The clutter situation at Julie Levine's house (Photo/Julie Levine)
The clutter situation at Julie Levine's house (Photo/Julie Levine)

I’ve made peace with my teens’ clutter, and I think I’m going to miss it

My hubby and I live with teenagers — which means we live with a lot of stuff.

Our kitchen table is not used as a place to gather for meals (that happens elsewhere). Instead it’s become a place for the kids to put their things. Currently it’s a flute and some sheet music, college brochures, a couple of textbooks, a Spanish test from last week, rough drafts of a final paper, laptops when not in use, a thank-you card waiting to be signed, some permission slips, various computer chargers and my daughter’s favorite sweater that I promised to take to the dry cleaner because I tried and failed to get a stain out.

The kids like to save all of their old high school notebooks in case they need to refer to them. I’ve found a shelf in a closet in the kitchen that is full and overflowing. There are so many pencils, Sharpies, rulers, assorted tape and glue, and all kinds of paper in various kitchen cabinets and drawers. One day I’ll sort through it all.

I’ve saved almost all of the kids’ books: leisure reading and required school reading. I don’t have a system or a methodical way of putting them on the shelves. “The Keeping Quilt” (one of the kids’ favorite childhood stories) shares a shelf with “All of a Kind Family,” “A Wrinkle in Time” (the first “big” book I read to the kids — it took us an entire summer to get through), “The Odyssey” (which our son read in a freshman English seminar) and “Exit West” (which our daughter read on vacation last year). This grouping becomes its own kind of story — my children’s story.

There’s the clay pinch pot our son made in middle school — he didn’t like it, but I thought it was beautiful and it now sits on my bedside table alongside the macaroni self-portrait he made in elementary school and the Valentine’s Day card my daughter drew for me in fourth grade. A beach rock we all liked from a Stinson weekend shares space with these handmade art treasures.

Marie Kondo says to “keep only the possessions that bring you joy.” But so much of the kids “stuff” brings me joy. Sure, I can do without the half-eaten cereal bowls in their room, the socks randomly strewn throughout the house, the plastic lunch container (with some lunch still in it) I find under the seat in my car, the water bottles that seem to live everywhere and the candy wrappers. But I don’t mind the kitchen table being used as an everyday catchall, the overflowing notebooks when I open a drawer in the kitchen, the arbitrarily grouped books on our bookshelf, all the art projects.

Then there’s the endless pile of clothes on the floor in my daughter’s room that seems to grow then shrink then grow again. It used to bother me, but it doesn’t anymore; she’s off to college soon. The desk that was supposed to be used for homework is filled with birthday cards, souvenirs from trips, a book about Madeleine Albright’s pins, a photo of Michelle Obama, hair ties and more.

In our son’s room, there are other piles — on his desk, on the floor and on his bookshelves. Among them are star maps and a cool flashlight, a museum brochure, a book about milk, some old graphic novels and lots of books about nature. It’s like him: interesting, curious and smart.

Too much order, I am convinced, can squash creativity and I’d rather my kids be creative than orderly. Besides, soon enough the kitchen table will be free of papers, cords and textbooks. Shelves in the kitchen will empty for other things. Bedrooms will be tidy. I imagine then I’ll be ready to donate some books from our own bookshelves, which are almost full to capacity. Maybe when the kids are grown, I’ll miss all of their stuff around the house. For now, it’s all staying put right where it is, and that’s just fine with me.

Julie Levine

Julie Levine is a writer who lives in San Francisco.