I Dreamed Of A Martha Stewart Playroom. What I Got Is More Pigpen

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My husband came home yesterday with the exact storage system we’ve been searching for to use in our play nook (it would be an exaggeration to call it a playroom). The bins are colorful and sturdy, the shelves are constructed of actual solid wood – I couldn’t be happier. My mind started dancing with thoughts of hand-drawn labels and a clutter-free floor! Then our kids started throwing the bins around and putting them on top of their heads and playing them like drums. “Oh, right,” I thought. “They have different plans.”

Inevitably, their plan will prevail. Whether out of superior determination on their part, or simple exhaustion on mine, my two toddlers will win. This is true in most situations, but even more so when it comes to my attempts at organization. I was an organized being in my former life. Co-workers used to comment on the cleanliness of my desk and the neatness of my files. My mom is still in awe of the precision with which I fold towels, and my younger sister has yet to crack my color-coded closet system so I always know when she has borrowed something without asking.

While my closet and linens remain under my domain, the rest of the house has pretty much been turned over to the toddlers. And I think I’m finally okay with that. The play nook storage bin will officially be my last and final (momentary) dream of an organized environment. I will revisit the notion when our children are old enough to participate in my dream, but until then I’m giving up.

To understand what that means to me, you have to investigate why someone would dedicate so much thought and time to the hanging of her clothes in the first place. It’s safe to say that there was a long period in my life when I was irrationally seeking to control everything. By “everything” I mean, like, conquering death. I was so thoroughly frightened by the truth that I (and every other person in the world) actually control very little in this mortal realm. Exercising the power I did have over such things as paper clips and the placement of food in the cupboard (I hear you, OCD sufferers), gave me an unconscious feeling of triumph over the chaos of the universe.

It sounds silly if you’ve never experienced it, and crazy silly within the context of parenthood. Thanks to the wonders of talk therapy, my process of letting go of such magical thinking began years before I became a mom. The birth of our daughter sped the process right along as my priorities shifted and my concerns focused mainly on providing for and protecting my baby. The addition of our son basically completed the whole endeavor. With two children to care for, I have neither the mental space nor the physical energy to worry about the more existential problems. But there was still that tiny piece of me that thought maybe I could maintain a tidy playroom – not so much out of an unhealthy desire to control the world – but just because I actually do like being organized.

Alas, as of today, I hereby renounce any aspirations to store toys by category or books by size. If the musical instruments end up in the wooden food bin, that’s just fine. When I see the baby doll clothes mixed in with the cars and airplanes, I’m just going to leave them there all together in a nonsensical pile. Because, most likely, within five minutes a tiny little hand is going to pluck one or all of the items out of that pile and throw them into another one with absolutely no intention of ever putting them back where they “belong.” If I can simply teach our wonderfully curious and endlessly active children that their things need to go back “over there,” that will be good enough. Containment is the new goal. Beautifully organized can wait…

(Photo: jokerpro/Shutterstock)