One bright day I realized I’d had enough of doing the job myself, and as their bedroom was unusually messy I enlisted the assistance of number one son. “It’s time to clean up your room”, I said as though this were a normal thing to do. He looked at me disbelieving. In the fond dream of how this would go in a perfect world he would be the one who cleaned the room while I did something else useful like laundry. I could dream but not being delusional, I knew I needed a strategy to make this something he would actually like to participate in with me. We marched towards the doorway of the bedroom and stood there together, surveying the wreckage, uh, project, without a plan.
Gracefully, in a moment of divine inspiration, a method outlined itself in my head and it went like this. I said, realizing I was talking to someone who was staring at something literally larger than he was, “I’d like you to find just one thing that you can put away, and then put it away where it belongs. Just one thing.” This was doable. He found something like a book and put it on its shelf. “Great!” I responded, genuinely grateful for his participation. “Now, please find just one thing that you are willing to put away, and then put it away.” Once again, a toy returned to its storage place with no hesitation on his part. And so it went. One item by one item by one item, both of us pitching in, everything got smoothly put away and cleaned.
I can’t say the organizing adventure was without its moments of “there’s more??” and “ewww” over some of the gems we unearthed in the bottoms of baskets and under far corners of furniture (apple cores so dried they looked more like paper, rectangles of yellow cheese aged until they were like small oily bricks, and the turkey hotdog bits I’ll spare you an account of). Long-avoided tasks can have moments like this, and we survive them. But, I had decided to refrain from judging the boys or myself (the boys were too young and besides it’s not worth it; judgment is like a rock it’s hard to get out from under) for whatever had gotten inappropriately stashed or a tad mangled along the way. Our effort was more than worth it as chaos gave way to lovely rows of books, inviting games and creative materials within easy reach, cheery stuffed animals, and everything surrounding an inviting, open, creative play space.
I think the person who was most revolutionized by this sweetly simple method was myself. Organization or clean-up has rarely seemed complicated to me since that day. Why did this work so well? Contemplating this, I almost missed the most obvious piece.
The solution came in a moment of need when it was both clear that all previous methods weren’t working, and there was a genuine receptivity to finding a way that would work for all involved: conundrum plus receptivity. The solution that arrived was perfectly tailored to us in that moment: take one small, willing step at a time, and keep moving.
Getting back to the title of this piece, my son is now an adult but I still have an inner five-year old to this day and I’m betting most adults do as well. Mine wants to play and have a good time, and dislikes the feeling of anything tedious or overwhelming. In order to successfully tackle all kinds of projects I (the adult version) need to work with this “kid”. When my goal is to not only get a particular job done but to do it in a way that’s fun, inspiring and manageable, I become receptive to the “way” in that moment that provides the solution. It just takes a moment of hitting the Pause button, going inside and asking.
My part is being as clear as I can about where I want to go, be receptive to what comes to me, and follow through. My inner five-year old likes this and gets way more confident and cooperative.
What does yours like and how can you enlist her or his help?