Two Things I Learned From Cleaning Our Room


Cleaning was never on our list of favorites, especially when it came to cleaning our bedroom. I have to smile when I remember how we (finally) found an agreeable way to clean our bedroom. There were six of us in the room, and we had three double beds. It was a  huge 12′ x 20′ room, with plenty of space for beds, dressers, and nightstands.

Our mother, who ran a bread business from the bakery on the floor below our bedroom and slept on the main floor, seldom came upstairs. But when she did – oh my goodness – did we ever need to scramble and begin cleaning!


Our bedroom was not a dirty room. We didn’t have empty bags of food or plates of cold food scraps sitting around. We simply didn’t like to pick up the scattered items. Since there were so many of us, it was easy to expect the next person to do it. If something fell off your bed onto the floor when you crawled under the cover at night, who cared? Someone else could pick it up. Cleaning day would come some day, but not now – that was our sentiment.

Years later, we readily admit how ridiculous it was for us to have such a messy room. The older sisters vaguely remember making piles, but don’t remember how we divided them. The youngest says since she was the baby of the bunch, she was probably just along for the ride and doesn’t remember. Middle sisters remember the time a sister-in-law came home to visit with our brother (her husband) and came upstairs to help us clean our room. Even today, these sisters remember the embarrassment and wonder what was wrong with us that we didn’t care how our room was kept!

The floor of our room was masonite. Painted gray, with many colors of sponge blobs dabbed on top, it did the job and was affordable. The masonite provided us with dividing lines – large squares on which to make piles of things to be put away.

When it came time to clean up our room, we made our beds and swept everything out from under those beds into one huge pile. We divided all the books, magazines, crayons, pencils, papers, combs, brushes, socks, and sweaters onto piles. Six piles, to be exact. There were sure to be books in each of those piles.

There were a lot of books. We had our town library books and books from the school library. We also had our own library in another upstairs room. There were always plenty of books under beds and under the covers. Long-lost, overdue library books made their appearance when we got busy and hauled things out from under beds.

Everything got divided in those six piles.  One pile of stuff per 4′ x 4′ masonite square.


I laugh now thinking about all the time we took to divide everything up so it was fair and square. You see, each pile had to be equal. We’d look at the piles on the floor and decide if we thought they were even. No matter which pile you chose, you had to be willing to take care of that pile and not think someone else got an easier pile than you. If you thought one pile had too many items, you said so, and someone moved a few items from that pile to other piles. We’d shuffle things back and forth from pile to pile, spending time making sure things were even.

After all, none of us wanted to do more work than we had to do, and we were all about life being fair to ourselves.

Once everyone thought the piles were even; once each of us said we’d be willing to clean up any of the piles, the piles were assigned. Each of us took care of putting things on our pile in their proper place.

You know what’s so funny about this now?  We spent more time dividing things so they were fair than it would have taken one person just to clean up the entire mess.

We learned some things from doing it this way.

We learned to weigh the options carefully, to consider “how will I feel if I get that pile?”, to barter and trade until everybody was happy. It didn’t matter that we spent more time to do it this way when the lessons we learned were a great trade-off for the time we might have “wasted”. It mattered not how we cleaned as long as our mother was happy with the condition of our bedroom.

We learned the value of considering, “If the shoe was on the other foot . . . would I . . . ?”

We learned to negotiate and work out our differences among ourselves without needing an adult to guide us through the dividing and conquering.

We knew it had to be done, and we found a way to do it so that everyone was happy.

‘Amazing the things you learn about life from cleaning your room with your siblings as a child.



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