I Am A Neat Freak, But I Let My Kids Control Their Own (Messy) Rooms

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I like clean surfaces and clutter-free rooms. I am a minimalist (until I walk into a shoe store) so having too much shit around me makes me go to my bad place. My kids know they need to pick up their stuff, or I will do it for them. And sometimes that means Mama puts their bag of candy in the garbage if it is spread out all over the counter for a day and a half after I’ve repeatedly asked them to pick it up and they keep “forgetting.” I wish I didn’t see the messes for what they were: big piles of junk that make my head spin. I wish I was able to welcome the smudges on the fridge, and the sink full of dirty dishes after dinner with a bit more grace, but I have tried, and I don’t know how to do it. I see a mess. I need it to be gone. But I have one exception: my kids’ rooms.

When I walked into my son’s room recently, I saw six beakers full of secret potions he concocted months ago and noticed something blossoming on the top of one. Gross, I know. But my son said, “Please never touch it because this is exactly what was supposed to happen.” I have no idea what it is. I just know he is out of his mind about it, and I love seeing him in his element. So I don’t touch it. I will never touch it.

His solar flower dances in the sun on his windowsill alongside of all of his solar cars. His Legos are in a pile in the corner. His side table is piled high with books and some of his favorite pens. It is his own paradise, a host for epic blanket forts, and I want it to stay that way. It is his space to imagine and create and play, not mine to destroy. And I can’t even talk about the dead dandelions sitting in their waterless vase because he believes he is turning them into wishes. Yes, he certainly is.

I am not going to touch my daughter’s rock collection or mess up all of her bottles of perfume sitting in a proud display on her desk. I will not pick up her four favorite baby blankets lying on her bed and floor. She uses those to swaddle our dog every night, and he lets her. I walk into her room to kiss her, and he is fast asleep on the edge of her bed, wrapped up like a taco as she reads or draws.

Her jewelry hangs on a gold elephant I bought her years ago. Some of her baby pictures are taped to her wall. A fairy house sits in the corner decorated with acorns and tiny scraps of fabric. Her homemade bookmarks are scattered across her dresser and spilling out of her desk drawer. I really need to get her more storage for her creations. Poor kid is running out of nooks to cram things.

My oldest is working on a bike in the corner by his bedroom window. It is propped up on old towels, there are tools scattered everywhere, and his speaker is on the floor beside it. He loves listening to music and tinkering away. There are plastic baggies of his elastics that he wears at night on his nightstand, next to some loose change, and a Matchbox car still in its box that his aunt bought him. His desk is littered with phone chargers, hall passes, and his ski clothes lie on the chair. For every electronic device he owns, he keeps the box, and they are all stacked on his dresser next to a few trophies.

I used to think it would be really great if my kids picked up their rooms more, and I am not going to say I love the mess and clutter, but here’s the thing: I can close the door and ignore it, or I can wander in there from time to time and take a peek into their little space. I am able to see it through their eyes and remember what it was like when I was a child and got something, like a new doll or new crayons, and wanted it out on display so everyone could see my stuff. If I found a special shell or rock, it was so beautiful to me, and I wanted it out where I could look at it every day.

As kids, we don’t see our stuff as junk, clutter, or a mess. We see our life, our art, our passion. And really, why clean it up because we are done for a spell? We are going to get into it again really soon, and we will know exactly where it is if no one touches it.

We have had some sticky situations where I have gone up and done a good Mom Clean with a garbage bag, and I certainly have had to ask them to rake the refuse out from under their beds. A few times a year, I open their closets, and we clean them out together. But I don’t expect them to keep their rooms tidy on a daily basis. I don’t freak out if they don’t make their beds, and nothing makes me happier than walking into one of my kids’ rooms and finding sweet notes they have written to each other, or a half-finished puzzle on the floor, or a container full of slime they made together. They are growing up so fast, and these are the moments that remind me they are still mine for a little longer.

Just because I would be afraid to sleep in their rooms doesn’t mean they are, and that is all that matters. They are comfortable, they feel at home, and I am pretty sure if that feeling ever fades, they will do something about it.

Besides, I have the rest of the house the way I want it. Their rooms are all theirs.

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