We have too much stuff. That’s hardly a revelation to anyone who’s been in our house or unique to most folks reading this post. It’s not news to me, either, although generally I think the thought and resolve to deal with the situation at a later date. Often, my form of dealing with the situation meant buying more storage containers, rearranging our belongings, and putting a few items out for the thrift shop or the library book sale. Curriculum might go up for sale on used homeschooling material lists and the like, but I’m unlikely to go to the work to sell or distribute via Ebay or Craig’s List. I’m too lazy for that, and, honestly, most of what leaves isn’t worth enough to warrant the work and postage of reselling.
Last week, I had (another) bad day with my younger. He’s been fairly locked into his special interest of late: making miniature Lord of the Rings characters which he sets up all over the house (not an exaggeration) in battle formation. I have nothing against this hobby. He’s learned to use desktop publishing to scale the characters appropriately, so I count some of this work as computer skill acquisition (homeschoolers are pros at phrasing any event into educationese of sorts). After fitting as many guys on a page as possible, he prints them out, cuts them carefully, covers them in packing tape, and trims the tape. He then glue-guns them into stands made of Sculpy, a theoretically non-toxic clay that bakes in the oven and leaves a distinctive-smelling haze in the house long after baking is done. We’ll be the first to know what is the lethal dose of this material, I’m sure. All that’s left after this work of fine motor skills, planning, application of knowledge from reading, and three-dimensional planning is lining the characters up (over 500 at this writing) according to particular battle scenes from The Lord of the Rings books and movies.
Anyway, pulling him away from this special interest (obsession, actually), is akin to removing Excalibur from the sword if you’re not Arthur. So, last week, after the 3,672 time calling him back to a meal/assignment/chore/whatever wasn’t that project, I found myself spiralling downward, feeling totally out of control. Sure, I could have settled into a glass of wine and a book and let him be, content to start over in the morning, but it was 9:30 am, and drinking at that hour is a slippery slope. I could have forcibly removed him from this hobby he loves that has taken over my home with characters, tape, paper scraps, and more tape, but that would have been ugly for hours. And I could have headed upstairs to breath and meditate, perhaps doing some yoga, but that would have been higher evolved than I am now.
So I did the next best thing. I cleaned out the kitchen cabinets. I boxed and bagged up huge platters, Jello molds, lids missing containers, containers missing lids, my ex-husband’s mugs, and too many never-used vases to count. Six bags and boxes went into the car. I felt better, having taken a bit of control out of my environment and making my cupboards a wee bit better.
After that accomplishment, I announced that the following day was dedicated to room-cleaning. Little response came forth from the masses, and I went to bed determined to make the project work despite my boys’ pack-rat tendencies. To my delight, both kids were ready to start soon after breakfast. I started on the linen closet while they began on their rooms. My younger was amazingly thorough, reducing three shelves of books to one (and refilling them with cast-offs from his brother), emptying his closet, and creating huge stacks of discards. My older cast off numerous books, but didn’t make it beyond that (the book situation was truly frightening in his room), and I made fantastic improvements on the linen closet. It was, by all accounts, a successful project.
What I found in my younger’s room gave me pause. It was a walk down his obsessions (special interests, in autism spectrum disorder language). One box held battleships, submarines, and planes, all made of Sculpy (we are going to die early), from his World War II period. He recreated Pearl Harbor, insisting on proper positioning of every craft. It lived in our living room for a few months last year, before he moved to some other historical period. The drawers in the closet held costumes, many made by him, from this same interest, but underneath were smaller creations of his worn during his Ancient Rome period and Crusades period. Deeper still were piles of (empty) notebooks and boxes of hanging folders, filled with junk mail he collected during his paper and paper products period, when he was four and five. From the same period were 30 or more fake credit cards and used gift cards, all part of the paper and mail acquisition period. In another toy basket was a container of band aids, medical tape, and gauze, the last remainders from his collection of medical supplies period, which was blissfully short and took place when his financial resources were scant. I could go on, but I imagine you get the idea.
I know kids without diagnoses on the autism spectrum have odd collections. My older son has a few odd stashes of stuff here and there, but even at the height of his meteorology interest (or one of the heights), he never did more than buy a book or two. I’m not exempt from collections of stuff. My library rivals the nearest branch of our city’s public system in scope and depth, and I have enough yarn to make sweaters for the block. But qualitatively and quantitatively, it’s different.
The walk down memory lane was a mix of amusing and distressing. Each collection brought back memories of my younger completely immersed in a passion, happy and content. At the same time, I recalled the depth of his committment to these somewhat unusual interests that held him so strongly over the years, causing tantrums if one piece of mail, one battleship, or one bandage box was missing. I recalled two weeks of crying (periodically) over a single truck missing from a collection of literally hundreds of Matchbox-sized vehicles (we eventually found it), an event that occurred when he was two. It was not unsimilar to the loss of a LEGO piece (one of thousands) that temporarily vanished just a few week back. We’ve not come very far, it seems. If anything, the depth and strength of these special interests just increases as he ages.
Yes, I appreciate his ability to learn in-depth about an interest. A pleasant plus of his Asperger’s Syndrome is the ease at which he gathers knowledge about a subject of interest. His career plan, at this point at least, is to become a historian, and his ability to gather information and make connections across cultures and eras should serve him well along that path. God forbid he misplace a text or file in his (quite likely) messy office, and woe to the graduate student who fails to meet his exceedingly high expectations, but he’d otherwise be fine. (And, yes, he does love to teach those around him about the objects of his interest. Ask me about orcs. Go ahead.)
But sometimes, all I see is the stuff. Last week was one of those times. With my younger in a snit over his latest (very space-consuming) obsession, I needed to take some control over something. And, with the same child’s help, a few of the obsessions of the past went out the door, or, in the case of the band aids and office supplies, redistributed for actual use. The house is a bit less heavy with extra, and my cupboards are a good deal cleaner, as are the boys’ rooms. The process helped the stuff situation and my mood: a win-win situation. But don’t look at my bookshelves. Just sniff the air and smell the Sculpy.