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Playroom OCD: Is This Normal?

Erin Zammett Ruddy

In our house, we try to keep the kids’ stuff to their rooms and the playroom. Obviously, there is spillage sometimes and we’re not freaks about it, but I like that we have a designated area for toys and stuffed animals and puzzles and crap. That said, the room can give me great anxiety when it’s not in order. Which is most of the time considering I have a five- and three-year-old living with me. And there's no out-of-sight, out-of-mind tricks since the playroom sees a lot of adult foot traffic. This shot was taken from our little mudroom area that leads out to our garage. And that’s how we come in and out of the house because I love being able to drop boots and book bags and jackets and, quite often and quite literally, mud. (Side note: Long before I had a house, I have always wanted a mudroom; something about it makes me feel grown up and like I live in a Pottery Barn catalog—and now I want to make my mudroom look a little cooler than it currently does. On it!). 

Perhaps when the kids get older, we’ll move the playroom to our finished basement, which is where our offices are, but for now this location works. Except that having to walk over Legos and Lincoln logs and doll body parts can raise my blood pressure like nobody’s business. And so rather than close the door to the messy playroom (there actually is no door if you look at the shot) and deal with it later—as I imagine normal people do—I am often in there picking up. And it’s not a simple task. I do make the kids help, obviously, but sometimes it’s just above their pay grade. You see, I’m kind of OCD about putting stuff back where it belongs instead of, say, sticking the wooden eggs from the kitchen in the basket meant for the bowling pins. Gah! Also, there are kids in our family (Sofia, I’m looking at you!), who think it’s fun to dump puzzles and blocks and Duplos on the floor together in a 52-pick-up style just because. And I just don’t expect a five- and three-year-old to be able to put that stuff away in an acceptable manner. Maybe I need to be less picky about where stuff goes and just get the kids to get stuff up off the floor. But my playroom mama drama is deep seeded…

I have vivid memories of my own playroom as a kid (which is now my parents’ formal dining room) and as I recall it was pretty much always a sh*t show in there. We were constantly being told to clean it up. And therefore constantly complaining and whining and dragging our feet about it. I also recall having tons of games with missing pieces and old dried up markers and mismatched decks of cards and things without batteries or, worse, things with dying batteries (I'm looking at you, Mr. Operation!). There was stuff that should have just been tossed but wasn’t. Which makes it hard to have any kind of order, right? In my own home, I kind of pride myself on not having things with missing pieces. If something important to a game or toy is lost, we go on a search and rescue and if it’s deemed gone forever or damaged beyond repair, we cut our losses and chuck the remaining useless parts. (Though this almost never happens because of my OCD.) I also never feel bad throwing away the little bits and bobs that kids accumulate from God knows where (goody bags, Valentine’s Day, Easter baskets, etc.). My aversion to a bunch of crap is in direct rebellion to the current playroom at my parents’ house, which, I swear, has a bucket for broken mismatched Happy Meal toys—and we never buy Happy Meals so it’s odd…(“the kids love to play with those!” my mom insists every time I try to throw out unidentifiable pieces of cheap plastic.) My mother’s playroom is literally the land of misfit toys and it stresses me out. Yes, it’s super nice that she has a designated room in her house for my kids to play in, I just find it hard to clean up when they’re done playing. My mother has this system that is designed to make you feel like a failure because how the %&^@ am I supposed to know that the Mr. Potato Head body parts (Mr. Potato has been gone for years and yet his parts remain) go in the basket with the Maple Town schoolhouse still in heavy rotation despite the fact that it was my sister Meghan’s and she’s now 31.

So do you see why I am a little cray cray about my own playroom? Yes, I am capable of turning a blind eye when needed (full disclosure: we have a walk-in closet off the playroom with lots more stuff and that can get pretty ugly...because it has a door!) and no, I’m not in there organizing every day, but for the most part I try to not let my playroom stay out of control for too long. It is probably another one of the many ways I waste time throughout the day (my important deadline can wait, there is a Peppa Pig tea set that needs putting away!) but, for now, it’s my process. So…do you have a designated playroom? Does it ever get this bad? Worse? Do you care about things being put back in their place or are you just happy if your kids clean up? Let’s discuss.