the definition of insanity

I am sitting in McDonald’s, drinking copious amounts of soda and using their free wifi. I’m trying to be appreciative of this quiet time away from kids and chores, but the truth is, I hate sitting at a plastic table, staring out a plate glass window at a line of cars idling in the drive-through lane. The one saving grace: I brought a little baggie of hard pretzels to go with my sugary fizz.

We’ve reached the final stages of cleaning for this weekend’s reunion. It feels like we’ve been cleaning forever, yet every time I turn around, I see five more things that need attention. It’s weird (and depressing) how that happens. And throughout it all, there is the undercurrent of my daughter’s room.

My daughter’s room is the tragedy of our upstairs. It’s uncleanable. It’s incorrigible. It’s so bad that whenever I go in there my chest seizes up. My husband tried to work in there the other night. When he emerged, he was so frustrated that he was visibly trembling.

“You know what the definition of insanity is?” he barked at me. “Doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results! We have got to do something different!”

To give us a little credit, we have tried. We’ve created cozy corners. We’ve supplied lidded boxes that can be stashed under the bed. We’re rearranged furniture. We’ve forbidden her from messy habits such as sleeping on the floor. We’ve tried to institute daily pick-ups. We’ve confiscated the junk and sold it back to her. We’ve bribed and assisted and lectured. Nothing helps.

This week my husband threw all the junk into one corner of her room (and that’s when he started twitching). Ever since then, the child of the non-immaculate room has been hauling down wash basket loads of stuff. I go through it when she’s not around. Giant stainless steel bowls get filled with trash (I’m dangerously liberal in my definition of the word “trash”) and dumped into garbage bags when she’s not looking. We are filling an enormous black bag full of all sorts of toys that aren’t quite trash but should be. The bag will get stuffed it a dark corner of the barn for a waiting period (i.e. toy purgatory)—if she misses something and can not be distracted, we will at least be able to appease her. 

Our anti-insanity plan is to move her into a closet-sized room—her sister’s. Both girls are excited about the switcheroo. The older girl will lose some privacy (she’ll have to share with her little brother), but we’ll fix up a whole corner of the room for her “studio.” The younger girl will have less space in which to wreak havoc and much less stuff to wreak it with. I’m mildly hopeful.

How do you minimize the bedroom clutter? Because if this doesn’t get better soon, we will go batty-twitchy-crazy. Seriously.

This same time, years previous: burning the burn pile, strawberry cheesecake ice cream, nitpicking,


  • Kathy

    Thank you for being honest and posting this picture. I often feel like I am a bad mom because my house isn't perfect like other pictures that are posted on blogs… This picture could have easily come from my daughter's room.

    We are anxiously waiting for her 1 month trip to Germany this summer when we will clean, build, paint and pretty much give her a clean room when she comes back… Of course, it will probably take her 2 days to bring it back to the original disastrous state…

    Seriously, thank you.

  • Kirsten

    Having been a pathologically messy child, I'm with Kris on this. Just make sure there's a good door on her room and that it stays closed. Intervene only if there are obvious health and sanitation hazards. Expect her (force her!) to develop neat habits in all other areas of the house and have her take care of exporting and importing laundry and linens if her space is too difficult for adult-sized people to navigate.

    The youngest child in a house full of neat-freaks, I NEEDED space that was my own, and I appreciate now that they were open enough to allow me to have it. Dad likes to show off his pictures of my wrecked bedroom now.

  • Ayrie Joyce

    I've started having my son (7) clean his room for 7 minutes about 3-4 times per week. He puts away what he can, makes a pile for things that belong somewhere else in the house and throws away trash. I tell him to focus on the floor first and then to pick a hot spot – for him this is his desk and the toy corner. I set the timer and then I stay out of his way – when the timer goes off I inspect. If he's done a good job he gets a small reward (piece of candy, a few minutes of computer time, etc.). Then sometime over the weekend he needs to gather up all of his dirty clothes and take care of what's on the floor so that he can vacuum. This method seems to ensure that there is at least a path to the bed, and he doesn't feel overwhelmed. He knows that 7 minutes is a short time – so it's do able. He rarely complains any more. His room is far from perfect, but at least it's not a fire hazard, and we're not battling over the state of his room any more either. You might want to check out FlyLady She has some good ideas for getting kids to take responsibility for their own messes.

