Organized chaos - FamilyEducation

Organized chaos

October 02,2008

L. had a friend come over to play yesterday afternoon and I made an attempt to help him clean his room. The other day a student told me that his own room is a "study in organized chaos" and I have to say this description fits L.'s room perfectly. I'm sure most eight-year-old boys' rooms are disaster areas as well, but perhaps without the layers of collections and unfinished projects in every corner. After it was all said and done, here's what I found in his room:

--three circuit boards, one handmade out of cardboard and wires

--several lengths of plastic tubing

--one Tiger's Milk wrapper

--two handwritten copies of the Periodic Table of Elements

--four office-supply catalogs

--one extension cord

--several loose alligator clips* and accompanying wires

--one homemade compass

--one large cardboard box

--one pair of broken binoculars-turned-something-or-other

--several petri dishes

*alligator clips really hurt when you step on them in the dark


I'm pretty sure one of my many jobs as a parent is to stand in my son's doorway, hands on hips, and admonish him for the state of his room.

"Clean up your room!" I'm supposed to say, then he's supposed to grumble and, eventually, clean it up. This hasn't worked in all the years we've tried this method; the only thing that ever works is the threat of the plastic garbage bag. When things get really bad, I only have to disappear upstairs with a large white plastic bag and L. is fast on my heels, racing to toss his many inventions into drawers, or shove them under the bed. Yet, even as I'm fussing at him about the state of his room, I am always conscious of the fact that L.'s room is his--his valuable space. I don't want to over-impose my sense of order onto his organized chaos, so we're always trying to strike a middle ground--a fair compromise.

This past summer we went to Staples and invested in several bins with drawers, and several spools of label-maker refills so he could have clearly labeled places to put the millions of Playmobil pieces.

"You can do what you want with your Playmobil," we told him, "but at the end of the day, you need to put it somewhere."

Has the system worked? Yes and no. About 70 percent of the tiny Playmobil pieces (tiny pieces of armor, tiny swords, tiny cannonballs, tiny boots) make it into the bins; the rest end up kicked under the desk, bed, or chair, or get vacuumed up once a week. And I'm usually the one who puts the pieces into the bins. The system works great for me, but clearly it hasn't solved all our problems.

I used to agonize about the state of L.'s room, until a friend told me to let it go. "Pick your battles," is what she told me. She advised me to find some acceptable median between what L. chose to live with and what we could live with. So L. and I had a talk about what we could do.

For me it was simple: I need to vacuum once a week without sucking up circuit boards and Playmobil knights; I need to be able to walk across his room without impaling my foot on a tiny plastic sword, or a metal screw or clip. Bottom line: "I need to be able to get from the doorway to your bed, safely," I told L.

So right now, if you were to peek in on his room, you would find organized chaos, indeed: a jumble of hoses and cords and inventions and toys and books and papers parted like the Red Sea, and in between it all a semi-neat path running right through--Mama's path, L. calls it--just broad enough for me to walk across from doorway to his bed, and give him a good-night kiss before I go to bed.