A young mother of my acquaintance was recently bemoaning the fact that her kids forever seem to have messy bedrooms. Although that young mother is my daughter, because those kids are my grandchildren, I was quick to jump to their defense.
“You and your sister were not exactly neat-freaks at that age,” I said. “Don’t you remember how I used to remind you all the time about tidying your rooms?”
“Remind us?” my daughter replied. “I’d say it was more like ranting and raging!”
“No way!” I said. But, I did have to admit their mother and I resorted to some sneaky strategies to correct the problem.
Basically, our daughters were never messy about themselves. They took pains to dress nicely, they kept their teeth cleaned and their hair brushed neatly, and they looked after their belongings. It’s just that they didn’t keep their rooms in good order. And that drove their parents to distraction.
It was always difficult to understand this apparent anomaly, how two girls who weren’t shambolic by nature could have such untidy rooms. My wife and I tried to convince ourselves that the messiness was, perhaps, nothing more than a statement of burgeoning selfhood and a need for privacy, independence, and freedom.
That made us feel good about the girls’ developing personalities, but it did little to assuage our concern with the chaos in the bedrooms.
Typically, the following scene might have greeted you if you were to walk into either of their rooms. The bed, almost always made up as soon as they got up in the morning (which was good!), would be covered with an assortment of articles and clothing. Those articles—which could have been schoolbooks, backpacks, dolls, portable radios, magazines, and so forth—were always things they claimed they were “not finished with yet.”
The clothing, which might have numbered as many as three or four different combinations of blouses and skirts, were “not dirty yet.” The dirty stuff, we had long since discovered, was often lying under the bed.
Two or more of the dresser drawers might be slightly open, with perhaps some pieces of clothing hanging partially out. The top of the dresser would be hidden underneath various impedimenta that adorned it. Previously-used glasses and dishes were sometimes among those items.
The closet door would be ajar, mainly because shoes and other articles were blocking it from closing. In the dim interior, blouses and dresses would be seen drooping at odd angles from the hangers—those that hadn’t fallen to the floor.
Scattered across the carpet, strewn in an apparently-random pattern, you’d see shoes and sandals of mixed pairings.
“What’s wrong with it, Dad?” I would hear when I dared to comment on the condition of the rooms. “I know right where everything is!”
“Oh yeah?” I once countered, brilliantly (I thought). “Then how come you couldn’t find your jacket this morning?”
“Because somebody hung it up in the hall closet without telling me!”
End of discussion.
Their mother and I, whenever we encountered certain of the girls’ idiosyncrasies that didn’t appeal to us, employed a system of logical consequences to change their behaviour. And it had always worked.
For example, if they didn’t clear off their dishes after supper, they were served their breakfast the following morning on the unwashed plates. We didn’t have to do that too often to bring about the desired result.
Or, if they put their dirty clothes into the clothes hamper inside-out, they got them back, washed and neatly folded, but still inside-out. When that little ploy stopped working (they actually started wearing the inside-out items to defy us), we stopped washing any items that weren’t turned right-side out. Eventually, of course, they became responsible for doing their own laundry.
But, nothing we tried had any discernible effect on the messy bedrooms. The best we were ever able to do was get them to dust and clean once a week. Of course, when they discovered that charm-bracelets, ankle-socks, and tiny briefs would be sucked up the vacuum hose, they soon realized everything had to be picked up and put away before they could start.
We used to try to visit the rooms right after they were finished, just to see what they looked like in a pristine state, because in a matter of a few hours they’d be right back to their previous disarray. Cleaner, to be sure, but messy once again.
At that stage, for our own sanity, we decided it would be prudent to let the girls express their feelings of selfhood by leaving their rooms messy. And we began to insist their bedroom doors be closed so we didn’t have to close our eyes as we went by!
In any event, I’m not sure the recent conversation with my daughter convinced her I was right about how it used to be. But, if it buys my granddaughters some flex-room, it will all have been worth it.
They love me.