Thursday, January 21, 2010

A Place For Everything

We had almost completed the 500 piece puzzle of the planets, when it became obvious that there was a piece missing. Before we could become too discouraged, my six year old yelled, “I’ll check the Missing Piece Drawer!” jumped up and ran from the room. The Missing Piece Drawer, you ask? As a mother, this is my best invention yet. Unlike all my allowance plans, chore charts, and measuring cup-free recipes, this one even the kids like.

The Missing Piece Drawer was born when I finally got serious about cleaning my house. It seems to take me forever to clean and no matter how fast I move, the kids and their mess move faster. I find myself, constantly picking up pieces that were left out – board game markers, dice, puzzle pieces, checkers, legos, and all kinds of essential parts to what I consider expensive toys and games that would truly not be the same without all of their pieces.

Tired of trooping back and forth to the playroom, digging through the toy bin, or dragging out the Trouble, just to realize that the piece in my hand is actually a marker for Sorry, I began putting the lost pieces in my pockets as I cleaned. Vacuuming always unearthed the largest finds, especially under the couch. Many times the pockets of my jeans would be bulging with these lost pieces and I would forget they were there. I would find myself waiting in line at Parent-Pick up fingering the objects in my pockets trying to guess which game they went to. Once home, life would distract me and the pieces would remain there and go unnoticed until I heard them clanging about in the dryer on laundry day. Soon instead of replacing these pieces in their respective places, I would stash them on the nearest receptacle - on dressers, on shelves, and in closets until I would have time to put them back where they belong, which rarely happened.

Finally it dawned on me that I did not have to put them back where they belonged at all. What would be the point? That piece, or one just like it, would be there waiting for me the next time I moved the couch to vacuum. I cleared out a drawer that is deep and long in the mission table in our front hall. There is room in there for thousands of lost pieces. No longer is the onus on me to return the lost pieces to their homes, now the kids know if they are playing a game, doing a puzzle, or building a lego masterpiece, and they cannot find a piece – the best place to look is in the Missing Piece Drawer. Brilliant!

When it is time to have the yard sale, I always check the Missing Piece Drawer to be sure all of the proper pieces to any game or toy are leaving our home together. Other items that end up in the Missing Piece Drawer are the directions to the 1000 piece Lego Building set, single playing cards, doll house furniture, parts for the numerous science kits and art kits that dot our house, and spare change (which gives some members of my family incentive to look through the Missing Piece Drawer on occasion and often times leads to some lost items being reclaimed and even put away in their proper place!).

So, it’s brilliant, the Missing Piece Drawer. Everyone needs one because life is much too busy to return every monopoly chance card to the box. And no amount of good intentions will help you sort out which Garfield puzzle this orange piece belongs to. As I grow older, I wish that there were a Lost Memory Drawer, similar to the Lost Piece Drawer where I could find all the things I shouldn’t have forgotten. A drawer tucked away somewhere inside my house that I could visit when my brain fails me. I could search through all the junk that clutters my mind, and there I would find the necessary information that was not put back where it belonged the last time I used it. Now, wouldn’t that be brilliant?

As my children get older, the things I find laying around most are paper. Homework papers, project papers, stories yet to be published, notes to friends, inspired music lyrics (daughter), dungeons and dragons character sheets (son), and wish lists for a birthday that is months away (youngest). Where to put all these papers? The sheer number of papers that come home from school each day are enough to overwhelm my personal secretary (if I had one). And how does an innocent, well-intentioned mother know which papers can be recycled and which are critical to the well-being of the universe?

A single Missing Paper Drawer is not an option – I have no drawer in my house capable of holding such volume. So instead each kid gets a Personal Paper Bin. Well, actually it’s a crate with his/her name on it. Whenever I stumble upon papers that are not clearly meant for the recycling bin (like the over due library book letter or the nasty note written to mommy in a fit of anger), I put it in the designated child’s bin. That way when my daughter is panicked because she can’t find that paper sent home two weeks ago about the project due tomorrow, she can dig in her crate and usually find what she’s looking for. Same goes for my son when he needs the piece of paper that had a dragon detailed on it during a critical moment in a D&D game. And when it is finally my youngest child’s birthday, I can dig through his papers and find THE LIST he is always referring to. When anyone’s crate gets too full, they are responsible for sorting out the unnecessary papers for recycling.

This paper system has worked for us for several years now and although we’ve gone to two crates per kid (kept in separate parts of the house so I am always near one and aren’t tempted to toss a paper just this once!), it works for us. None of us have time to return every lost piece or unclaimed paper, but we are not in a place to decide what is sacred either, so giving it temporary residence in the Missing Piece Drawer or the Personal Paper Bin is one solution. I’m sure you’ve got some of your own. I’d love to hear about them.

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