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This is not my son's playroom. This room is more tidy than my son's playroom often is. Photo by Flickr user Elizabeth (Creative Commons license).

This is not my son’s playroom. This room is more tidy than my son’s playroom often is. Photo by Flickr user Elizabeth (Creative Commons license).

My stepmom runs the tightest, cleanest ship of a kitchen you’ve ever seen.

You might have every intention of “redding up” (central PA colloquialism) after yourself when preparing food, but there’s a strong chance she’ll beat you to it and you’ll feel guilty. You might even have the best intentions when helping her put away groceries or clean dishes, yet still feel like you’re annoying her or getting in her way. (You are, and you are, but she’s nice about it.)

The other day, I was “helping” in this manner. I gave up after she moved a jar of jelly I’d put in the pantry…six inches to the left of where I’d put it originally. This has happened before—when I moved the soup ladle from one drawer to another (WRONG) or put something in the upstairs freezer that is CLEARLY (translation: clear to her and her alone) meant for the downstairs deep freezer. I know when to back off. Twenty minutes later, groceries in their new homes, my son whipped open the pantry door to try (unsuccessfully) to weasel a cupcake before supper, and the pantry gleamed like a Pinterest fanatic’s work of DIY/space-saver art.

Seriously, it was awash in the glow of a golden light shining down from the heavens. My son said, woooooow.

“Look at this, Mom. You have all the labels on all the jars facing perfectly front. All the cereal boxes are lined up so they face the same direction. Even the stuff you can’t reach is symmetrical. You are nuts,” I told her.

She stuck her tongue out at me and said, “Whaddya gonna do, blog about it?”

So here we are. In equal parts reverence and teasing, I present to you my stepmom’s neuroses about a clean kitchen, through the lens of a single mom who craves an equally absurd level of organization…but has a three-year-old.

And also doesn’t have her own kitchen (yet), as evidenced by the soup ladle being back in its, ahem, “rightful” place.

Now let’s talk about my son’s idea of feng shui, which, if you don’t know, is the Chinese philosophy of de-cluttering and organizing one’s stuff so that the energy, or chi, can flow freely through the home and produce optimal good fortune, productivity, and positive moods. To Jax, if all toys aren’t out on the floor—nay, if all toys aren’t out on the floor in such a manner that severely inhibits moving around, so that he slips and falls on a dump truck or his LeapPad—he just can’t even. In the same way my stepmom moves a jelly jar six inches to the right or left until it’s just so, my son will pull a toy from its resting place, examine it, and find “the perfect (new) spot” for it, probably in the mathematical center of my bedroom, or on the edge of the bathtub, or on the dog. It isn’t that he’s messy and three years old; the clutter almost seems to calm him. He’s happiest when he can see everything he owns at the same time. Reverse feng shui?

Meanwhile, I follow him around like a dust-buster, pulling stickers out of his hair, wiping up juice spills, folding the covers of books back the right way so the spines don’t crack, trying not to step on Hot Wheels (they hurt) or lose too many of the shorter Lincoln Logs (you can’t build anything decent if you only have the long pieces!).

Imagine how much free time I have to drill Ikea spice racks into cabinet doors for “super easy extra storage!”

I’m a bins and baskets fanatic, though. Nothing fakes decluttering and cleaning like throwing crap in baskets. It’s like making your own junk drawer wherever you go. Even Jax will help me throw cars in his Cars movie box, blocks in colorful canvas bins, and weird-shaped toys in pretty baskets. Sometimes, he “helps me” by dumping them back out again, too (wait, is this how my stepmom feels when I put away groceries?).

There is no real reason for this post other than to vent a little frustration. You try decluttering with a three-year-old in the house anywhere near the house. I really just wanted to say, look, I’m a neat and tidy person who likes to be organized, but I’m also realistic about where and how to expend energy on organizing. I’m trying to strike a balance between my son’s dump-and-go and my stepmom’s it doesn’t go there, it goes HERE! 

I love them both, but I’d give anything for my own space.

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