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By Sally Torbey

Dismantling the shrine

Uploaded: Sep 23, 2014

Our adult children depart for far-away places with the intention of being gone for many months, but leave their childhood bedrooms in a state that suggests they just stepped out for a jog around the neighborhood. Once I sort through the top layer of detritus, I uncover the artfully arranged artifacts of their childhoods: rows of trophies, thumbtacked certificates and class photos, stuffed animals, yearbooks, art projects, and collages of proms and beach days. My usual habit is to dust it all, so it is ready and waiting for them on what I hope is their inevitable return.

This year, however, when our eldest son departed for a second year of overseas employment, I felt an inexplicable compulsion to clear out the clutter, starting with his room. While we are still finding our way on this path of parenting adult children, I have recently become aware of what I do not want my role to be, keeper of the stuff. Our son graduated from high school over six years ago, but until a few weeks ago I could not bring myself to alter a single aspect of his bedroom. It was a shrine to his childhood that I cleaned and organized, even though he resides on the other side of the world. But our youngest daughters are now a pre-teen and a teenager, and having their own rooms will go a long way to keeping us all sane. The shrine has to go. Not that I can actually bring myself to discard anything, but at least it is all neatly boxed, stacked and does not require dusting.

With his room cleared out, the rest of the house seems disheveled! With seven in the family, we tolerate a significant degree of chaos, but with over half the kids soon to be out of the house, perhaps there is hope for maintaining some semblance of order.

So I move from room to room in a de-cluttering frenzy, and the piles are diminishing, but the carpet stains, scuffed walls, cobwebs, streaked windows, and grimy grout are now apparent. So far, I have hired a window washer, tile and grout restorer, patio power washer, upholstery cleaner, and a house painter. Who knew it could be so exhausting watching other people work so hard?

My new-found obsession with home improvement is probably just a way of distracting myself from the inevitable sadness of another beloved child off to college this week, but as coping strategies go, I'll take it!