  • the domestic fringe

    This is always a problem in my house. I try to give my kids some grace, because my room was messy until about 2 years into my marriage. My daughter's room is mainly clothes thrown everywhere and that's not too hard to clean up, but my son's room has been a mega disaster for a long time. Recently we (he and I) went through everything and really downsized his room. He was ready too. Then I got rid of a broken dresser and replaced it with those plastic stackable drawers. Right after Christmas we also bought organizers that mount on the wall and I sorted ALL the legos. That helped a lot. I struggle with organization anyway, but I'm really, really trying to find a place for everything and eliminate unnecessary clutter. I think it's a process.

    Best of luck with the room switch-a-roo. I hope it works for you. Sorry I left such a long comment too.

  • Anonymous

    I have a messy kid pick up ten things in her room a day. That's all. "Did you pick up your ten things?" After that, I don't care. It keeps it manageable, not immaculate. And the child has some power/choice over what ten things, doesn't have time to get distracted, and gets to appreciate the results.

  • Beth Brubaker

    Every 6 months, I have my kids put ALL of their toys in trash bags for me to look through. They fussed when I first did this, but they got used to it. I went through the bags (it usually took me two weeks- just so they would get used to the idea of having NOTHING in their rooms- save for maybe a toy they couldn't do without- but JUST one)…I tossed the broken toys or the ones with missing pieces, and the rest was displayed on a table. The kids were then allowed to 'go shopping' with a limited number of toys to pick (usually 5-6 total, toy cars being considered '1' per 10 cars). The rest were donated.

    It sounds harsh, but after not having much for two weeks, they were happy with their choices, there was no clutter to deal with, and they were HAPPIER. No fighting over toys, no whining about who had more, etc. and they knew what was not used was going to kids who had less than they did. All around good stuff!

    • Rachelle

      I think I could have used this as a kid. My space was a constant mess and I didn't always enjoy it. I have a hard time letting go of things for some reason (no loss in my family so I don't know where it comes from) but nowdays I like to take my extra stuff to the Salvation Army or donate to places that will take used goods. It makes me feel better to not a lot of clutter that I'm not using taking up space and know I'm trying to help out people who have less.

      Of course, I still have my collections but I'm trying to be much better about how much space that stuff takes up.

  • teekaroo

    She must be an artist. At least the artists in my family are like that. You should see my sister's house…

    My kids? No idea how to work on it. I finally started down the hallway, shaking out a big garbage bag and that seemed to motivate them in a hurry.

  • Kris

    I figure that her room is her space and not my business. That way I keep my peace of mind and she keeps her control. One of my girls prefers her room clean and the other girl's room rivals your girl's room for chaos. Why make yourself in charge of her space? Let her decide how she wants her space to be and she may never keep it the way you would prefer. Think of it as your opportunity to practice letting go and getting centered even in the midst of unsettling external circumstances. Or just avoid her room…

  • Michelle @ Give a Girl a Fig

    I love the idea of toy purgatory"…chances are they won't miss whatever it is. But it's good just in case!

  • ShelahN

    I just told one of mine tonight, "There is no breakfast tomorrow until this mess is cleaned up" (And that will include lunch and dinner too if he/she were to get stubborn)

  • Margo

    ha, 1 out of 4 is not bad, don't you think?

    When our toys start getting messy, I start pruning down the toys ruthlessly. My theory is that the kids are overwhelmed and don't where to start with cleanup. This works for me, too.

  • Suburban Correspondent

    I am truly your sister in suffering here. Just stay on top of the mess, is all. A smaller room is a great idea.

  • KTdid

    All I can say is…eventually it ends (at least for you). I, too, had a "pathologically" (my term) messy child. It was (still is) incomprehensible to me how anyone could stand to live in such chaos. (Sorry to say, it did not end. But I'm no longer in charge of the mess!)

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