The other day Dillon asked me when I was going to finish working on his bedroom. He was polite about it and said something like, "Hey Mom, when are you going to finish my room?" but I heard, "What's taking you so long, woman?' and the question made me feel cranky and stressed.
I've been "working on" his room since last summer (I think, I've lost track) so at this point, it was totally reasonable to check in. The walls are painted, the new furniture is in place, the non-babylike sheets and duvet are on the bed. The only big thing left to do is hang stuff on the walls. So what's the holdup?
I want to display some of his school art and certificates. But the artwork and certificates are in the attic, and the attic is where I stuff everything that I don't want to deal with: furniture, toys, clothes, dishes, holiday decorations, and boxes and boxes of mementos.
I had a strong sense that what's been keeping me from tackling the job (cleaning out the attic and completing my son's room) are all those boxes of memories. Those boxes are taking up the most space, and the most mental and emotional energy.
In The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up, professional home organizer Marie Kondo says, "If you just stow these things away in a drawer or cardboard box, before you realize it, your past will become a weight that holds you back and keeps you from living in the here and now. To put your things in order means to put your past in order, too. It’s like resetting your life and settling your accounts so that you can take the next step forward."
Well, damn. That sounds exhausting. And it also sounds like a blog post for another day. But I know that Kondo is right about this. I also knew that my immediate goal wasn't to put my entire past in order, the goal was to finish my 11-year-old son's bedroom before he graduates from high school.
Not long after he got all pushy about it (kidding), luckily, I found myself with one free day. In the house, by myself. I'm not going to sugarcoat the importance of this. Some jobs require the whole day with no interruptions or little people digging through all of that hidden "treasure" while you're sorting, discarding, and deciding what's worthy of being saved. The opportunity presented itself so I seized it.
Once my family had gone for the day, I took every single box out of the attic (it's a walk-in attic, actually an unfinished room above the garage). I hauled it all downstairs to the family room, where I had plenty of floor space.
Sidenote: My calves were so sore after walking up and down the stairs a zillion times, I had trouble walking for the next few days.
Then I took a moment to get the big picture view of what I was dealing with. I tried not to hyperventilate. I found a few boxes with things like this:
Old demo reels on VHS tapes (!) from my husband's and my TV news days. A part of me wanted to go ahead and toss it. Another part of me wasn't ready to do that. And, the very focused part of me remembered that I was only going through the kids' mementos, not mine. So I took those boxes and set them aside.
Once I identified all of the boxes filled with the kids' papers, I pulled everything out, one by one, and started making piles: artwork, photos, certificates, report cards, and schoolwork that felt super special (like stories they'd written).
I took another piece of Kondo's advice on decluttering: If it doesn't spark joy, toss it. So, I also had a big pile of things to go to the trash/recycling.
Note about kid art: I separated the holiday art from the rest of the art, because I love to hang those as decorations during the appropriate seasons.
Suddenly I had a lot less boxes, and neat-ish piles of mementos that I intended to save. I took the trash to the garage to deal with later (see how I do?) and then I took everything else back up to the attic. That may seem counterproductive, but here's what's significant about that: I can now move around in the attic, and I have a better sense of what's what.
After I cleaned up the mess and looked around again, I realized the attic project didn't seem so overwhelming anymore. A very large job had transformed into smaller, more manageable jobs that can be tackled in shorter bursts of time (which is much more realistic for daily life).
So it looks like I'll finish my son's room after all. I'll keep you updated on this ongoing story, because making a house a home is an ongoing process.
ps - have you seen this trailer for the Gilmore Girls reunion show? There's a delightful part about a minute in where Emily Gilmore is assessing her belongings: "They don't bring me joy."