On stuffed animals, kids' rooms, and adult neatness

Posted by Barbara F. Meltz  January 28, 2011 06:00 AM

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My 7 1/2-year-old daughter insists on sleeping with so many stuffed animals that she is nearly crowded out of the bed. There is one "lovey" that has been special to her for many years, but in the last couple of years, the number of others has steadily increased. I don't think she sleeps well because she gives so much room to the stuffed animals, and she has to take a lot of time every night arranging them just so. We have tried limiting them (but they seem to creep back in slowly), give them boundaries (they can only have 1/2 of the bed), etc., but the problem persists. I detest the cluttered appearance of her room because of it. Any suggestions?

From: Keri, Niles [MI? CA? OH? Il? You don't say....]

Hi Keri,

I'm gonna go out on a limb here and say, what's the big deal? I'm not being dismissive, just trying to put this in perspective. In fact, I think you've handled this perfectly, putting limits on how many, putting boundaries around their "area." (Have you painted the boundary in permanent marker, so the boundary doesn't stretch?) Other strategies might be to set a timer for how much time she spends getting them ready each night (agree on how much time together); taking turns with which animals get the bed which night (she might even enjoy setting up a schedule for who sleeps where when) ; hanging a hammock over the bed where some animals can sleep (there actually are string hammocks just for this purpose); or finding some other creative solution -- baskets, drawers, dog beds -- which can give a neater appearance.

I'm trying to make several points here. First, this is a stage and it will pass, but second, as long as she's in the stage, these stuffed animals really can be important to some kids, so don't make the mistake of minimizing or dismissing them. My son is out of college, and I recently wanted to throw away stuffed animals that had accumulated over the years; animals, I should add, that he hasn't even looked at in, oh, 15 or more years. Even now, he was very clear that there are some that cannot be tossed. Third, this messy room is only going to get messier as the years go on, so a word (or two) about that.

Most of us, as adults, see our home as a reflection of ourselves; when it's not to our standards of neatness, we feel inadequate. OK, that's fair. Now think of your child. What space does she have in which to reflect herself? One room, right? I bet this is an issue in almost every family where there's a teenager, but I think what most of us who aren't there yet don't realize is this begins to happen way before the teen years. You may be there pretty soon, because the sooner and harder you try to control her room, the more she may push back. My suggestion is to try to be collaborative about this as much as possible, including lowering your standards. Detest is a strong word, and if that's really how you feel, I suggest getting a handle on this sooner than later, or you will be really miserable.

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10 comments so far...
  1. Oh, I so understand you, Keri! My son is the same age, 7 1/2 and we have a similar problem with too many "guys" in the bed. A new version of Hoarders? :)

    I don't really mind, but I think our crowding issue is to a lesser degree than yours. The bed can still be made neatly...whenever a new "guy" comes into the house, I actually ask him to choose which one of the old fellas should be evicted from bed. But - the evicted character doesn't have to go far. I am using an "over the door" shoe holder with clear plastic pockets on his bedroom door...and we have been talking about hanging it on the wall. He can see all of his guys, all the time, and switch them out. There are teddy beds you can buy (hammocks that hang in the corner of a room at any height) that would achieve a similar effect.

    I know these guys are not necessary for sleep, because we travel quite frequently and I only allow him to take two "friends" in his bag when we are out of town. He just likes them and I'm fine with that.

    At some point the room will be come intolerably messy, but at this age I think there are a lot of clever solutions for teaching kids how to manage their stuff.

    My son is very sentimental and hates to throw things away...we have treasure boxes for small items, binders that we clip papers into so he can look at them when he wants to, a bulletin board for pictures and cards. I'm teaching him to "scrapbook" as a way of organizing mementos from trips. His photo journals fit neatly on his bookshelf. We use small wedge style shelves on the walls for trophies, a jar of sea glass collected at the beach, etc." Every few months or so I get overwhelmed at the sheer volume of stuff this kid collects. But I am trying to help him learn to manage it so it can be enjoyed without me having to call TLC for intervention.

