The girls and I live in a cramped, two bedroom apartment, so the two of them share a room.
Translation: Their room – and the house – is always a damn mess. I can’t stand it.
At this age, the main problem is toys and craft projects. Everywhere I look, there’s a toy lying around. I see three Barbies having a “tea party” on my work desk; Rainbow Looms are on the couch (along with a billion of those damn little rubber bands); the pet “grooming station” is next to the recliner; a random Hello Kitty doll is in the middle of the living room floor; and the Flutterbye Fairy – which literally broke within minutes of being used the first time – is stashed away on another chair.
And that’s clean, by our standards.
The girls’ room, though, is a different story.
The reason why so much of this crap winds up strewn all over the house is because A) I am raising spoiled children, and; B) I am apparently raising future stars of the TV show “Hoarders.”
I warned the girls before Christmas: “We gotta give away or throw away about half this crap.”
“She’s not capable of doing that,” my oldest daughter said.
And she’s right. My youngest child is like a walking, talking, living, breathing tornado. Like a tornado, she goes into a room and picks up and drops off shit where it doesn’t belong. I recently spent four hours cleaning up the house – vacuuming, dusting, moping, picking up, etc. – only to have the house look like a homeless person lived there within 30 minutes of the girls’ arrival. The primary culprit? My little one, who is 5.
Unlike my 9-year-old, the little one still loves playing with toys. And she has a lot of them. At last count, she had more than 100 stuffed animals, most of which are on the top bunk, where she sleeps. (Her bed, by the way, looks like a toy chest.) She’ll play with something – or hell, maybe she’ll just pick something up – then, within minutes, she drops it wherever she’s at and moves on to the next toy.
This process takes place about 1,000 times a day so that, by the end of my day, this house looks like a bomb went off. I constantly remind her to put things away when she’s finished playing with or using it. By now, though, my demands are nothing more than background noise that goes ignored.
And I’ve tried everything. I’ve threatened to spank her for not putting her stuff away. I’ve grounded my 5-year-old. I’ve made her “pray to Jesus” to teach her how to pick up after herself. Hell, one time, I made the girls pick up after the other one in an effort to shame my little one into doing a better job about cleaning up. (Didn’t work; she gladly spent 5 minutes picking up after her sister, while my oldest daughter spent an hour cleaning up for her little sister – and complained about it the entire time.)
Then, out of the blue, came this little bombshell:
“I don’t like my stepdad,” the little one said one day.
“Why?” I asked. “He sure loves you.”
“Because he threw away a bunch of my toys yesterday,” she said, and then burst into tears.
Instead of comforting her, though, I had this reaction: “God damn it,” I said. “That was my idea.”
Unfortunately, that meant I couldn’t utilize the same punishment at my house. Let me explain.
My 5-year-old has had this problem since the day she could walk. She took her first steps on her first birthday, and by the end of the day, the entire house was littered with her toys and other crap she had randomly grabbed (and later dropped). Tired of dealing with this every day, I told my then-wife that we should start throwing away (or at least pretend to) anything that’s not put away at the end of the day.
“Absolutely not,” my ex said back then. “That’s just cruel.”
Four years and a new husband later, suddenly the idea of throwing away toys that aren’t put away is a brilliant idea.
I was thoroughly irritated.
Regardless of whether I paid for the toys or if they came from my ex’s house, I was all for the idea of throwing away toys. For one, I guarantee that most of those toys wouldn’t be missed. Hell, at this point, I don’t think either child has any idea of what toys they have. Plus, if you throw away enough toys, you’d think the girls would be more diligent about picking up after themselves.
Both girls were legitimately upset by this turn of events at mom’s house. Apparently, my ex’s new husband pretty regularly throws away shit that’s not put away, and that goes for both girls. My oldest has a good point: her little sister and her 4-year-old stepsister regularly go into her room at mom’s house, randomly grab shit from her room, then don’t put it back afterward. So she’s had things thrown away, too.
And, of course, my little one can’t stand the idea of parting ways with any of her stuff, including toys she hasn’t played with in years.
So, the simple fact that I do not throw away anything that’s not put away has earned me major brownie points with the girls. Most times, I could care less whether the girls like my rules or not. And I know they complain about some of my rules when they’re at mom’s house – and I then hear complaints about that from my ex.
“Dad makes us do too much homework.”
“Dad gives us chores.”
“Dad makes us to go to church.”
“Dad makes us go to bed earlier at his house.”
“Dad makes us take a bath or shower every night.”
My response to those complaints? “Tough shit.”
But I have mixed emotions about the toys situation at my house. On the one hand, I think throwing away anything that’s not put away is a brilliant idea. It was, after all, originally my idea. On the other hand, anything legitimate that’ll earn me brownie points with the kids has to be taken pretty seriously, as any divorced parent will tell you.
So, instead, I came up with a new idea: “Let’s go through all your toys and stuffed animals, and then give away anything you don’t play with to the poor.”
Eureka. The girls loved the idea, including my little hoarder, whose heart was touched when learning that some kids don’t have any toys to play with.
“Start making a pile,” I said, “and I’ll check back in an hour to see your progress.”
During that hour, I heard intermittent complaints:
“Dad, she’s just playing.”
“Dad, she called me a ‘hoarder,’” followed by, “What’s a ‘hoarder’?”
But, an hour later, both girls emerged from their room, saying they were finished.
“I’ll be the judge of that.”
I was very impressed with my 9-year-old’s pile. It was filled with toys, stuffed animals, dolls and books that she had lost interest in.
Then came my 5-year-old’s pile. It was not as impressive.
Her pile was about a fourth of the size of my oldest daughter’s, even though she has more to give away. It included a bunch of long-forgotten McDonald’s toys – you know, those cheap little toys that break within a few minutes – along with a slew of broken toys.
“Umm, no. You’re not giving away McDonald’s toys and broken toys to poor children,” I said.
“Why not?” the little one asked. “They can still play with them.”
This was coming from the same person who had spent an hour playing with the rocks and sticks she had found and brought inside the house.
“How would you like it if Dad only gave you broken toys?” my oldest daughter asked her sister.
“I wouldn’t care. I’d still play with them,” the little one said.
You can’t argue with that logic.
So, I’ve put together a new game plan. Both girls left with their mom, stepdad and stepsister this morning for a trip to see his parents over the winter break. I’ll use this time to go through their stuff myself.
And I plan on throwing away or giving away about half of their stuff.
Happy New Year, girls. You just made half of the city’s poor children very happy.