I am not what you might call house-proud. I was once fined by my university for the appalling state of my bedroom. But even with my low living standards I find the speed and scale of the mess that my children make overwhelming.
Within seconds of waking in the morning my youngest son will set about his work. Mess is the first thing on his to-do list. Before I’ve even rubbed my eyes and scratched myself he has unleashed the explosive power of the mess on his bedroom. His commitment is admirable, particularly at such an early hour. It is as if he has drawn an imaginary grid on the floor and made sure that every square foot contains a bit of his mess.
Mess grows through the house like a peculiarly fast-spreading fungal infection. In the some areas it pools and establishes itself permanently. There is an end of our kitchen table that I haven’t seen in weeks. It’s swamped under scrap paper and stationery.
Perhaps the most debilitating aspect of my children’s mess is that it is unconquerable. It is relentless. Quite often even as I am tidying away, my sons are acting against me. Removing toys the moment I’ve put them in the cupboard, leading us on an unending hokey-cokey of housework.
Their play room is naturally the messiest place in the house. I have spoken before about how it looks like a scene from Toy Story, if Toy Story was set in a Victorian slum where the inhabitants periodically riot.
We have made several attempts to bring order to the chaos of the room. We bought a job-lot of tote boxes and tried to introduce a filing system, separating little plastic people from little plastic animals and separating them from little plastic dinosaurs. Like a sort of little plastic apartheid.
The theory is that one box can be emptied at a time, its contents played with, before the box is filled up again and put away. But our little Nelson Mandelas have always rejected the segregation and a rainbow nation of toys inevitably appears quickly after. In each square foot obviously.
My sons don’t so much ‘play’ as ‘ransack’. Books in their thousands are strewn urgently across the floor like the boys have broken in to look for a sensitive file or something. It is unfathomable to me that Amazon hasn’t developed some kind of Kindle for picture books. A kid-Kindle would literally change my life.
Like the devil, mess takes on many forms. Book mess. Food mess. Clothes mess. Art mess, which is particularly problematic. Throwing away anything that my sons have created feels insensitive, it flies against everything I stand for as a sappy dad. So we are left with accumulating stacks of paper, some with just the smallest mindless scrawl on them.
And then there is car mess. Put it this way, based on the state of our current car if I’d had one at university they’d have thrown me out.