My goals for Samuel's relationship with his room is for him to understand how it feels to have a messy room, understand how it feels to have a clean room, respect what a huge undertaking it is to bring an entirely messy room back to life, and so gain respect and appreciation for how worth it daily tidying is in the big picture! I wanted him to feel entirely and completely responsible for all of his possessions and gratefully except and appreciate light cheerful and positive encouragement or help with his room.
We had let his room just "happen" So that he could get a taste for what happens to a bedroom that is not tidied for a couple weeks. Growing up I had helped organize and tidy his room on regular occasions but I stopped a few months ago because he started to give additude whenever we brought it up or tried to help. You can lead a horse to water but you can't make him drink! Obviously we needed to come at the issue from a different angle! After I had a surprising adult temper tantrum about how helpless I felt pitted against all the clutter and chaos in the house, we had a family NVC (non-violent communication) discussion about how we feel about the house and what needs are or are Not being met. We all had different reactions to the house being messy but all the same needs! It was really cool! Rory cleaned in a resentful silence, I got mad when Sam grummped, and Sam grummped because he felt guilty. That was a good start! We all shared the same needs! A messy house made us feel stressed and sad, we all wanted it clean and all felt responsible! The next challenge was to adjust our reaction to be positive for the other family members instead of triggering, because a triggered upset individual does not have access to the part of the brain it needs to clean with, since cleaning and especially tidying require problem solving and creative thinking!
The best way to help someone is to first watch and listen. I found that when I asked Sam to tidy his floor or the table he had a really hard time seeing individual items in a whole bunch of mess so I took a picture and let him circle the things he was responsible for on my phone! That was fun for him, easy for me and got him engaged in the hunt!
It worked for the kitchen table so I tried it on his bedroom!
Non-violent communication focuses on making life more wonderful. That is the question! How can we make life more wonderful for you! How could your bedroom make life more wonderful for you? If you could have anything in the world to make your bedroom more wonderful for you, what would it be? What would it look like? How would it feel? These are discussions that open up the mind to new possibilities and although we might not end up getting some far-flung item at least it gives us an idea of how We can meet our child's needs of self-expression, celebration of life, creativity and a safe space in which to recharge. When we hear their ideas it will help us think creatively about how we can meet those needs with what we have at hand in the household, are with a budget friendly alternative.
The next question is what in your room is making life miserable for you? Samuel's answer was books on the floor! He would drop them on the floor when reading after lights off and he would not bother to put them back on the shelf when he was reading during the day. Then there were books on the floor and he didn't want to step on them so he wouldn't go to his bookshelf at all! So our first problem was identified! Too many books that he didn't value enough to put back on the shelves, And, his favorite books being almost out of reach! We could both sort the books for keep and get rid of, and move his favorite books to a new location closer to his bed and easier to see and reach!
My ownership philosophy is that every item in a person's possession should be carefully chosen and wanted.
"Keep it and keep it tidy or get rid of it!"
"If you are not willing to put it away then pass it on!"
That means a large amount of sorting on a fairly regular basis. Not just clothes that have been grown out of, but toys and books that have been grown out of too! And although we would like to think we know what's best for Our kids to have and like, the magic lies in the child making the call on each and every item or category in their room.
A primary NVC philosophy is to do nothing except in play, so I knew my only hope to kick-start a healthy relationship with his stuff and room must be done when I had the mental and emotional bandwidth to be playful fun and cheerful! That would only be possible once I had worked through my grief discouragement and rage over household mess. I needed to do my grief work.
Over the next couple of days I let myself sit with feelings of inadequacy, disappointment and resentment against mental and physical health that slows me down, my inability to build better habits in Sam due My limited energy and health problems while he was younger, grief over my husband being too sleep deprived and overworked to contribute at all in Samuel's item possession and personal space management habits and experience, grief over the lack of support or resources I had as a child growing up and how I felt overwhelmed and despairing in my own messy room. The memory of my dad's only attempt to help me with my messy room being that of shoving everything on the floor into a black garbage bag and putting it in the attic. If we have big reactions it's most likely there's a hidden treasure trove of big feelings begging to be sat with!
Thankfully these were all subjects that I had spent time with in the past, if this grief work was new to me I would have taken advantage of a listening partnership and asked a girlfriend to just listen for half an hour while I said all the things and cried all the tears so I could interact with Sam from a clean slate.
Adulting is crazy complicated! 🌟
In order for Samuel to have the emotional resources to put up with all the decision-making and repetitive work, I knew that our work on his room needed to start in the morning when his brain was still fresh. Thankfully the stars aligned for us and we kicked off our great adventure!
First, I helped him sort all the books on his bookshelf into 'keep' and 'get rid of' piles, and then sort the 'keep' pile into 'fiction' and 'non-fiction' piles too, as his bookshelf is divided into those two categories. Then The fiction and nonfiction books he wanted to keep went back on the shelves. (All the books he chose to get rid of will be sorted by me into a 'throughout' 'giveaway' and 'store for the next child' boxes. At the time I just moved them out of his bedroom.)
Once the books to be kept were back on the shelf, the next challenge was to be sure All available storage space was being used to his best advantage! I asked him what his three favorite things to do in his room were and it was read graphic novels and comicbooks, play Playmobil, and play with his Nerf guns. I then drew the approximate shapes of his different storage areas on a piece of paper and we talked about what could and should go where. We moved his rock collection into the office, along with the rest of the art supplies.
Then we chose to put his graphic novels and comic books at eye level on top of his play shelf where he could easily choose and put them away again. Nerf guns got their own drawer, and Playmobil went under his bed in the big drawers.
He was pretty worn out by this time so I finished up and gave a quick vacuum.
This morning before school, I invited him into his room to do a tidy with me. I started off cheerfully tidying and putting things away and he sat in front of his aquarium and played with the tadpoles for a bit. He was checking to see if I would get mad if he took his time. I didn't! I just kept cheerfully doing this and that and asking him where he wanted stuff. He then jumped up and started tidying a couple of things and then went back to his tadpoles. I showed him how we could shake his little bedside carpet out the window! Then I went to get the vacuum and he tried to defend his bedroom from it. This indicates some childhood fear both with vacuums and the great terrifying mother descending to impose order on his things. According to connected parenting I just responded playfully and did some contrite negotiations with his Nerf gun. I got a bit of laughter out of him and he relaxed enough. I made sure I vacuumed in a polite way and kept the humor rolling.
He was swinging out in the hall when I gasped in horror! I put a good bit of drama and goofiness into my reaction to his overflowing clothes hamper in his closet and when he came to see what was up I showed him What I had found in shock and horror and said that there was a usefulness transforming device he could load all the items into and if I put the magic soap juice in he would find all of the items useful again! I pulled out his hamper and he pushed it into the hall and loaded his clothes into the washing machine. I let him push the buttons as much as he wanted and asked him if you wanted the magic juice in the machine drawer. (I have been working on him being responsible for his own laundry for the past 6 months or I would have taken the laundry out myself and let him put the soap in and push the buttons just for fun)
Well he was doing that I vacuumed his bedroom thoroughly, especially in the closet. I called him to come see and he was extremely happy! My goal is to spend a few minutes playfully blessing his bedroom every morning with his help. Kids go to electronics and each other for a company and play, they form positive associations with people and things that they receive play and connection from! My ambition is to help him create that relationship with his room every morning.
Giving it a tidying blessing can be his new form of self-care and one that I know he will benefit from everyday for the rest of his life!
So help me God.