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Roxane B. Salonen, Published December 26 2011

Parenting Perspectives: Taming the machine that spews ‘stuff’

For a while now I’ve suspected a gigantic, invisible, stuff-spewing machine lurks just below the surface of the earth. And all evidence points to said apparatus having several direct lines to my home and minivan.

How else to explain the extraneous material that finds its way into my life?

There’s no better time than December, when the contraption seems to be particularly adept at seeking spaces for its purging pleasure, to shed light on this beast.

The “stuff” comes in all forms; everything from mounds of junk mail to heaps of school papers to pile-ups of fast-food trinkets. And it’s proliferated exponentially with each person and pet we’ve brought into our family.

I see only one solution: tame the beast.

Some have turned to Fly Lady, a virtual helpmate who promises to lead all those living in CHAOS (Can’t Have Anyone Over Syndrome) into SCHH (Squeaky-Clean Home Heaven).

After being referred to her website by a well-intending friend several years ago, I rolled up my sleeves and prepared for my new clutter-free life of order and awesomeness. Problem was I couldn’t stay on top of her incessant emails instructing me how I was to achieve a dust-free life. So instead of following her marching orders, I began looking around for a flyswatter large enough to drown out her high-pitched nagging.

There must be a better way for the domestically challenged to go about things, I thought.

And then I heard a quote that set things right for me. It comes from someone who regularly looked as if she’d just rolled out of bed.

“Cleaning your house while your kids are still growing up is like shoveling the walk before it stops snowing,” Phyllis Diller once quipped.

Now there’s a woman with some wisdom about her.

That said, I agree with those who contend we can’t have interior peace if our exterior life is a mess. I do feel more at ease when there’s some semblance of order in my home. But I’ll also admit to looking at people whose exterior worlds seem perfect with a suspicious eye.

Point being, we need to consider where we’re at in life and what’s realistic.

I’d come to a happy conclusion recently that someday our children will be grown, the dust (or snowflakes) will have settled, and I’ll have all the time in the world to sit in my tidy, quiet home and breathe.

Then a good friend with a decade on me burst my illusionary bubble. “Don’t count on it,” she remarked. “I have more time than ever now and I’m still not using it to clean my house.”

So maybe the beast can’t be tamed completely. Maybe the best I can do is feed it some of its own medicine – last week’s newspapers, those misplaced socks and the endless piles of odds and ends that don’t have anywhere else to go. Perhaps then it will settle down for a long winter’s nap and give me a little reprieve.

For now, I’ll continue ordering my world the best I can. Some days will be better than others. But every day I can remind myself of this: that the “stuff” that so overwhelms at times also represents those I love who are attached to it.

And that’s something even the stuff-spewing machine can’t overpower.


Roxane B. Salonen works as a freelance writer and children’s author in Fargo, where she and her husband, Troy, parent five children. She blogs on family life at http://peacegardenmama.areavoices.com