by Risa Green
A friend of mine sent me that book called The Happiness Project , by Gretchen Rubin, which is about one woman’s quest to become happier over the course of a year. In it, she devotes each month to a different theme (energy, friends, love, etc.), and then makes small resolutions for how to improve her life in these areas. The book is okay – it’s an interesting project, but I find her writing a little dull – although I will say that she presents some good arguments for why certain things, like taking time to do projects with your children, or throwing a party for someone you care about, can actually improve your overall level of happiness. But what really hit home for me the most was her chapter on de-cluttering your life.
Now, I have said before that my house is consumed with clutter, and that one of the things that drives me the most crazy is figuring out what to do with all of the crap that comes along with living a full life. I mean, I have near-sexual fantasies about clean countertops and organized shelving. Just reading about this woman cleaning out her closet or filling five jars with the plastic junky toys that her kids don’t want to throw away gave me a little thrill, like I was some kind of Peeping Tom. And so I decided, if this Gretchen Rubin could do it, then so could I. I resolved that for my own Happiness Project, I would try to achieve the holy grail of home organization: I was going to make my kids’ playroom look like a Pottery Barn Kids catalog.
Ahhh, the PBK catalog. I can’t really wax poetic enough about it. Those perfect bookracks that are never overstuffed. Those wicker baskets filled with toys that fit neatly inside. Those craft tables with the built-in roll of paper that always has a clean, straight edge. This catalog is my porn. The only thing missing from it is a Room-of-the-Month centerfold.
The thing about our playroom is, I already have all of the accouterments to accomplish my goal. I own the Sabrina wicker baskets and the Cameron Creativity Storage System. I bought the Carolina craft table with the cute little matching Carolina chairs. I even have a giant magnetic chalkboard with little hooks and cubbies that was discontinued three years ago. And yet, even with all of these things, my kids’ playroom does not resemble a PBK catalog.
In our playroom, the books are stacked inside the bookshelf in piles because there are just too many to fit, and also because my kids are too lazy to put them back they way they belong, and instead just shove them in any old way. The wicker baskets are bursting at the seams, and instead of sitting neatly inside their cubbies, most of them sit on the floor, because the head of my son’s Transformer robot sticks up too high to fit in the cubby, and my daughter’s High School Musical board game is four inches too wide. The spool on the end of the craft table sits empty, because every time I put on a new roll of paper, my son takes it off and uses it as a sword. Plus, the table is covered with paint and marker stains from when my kids were little and couldn’t distinguish between the edge of the white paper and the white table beneath it. The magnetic chalkboard is covered with stickers that my son once “thought” were magnets, and the little metal pails that I had hung from the hooks and filled with chalk and glitter glue were long ago lost at the sandbox; the chalk (now broken) and glitter glue (completely dried out because my kids lost the caps after the first thirty seconds) are mostly lying on the floor, underneath the table.
But, buoyed by thoughts of sugar-plum fairies and Thomas Armoire Systems dancing in my head, I was not discouraged. No, no. I spent an entire day throwing away toys with missing pieces, books that my kids had outgrown, markers that had been separated from their caps, dried out glue sticks, and half-colored coloring books. I hauled bags to Good Will filled with trucks that my son no longer played with, dress-up clothes that were five sizes too small, Dora and Barney dolls that my children wouldn’t touch now with a ten-foot pole. I lined up the remaining books in their bookshelves, I put away the remaining toys in their wicker baskets. I scrubbed the table. I hung my daughter’s art projects on the wall, I casually placed the Anywhere Beanbag in the corner, and I threw an Anywhere Plush Throw onto the couch. But still, it wasn’t right. I looked around and surveyed my work. The Transformer Robot still didn’t fit in the cubby, and the High School Musical board game was still four inches too long. Some of the books were too large for the bookshelf and I’d had to lie them on their sides, on top of the other books. The stickers wouldn’t come off of the chalkboard, and there were still smears of permanent marker on the craft table. The paints and paintbrushes and markers didn’t all fit in the little cubbies on the chalkboard, and the art smocks that I’d hung from the hooks were dragging on the floor.
In a panic, I glanced back and forth from my playroom to the PBK catalog in my hands. I looked longingly at the boys playing on the floor with a single puzzle, in an otherwise neat and spotless room. I ached for the girls sitting at the craft table, taking one marker at a time out of their little metal pails. My mouth watered at the sight of those spotless floors, those neat shelves, those wicker baskets. I realized, maybe I don’t have the kids in the catalog. I have messy, silly, imaginative kids who “think” that stickers are magnets and rolls of paper are swords. I’ll admit, for a brief moment, I wondered if I would be happier with a perfect playroom. But then I thought, nah. Who needs a happiness project, anyway? I’m pretty happy with what I’ve got.
Also on Mommy Tracked: Jo Keroes reviews The Happiness Project  and Risa explains The Pottery Barn Kids Catalog is Mom-Porn.