I have been reading a lot about Maria Kondo’s magical de-cluttering book. I haven’t actually read it and I don’t think I need to; I love to purge but I always need a good reason: a party, a move, or agreeing to be on a house tour. Historically, I’ve moved every seven years so this has allowed for a large purge, which involves an out with the old and in with the new paint, carpets, furniture and curtains before my husband knows what hit him mentality. I am entering my eighth year of living in my home and there is no move in sight. So I am gearing up for a moving purge without moving, which I am finding daunting.
I needed to trick myself into purging the more difficult rooms: mainly my closet and my kids’ bedrooms. I have figured out ways to get myself to do things I don’t like by putting a new spin on the activity. I used to deplore cooking. To get through the week feeding a family of six, I’d cook about ten pounds of steak each week and then reheat it for every meal. It was pretty awful. How did I change this habit? I have a fantasy of owning, running and living in a hotel.
I figured I’d turn my home into a mini hotel. I began setting my house up so it resembled The Glidden House, a former mansion-turned-hotel on the Case Western Reserve University campus in Cleveland. I stayed there recently and loved it. I moved my kitchen table next to the fireplace so it feels like we are living in a bed & breakfast. I can’t serve take out and reheated food in the Glidden House so now I am cooking very nice meals. If you don’t believe me, ask my still-in-shock husband and kids.
Since I was turning my ground floor into a hotel-like atmosphere, I thought I might as well turn my entire house into a hotel and purge everything including the bedrooms, leaving only a bed, dresser and desk, just like a hotel. Achieving the hotel look was not enough motivation to clear out my children’s rooms, especially my daughter’s, whose room looked like that of a hoarder. I needed another trick, which jumped out at me from the newspaper while I was having coffee in my new breakfast room.
I had been noticing cool articles and photographs in the newspaper of people with their stuff. I was reading about Nidwaa Bidwan and her photographic series, 100 Days of Solitude. She’s a young woman who had been living in a room in the Gaza Strip for a year and making self-portraits. Another photo caught my eye of Paige MacKenzie by Leah Nash. The Sunshine Girl was photographed with the detritus of a girl basically living out of her room and making YouTube videos for five years. The light bulb went on. I would clear all of my kids’ stuff out of their rooms and put it against a backdrop and photograph them in it. After I memorialized everything in the photo with the kid in question, I could then get rid of the stuff.
I got way more than I bargained for with this project. As I was clearing out my daughter’s third floor room, she was getting visibly upset. “I don’t understand what you’re doing. All of the stuff you’re taking isn’t me. That is all the stuff you put in here.” I looked around and realized she was right.
It turns out that while my daughter is my princess she is not a princess. When we moved into this house eight years ago, I decorated the room that I wanted for her, not the room that she would have chosen for herself. Why did I do this? I’m controlling. I had a vision. I wanted her room filled with art. I clearly didn’t trust her ten-year-old judgment.
“What would you have put in your room?” I asked her.
“The walls would be covered with photos of me and my friends,” she replied.
“You could still do that.”
“There’s no room and I’m leaving for college.”
I felt bad and she felt bad that I felt bad. “It’s not as if I hated living in here, Mom. It’s fine. It’s just not what I would’ve done.”
As I carried down all of the stuff that was important to her, I realized that she is not the cluttered person that her room seemed to indicate. I took a photo of her in her prom dress with her skis, horse stuff, gymnastics gear and books. This is my beautiful daughter. I then added more stuff, pictures of her friends that I printed out, her backpack, her blanket, and the dog. I asked if I could keep this stuff in bins until I painted her room. “Nope, I need all of it.” But then she then proceeded to fill bag after bag of all the junk she never wanted, that wasn’t her and therefore couldn’t be in the picture.
In the end, we did purge her room and we got some great pictures of the person I knew her to be: a smart, hardworking girl who loves horses, books, skiing and her friends. Underneath all of my clutter I discovered a girl I didn’t really know: a lovely, elegant, simple, tolerant young lady with a big heart.