I love my house, but it’s quite modest in size (especially given that I have four kids) and we, like most people, aren’t in a position where we can update and refresh any time I have the whim or inspiration. I am fine with all that because I like the fact that every space is used to the fullest and we enjoy and really live in our house. However, I do like to keep things tidy and organized.
In a house like ours, if each person leaves one pair of shoes out—all of a sudden, the front hall looks like a shoe store with a bad display of 12 shoes in sizes running from child’s 10 to men’s 11. How I maintain my home is not only a direct reflection of me as a person but also of the professional me as a designer. Most importantly, I work out of my home, so I spend a lot of time there. I cherish the idea of it feeling peaceful and organized—a respite from our otherwise chaotic lives.
This sets the stage for my recent struggle of trying to get one of my children to clean his room before heading off to camp for a month. In the past, once my kids went off to camp, I brought multiple trash bags up to their rooms and combed through old papers, clothes and knick-knacks, organizing and throwing out in some kind of therapeutic ritual. At the end of my frenzy, the room was fit for a professional photograph and admission into my design portfolio…well, maybe not quite…but nonetheless, it was definitely presentable and clean.
During the year, I expect the kids to generally keep their rooms picked up and tidy, making their beds in the morning, and it's typically not a major issue until teenager-dom hits. Once my son turned 13, all the surfaces in his room became permanent sites for leftover gum wrappers, balled up papers, dishes, glasses and other items we supposedly don’t usually have upstairs. After growing 5 inches in four months, he had his outgrown clothes splayed on the floor as if no drawer was worthy of holding them. Nobody was permitted to go through his STUFF, much less enter his room without top security clearance. I decided he was both old enough and responsible enough to do a major clean-up on his own.
After school got out for the summer, I suggested that he might embark on the task of really cleaning out his room. I pointed out that he could go through the notebooks from the school year and discard whatever he didn’t need; look through old clothes to pass down the outgrown ones to younger siblings; pick up trash, papers and other miscellaneous items; even create a system to organize his things (getting a bit hopeful there!). He said he would, but never did it.
When I asked him again, he said he would, acted very determined and actually brought a trash bag up to his room. After about two hours of loud music behind his closed door he emerged as if he was done. I braced myself for “The Big Reveal.” I pictured the pristine room of yesteryear…perfectly appointed and ready for the portfolio….not so much! The room looked 10 times messier. His carpet floor was covered with clothes, papers, notebooks and other items. He proudly announced that he had gone through his desk but the rest was “in process”. I said OK, but at some point in the near future the whole room had to be clean and organized.
We went through a similar exercise the next week with more muttering about “the process.” In the meantime, he announced that he had lost his phone and his good sunglasses. I suggested that this was further motivation to really go through everything—that maybe those two things that he cared about would emerge. He seemed to hear me but nothing happened. I started to wonder—is this just how teenagers are? Are some teenagers neat and organized?
I have to point out that my son is far from a slacker. He is a straight-A student who has never in his life missed an assignment or had to be reminded to do his homework; he gets himself up and out every school morning for his 7 a.m. bus; easily takes on the responsibility of watching younger siblings when we need him to do so; teaches Tae Kwon Do, takes the Metro downtown on his own and the list goes on. How could such a competent boy be unable to grasp the idea of actually cleaning his room?
Finally, after hearing us discuss/argue about this, the youngest member of our family (age 4) announced he would clean his own room. He eagerly went through drawers filled with toys and other miscellaneous items he hocked from his siblings' rooms. He took a box and filled it up with things he didn’t want in his room anymore. He organized his stuffed animals on his bed. He put the teenage son to shame!
Perhaps spurred on by his 4-year-old brother—or more likely to find his Ray Bans that he bought with his own money—he finally did it! He cleaned every surface, went through all the clothes, picked up all the trash and brought kitchen items downstairs. It was a slow and painful process but finally done! I will relish in the delight of the clean space for one month…until he returns from camp with two huge duffel bags of clothes covered in camp grime.
Deborah B. Scheck is the founder of Deborah B. Scheck Interiors, LLC. For more information, please visit www.scheckdb.com.