Everywhere I look in my house, there are piles.
Upstairs, there are piles of clothes my children have outgrown. Their ultimate destination is carefully labeled bins in my basement: “Size 4 boys,” “Size 8 and larger,” “School uniforms,” all waiting to be handed down to younger siblings. But somehow the clothes never make it there.
In the living room, there are piles of throw blankets that never seem to get folded. In my bedroom, there are piles and piles of paper — piles of my children’s school papers I want to save, piles of sorted mail to be filed, piles of bills to pay. And, of course, there are the never-ending piles of laundry.
And the millions of piles stacked in every corner and free space on our dining room table are driving me crazy.
I’m not a neat freak by any means, and I expect a mess in a small house with six people. But I do like to have things put away — spice bottles returned to the spice rack, clean clothes hung up in the closet. If I leave a pile of stuff around somewhere, it’s for a reason: this pile of mail needs to be opened and dealt with; this pile of magazines needs to be recycled.
But everyone else in my family seems to be fine with piles with no purpose. My kids see nothing wrong with pulling books off of their shelves, reading them, and sticking them in a pile on the floor next to the bed instead of back on the shelf ... that’s also right next to their bed. My husband, a writer, likes to keep a pile of books on the end table next to his armchair, never mind that’s where I line up our children’s belongings when we need to get us out the door — water cups, snacks, backpacks.
Why am I the only one bothered by clutter?
I know I’m not alone. Moms have gone viral for documenting what I call the stair phenomenon. It goes like this: Moms leave an item on the stairs that’s meant to go up those stairs. Family members walk over the item and swear they didn’t even see it, let alone know it was supposed to go upstairs. To keep things simple, I try to put only obvious items on the stairs in hopes my family will help by carrying them up. The bag full of diapers from CVS? It can only be meant for the baby’s room. Our bathroom cups fresh from a run through the dishwasher? Yep, they go to the bathroom! And yet… there they sit. In piles.
Something has to be done. And before you say it: Yes, I ask my kids and my husband to clean up. Yes, I make them put their laundry in the hamper instead of on the floor. I make jokes about the stair phenomenon, hoping that will mean at least one of the other five people in the house will start to acknowledge that the dress-up clothes I piled at the bottom of the stairs are meant to go back up to the kids’ closet. But it doesn’t always work.
I need a better system. For instance, when my kids get home from school, they should empty their backpacks immediately into the recycle or keep pile — and the keep pile should go immediately into their labeled container of papers I plan to keep from their school year. Drawings they want to keep go on the corkboard for us to admire, and then they go into the recycling bin or the “keep” bin. In theory this sounds great but in practice we are off the rails by day three.
So maybe I just need to purge. I should donate the clothes my last child has grown out of, because who am I kidding — I’m never actually going to post them on Poshmark. I should recycle the coloring pages when my kids aren’t looking. There are definitely some books we’ve outgrown that I should get rid of.
I know part of where this all came from: My parents are the offspring of Great Depression-era parents, and they adopted their parents’ habits of saving everything. My parents also enjoyed collecting things, everything from Hallmark ornaments to sports memorabilia to records, and they passed that on to me, encouraging me to keep my pogs (remember pogs?), my Disney trading cards and, the quintessential collection for a millennial, my Beanie Babies, certain they’d be worth money someday. (To this day, my Beanie Babies still have their tags on them.)
While I’ve retired my holiday Barbies (never taken out of the box) and my American Girl dolls (played with gently to keep them in pristine condition), I do worry I’m passing down the everything-must-be-saved-or-held-on-to-as-long-as possible mentality to my kids.
But, like anything in parenting, I do the best I can, and little by little we make dents in the immense amount of stuff we have in our house. And I try not to let it bother me.
Those stair piles though. If we could work on the stair thing, that would really help.
Lauren Davidson is a Pittsburgh-based writer and editor focusing on parenting, arts and culture, and weddings. She has worked at newspapers and magazines in New England and western Pennsylvania and is a graduate of the University of Pittsburgh with degrees in English and French. She lives with her editor husband, four energetic kids, and one affectionate cat. Follow her on Twitter @laurenmylo.