Wednesday, May 12, 2010

The Junk I Might Use One Day

I go through spells where I work very hard to control my pack-rat mentality. For instance, a year ago, my wife put her foot down about the fact that my collection of things that I might one day use at preschool had filled our spare bedroom and a good portion of the cellar. I'm proud to say that it's stuck. Our house remains "things I might use one day" free.

But the middle class bag lady in me will not be denied. The storage spaces at school continue to be stuffed with things we might one day use. When I first arrived at Woodland Park to teach the 3-5 class, there was a room at school called the "office" that I shared with the Pre-3 teacher. She, a far more orderly person than me, would occasionally complain about my habit of bringing in stuff we might one day use without first considering where it would be stored, but for the most part it was not a stretch to continue to call this room our office. When I took over the Pre-3 job a couple years later, parents almost immediately began to comment on the condition of the office. "Your office is messy, Teacher Tom," they would say, "Would you like me to help you organize it?"

After a few months of that, I began to refer to the room as the "work room." That simple act of re-branding dramatically reduced the number of comments for quite some time, but as I continued to bring in junk we might one day use, there was once more a surge in offers of help.

That's when I accepted. During one of our annual all-hands-on-deck school cleanings, I turned matters over to a series of four able parents who tossed things, organized things, labeled things and generally made it look like an "office" again. I did enjoy the results on a cosmetic level, but I didn't enjoy the pressure I felt to maintain it, nor the constant searching for things that had been organized by someone else. I'm sure it's a surprise to no one that it wasn't long before every spare inch again became filled with things we might one day use.

So two years ago I took the inevitable step of re-re-branding the room, giving it the moniker of "storage room." No one offers to help organize it any longer and while Isak's mom Leslie did one day idly mention that it looks even messier than usual, it was a comment without judgement.

I've come to the understanding that there is something in my personality that needs spaces like this and since my spouse has evicted the bag lady from our home, it's inevitable that she would take up residence elsewhere. I know that others peek into the storage room and shudder, but each morning when I walk into that room, all I see are possibilities. There is something about a room stuffed with potentially useful junk that gets my creative juices flowing. Not only that, but this habit of mine is one of the reasons we can run a program with some 40 or so kids on a monthly curriculum supplies budget of under $150.

And eventually my eyes will fall onto something that I've been simply storing for 8 years and decide we're either going to use this crap or throw it out. A case in point are a set of 10 large arches of wood, probably 4 feet long, to which are attached long strips of gauze dyed in stripes of blues and greens. They have eye screws and cord across the top, telling me that they were designed to hang from a ceiling and were probably used either as part of a dramatic production or an art installation. I've been shifting those things around for a long time, only occasionally getting one out for the kids to drive through as a "car wash."

A few weeks ago I brought 3 of them into the outdoor classroom and challenged the parents working out there to figure out what we could do with them. This is what they did:

The dye has since washed out in the rain, but I think they add something magical to our sand pit. They move and billow with each light breeze and create "rooms" within the sand pit and around the water pump. 

Inspired by this, yesterday I added a couple more of them to our inflatable kayak set up.

We called them waterfalls, but I think they functioned more as mood-setters than anything else. It may not be evident due to my typically poor photography, but they really set the stage for our boat, "jet ski," and fishing hole. 

Sometimes the day comes when the junk I might use one day actually gets used. Who knew?

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Barbara Zaborowski said...

Speaking as one bag lady to another, what works for me is to ask the class what to do with the odd items I collect or to store them somewhere the kids will find them. I used to stand staring at things and trying to imagine what the class could make out of them. Now I just use for my standard "I think these are neat; my class will, too, and they'll come up with ideas." They aren't burdened with years of seeing picture frames used as frames of one kind or another; they'll look at them and see something entirely different.

Scott said...

You know I share this trait with you, Tom. I think those waterfalls are so cool; they seem just right for the kayak.

And the ones outside seem to give a billowy quality to your sand pit. Great!

(P.S. I'm still saving bottle lids. Not sure what's going to happen with them yet, but I'm even more excited now.)

Kitten Muffin said...

I am Queen bag lady of all I survey! My four year old referred to our spare bedroom as "the other garage" a few months ago. I was relieved when she referred to it as "the adventure room" a couple of weeks ago ;) Having a tight budget and a truck load of kids around the place requires such hoarding of free flotsam and jetsam. The trunk of our Nissan Dissapointment is currently full of random tree branches that had fallen in the park. Luckily the man that I am affiliated with is kinda cool with all this :) He does sometimes raise his eyebrow at me when friends gift me with bags of their recycling though.

EcoKind Design said...

oh i just love the flowy fabric outside and in! It really does add to the mood.

I used to be partnered with a collector. To honor his need to be such, we agreed that the office was his and one side of the garage. We had one dump it space in our common area where we could drop things as we came in...and the rest of our home was more or less clutter free.

This allowed us to maintain our sanity, and also honor his collecting habit...or as you call it the bag lady mentality.

Interesting how your mind swims with creative possibility when you walk into your storage room. I can see it.

I've learned to curb my desire to collect every free interior decor item that comes my way, or cool find in a thrift store. I have become very selective with what I bring home, b/c I need my space to be uncluttered. I do have a trunk filled with fabrics and linens, a box of home decor to rotate in and out of the space, and a smaller chest of things for our altars. This works nicely.

Thank you for yet another engaging post! Now I am going to read the drinking straws post!

kristin said...

oh yes, i love it.

since i started using fabric inside and out, a room looks stark without it.

i collect, collect, collect too.

and i have families collecting for me.

it is good to set boundaries, though!

Jason, as himself said...

I think if I taught preschool, I would be much more like this. But I tend to lean the other direction.

Michele said...

a kayak in the classroom now that is cool and I think the "waterfalls" sure help with scene setting/atmosphere.

I think you and my father must have been separated at birth. He has his "shed" (a REAL original "tinkering school" and an 'art room" and has all sorts of treasures in there (that I have been ahem "borrowing" lately), can not go to the tip without bringing home more than he went to dump and goes for a walk with a wheelbarrow more often than not so he can find interesting logs and bits and pieces as he walks.

He goes for drives and comes home with things shoved in the boot and strapped to the roof (once a bathtub that uncerimonously fell off as he drove along luckily on a quiet country road so not too big a drama but trying to lift it back on again (one man and 3-4 kids and a nagging wife) was a bit tricky,

The hard rubbish days are like heaven for him - when everyone puts out their big trash/old broken prams etc on the footpath for collection he will trawl along them and see what he can reclaim and build into something

Great memories of cubbies and boats and go karts and flying foxes

This is a man who got a tomahawk as bday present when a child (4 or 5 yo)- cool hey but who would do that these days? Child services would no doubt be on your doorstep if word got out.

Sherry and Donna said...

I can so relate to this Tom HOWEVER late last year we had our store room renovated and since then Sherry and I have been VERY strong and made a conscious decision not to hoard STUFF just for the sake of it. It's actually been a blessing as now we know exactly what we have and were we can find it, not to mention the treasures we found buried under all that unused STUFF and already when we've wanted something specific our incredible families have come to the fore, so we feel really good about our decision ... it' been a very cleansing experience!

BUT each to his own, what ever works for you I say GO FOR IT!

Donna :) :)

michellel said...

I am glad there are other preschool teacher "collectors" out there. I find far too many things that I NEED to bring home, save for the perfect moment, or pile up in some forgotten corner. Unfortunately, I don't have the separation of home/ it upsets the neater other half :(

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