    Posted by RH January 28, 11 07:44 AM
  1. Mom? is that you? I didn't realize they you could send emails from the grave
    :-)

    In all seriousness, that could have been written by my own mother, 42 years ago. I was that kid with a million stuffed animals. As I look back on it, I used them to help me fall asleep...as was often the case way back when, my bedtime was before I was tired enough to go to sleep, so I made up stories about them that involved me! I was also somewhat shy, so they were a comfort zone for me. The only difference in our stories is that I think my mother had a touch of OCD--my room was always clean because she cleaned it herself, I never even made my bed because I didn't do it right. I assure you I am well adjusted, but I am a terrible housekeeper by most standards. I will say I do make distinction between dirt (that has to be cleaned up) and clutter (which doesn't bother me that much).

    I know its very easy for those of us who don't care about clutter so much to say "let it go" to those of you who do. But I agree with Barbara's advice and I would definately make her a part of cleaning up her room and making sure the animals are neat and orderly. Try to see things a little from her perspective, too. She probably takes very good care of these toys because she loves them so much. I also have no doubt that you like to be in control in many areas (not that this is a bad thing, though people can get too controlling) but I think if you look closely at your daughter, you will find she shares that trait, which can definately be channeled for good. My mother and I were definately alike in that department!

    Posted by ash January 28, 11 08:15 AM
  1. My son (now 11) slept like this when he was younger - piles of stuffed animals in the bed, and general chaos as they would end up scattered over the room during the day. Never bothered me in the slightest - he wasn't obsessed with them (usually had one or two favorites at any given time), and could easily travel and bring a favorite along.

    He doesn't sleep with them anymore - he just gradually lost interest, and grew out of this phase. But, at the time, it was comforting to him and made him feel safe. Just relax. This isn't a big deal.

    Posted by CC January 28, 11 10:12 AM
  1. There should be three rules for kids' rooms:

    1. Sanitary--no food trash, dishes, used kleenex on the floor etc.
    2. Not a fire trap, major tripping hazard or otherwise unsafe
    3. Needed items are reasonably accessible--no being late for school because they can't find their shoes.

    Other than that, insist they pick up after themselves in the rest of the house, close the bedroom door, and be glad that this is your biggest problem.

    Posted by di January 28, 11 01:13 PM
  1. My daughter at an early age had to sleep with all her little friends, from Tigger to the Big Bear. She is now 20, and well I wish I had seen and read the Last Lecture, By Randy Pausch. In it, he describes letting your child not dictate what he or she does, but letting them live a little, express themselve.

    I put restrictions on my daughter thinking I am the Parent and you are the Child. But looking back, who did it hurt, I was fighting the spilt milk syndrome. No one got hurt, no one died.

    The clutter, yes I agree can be at times unsightly, but unless Better Homes and Gradens is coming for a photo shoot. You should be all set.

    Watch the Last Lecture on Youtube, and listen and then determine if it is worth all the fighting or disruption.

    Posted by Mark O'Connor January 28, 11 01:56 PM
  1. Buy a chest for the end of the bed and so she can keep the stuffed animals in there during the day. She can take them out at night when she goes to sleep.

    You get a de-cluttered room, she gets to sleep how she wants to sleep.

    But I really think it's not a big deal. Kids tend to have stuffed animals on their beds.

    Posted by mk January 28, 11 02:01 PM
  1. My sisters and I had a triangular mesh "stuffed animal hammock" that hung in the corner of our room, closer to the ceiling than the floor. It was specifically made for this purpose. $10 on Amazon! Got them off the bed, but still nearby and visible. Gradually we lost interest as we got older. Maybe that's a possibility?

    Posted by serafina January 28, 11 05:31 PM
  1. Wow, what an obsessive - you hate the clutter of HER room? Meaning stuffed animals on the bed?
    Lighten up, pilgrim, you'll live longer.

