying to purge of unnecessary items, to live on less, to live simply and to give where we can.
This has been a tough lesson for Mia. And I need to be patient and compassionate with her. We have talked about how blessed we are and how other children have very big needs that we can help with...we've talked about how it's important for us not to be selfish or greedy and to give to others the way God has given to us.
But it is hard for a young heart to understand. Mia gave away 2 pairs of slippers today....maybe she'll give up a third by the time we're done but as much as it's important to instill a sense of giving and detachment from material things in our children, it's also important that they can do this with an open and generous heart, not because they were forced. So, if Mia is willing to give up 2 pairs of slippers today, I'm proud of her.
The next realization was that Mia could manage picking up a small mess on her own. She could take care of the big mess but was frozen by the sense of it being "too much" to handle.
And I can't be upset when she asks for help, because that's what I want her to do when she feels overwhelmed and can't move. I want to teach her to simply start. To do something small. To pick somewhere to begin, and not to just stand frozen. However, if she does find herself in that place, I want her to ask for help.
It's the same thing I need to do. When I'm overwhelmed by it all, I need to just pick something small and start somewhere. When I'm frozen and can't begin, I need to let go of my pride and ask for help or share the struggle with someone who can look at my mound with an outside eye, help direct my first move, or just be with me for a minute. We have a Heavenly Father, family and friends who are here for that very reason.
For our family, this will largely be about building new habits. I have no unrealistic expectations here. There will be days (probably many days) that we leave the house without the kids' bedrooms (or the rest of our home) being perfectly tidy. It's not about perfection, but I do owe it to Mia and the boys to give them a sense of pride of ownership, to teach them how to take care of the things we have and to hold them accountable in their chores/responsibilities.
Making your bed each day is habit. Putting your clothes in the hamper or putting them away when you take them off is a habit. Taking time for daily prayer and quiet is a habit. And carving out a few extra minutes in our daily routine for a quick clean up is a habit. It will take time for all of us to build new habits but even a small effort will make a big difference.
I don't expect Mia's room to be perfect all the time or for her to give away all her favorite possessions. In fact, the mess that happens after a morning of play is beautiful evidence of the joy of childhood. We just need to give her the tools to be successful in keeping her responsibilities, the affirmation needed to face the mountain and the courage to let go and give generously. It will be a learning process for us all!