    Posted by Jenna January 29, 11 09:49 PM
  1. I agree with CC and Mark O'Connor specifically, and many other posters in general. A child's room needs to be sanitary and safe (and preferably able to find necessities quickly). Other than that...yes, watch or read The Last Lecture. Find a solution like a stuffed animal hammock or bin/trunk. And shut the door.

    All that said, I understand it's easier said than done for some parents. But I'm with the group that suggests you try!

    Posted by Alison January 31, 11 11:26 AM
  1. I was one of those kids. ALL my stuffed animals slept in my bed for a few years there. LW, has your daughter indicated that she's scared of anything - monsters, ghosts, the dark? I had a vivid imagination and the stuffies, carefully arranged around me, made me feel safe from any monster that might creep up along the edge of my bed. I knew monsters weren't real but worried about them all the same.

    And yes, my room was a mess. My parents cleared a path so they could walk through without impaling a foot on a Lego and otherwise left it alone. We had to pick things up in the family areas, though.

    Posted by KJB January 31, 11 11:49 AM
 
10 comments so far...
  1. Oh, I so understand you, Keri! My son is the same age, 7 1/2 and we have a similar problem with too many "guys" in the bed. A new version of Hoarders? :)

    I don't really mind, but I think our crowding issue is to a lesser degree than yours. The bed can still be made neatly...whenever a new "guy" comes into the house, I actually ask him to choose which one of the old fellas should be evicted from bed. But - the evicted character doesn't have to go far. I am using an "over the door" shoe holder with clear plastic pockets on his bedroom door...and we have been talking about hanging it on the wall. He can see all of his guys, all the time, and switch them out. There are teddy beds you can buy (hammocks that hang in the corner of a room at any height) that would achieve a similar effect.

    I know these guys are not necessary for sleep, because we travel quite frequently and I only allow him to take two "friends" in his bag when we are out of town. He just likes them and I'm fine with that.

    At some point the room will be come intolerably messy, but at this age I think there are a lot of clever solutions for teaching kids how to manage their stuff.

    My son is very sentimental and hates to throw things away...we have treasure boxes for small items, binders that we clip papers into so he can look at them when he wants to, a bulletin board for pictures and cards. I'm teaching him to "scrapbook" as a way of organizing mementos from trips. His photo journals fit neatly on his bookshelf. We use small wedge style shelves on the walls for trophies, a jar of sea glass collected at the beach, etc." Every few months or so I get overwhelmed at the sheer volume of stuff this kid collects. But I am trying to help him learn to manage it so it can be enjoyed without me having to call TLC for intervention.

    Posted by RH January 28, 11 07:44 AM
  1. Mom? is that you? I didn't realize they you could send emails from the grave
    :-)

    In all seriousness, that could have been written by my own mother, 42 years ago. I was that kid with a million stuffed animals. As I look back on it, I used them to help me fall asleep...as was often the case way back when, my bedtime was before I was tired enough to go to sleep, so I made up stories about them that involved me! I was also somewhat shy, so they were a comfort zone for me. The only difference in our stories is that I think my mother had a touch of OCD--my room was always clean because she cleaned it herself, I never even made my bed because I didn't do it right. I assure you I am well adjusted, but I am a terrible housekeeper by most standards. I will say I do make distinction between dirt (that has to be cleaned up) and clutter (which doesn't bother me that much).

    I know its very easy for those of us who don't care about clutter so much to say "let it go" to those of you who do. But I agree with Barbara's advice and I would definately make her a part of cleaning up her room and making sure the animals are neat and orderly. Try to see things a little from her perspective, too. She probably takes very good care of these toys because she loves them so much. I also have no doubt that you like to be in control in many areas (not that this is a bad thing, though people can get too controlling) but I think if you look closely at your daughter, you will find she shares that trait, which can definately be channeled for good. My mother and I were definately alike in that department!

    Posted by ash January 28, 11 08:15 AM
  1. My son (now 11) slept like this when he was younger - piles of stuffed animals in the bed, and general chaos as they would end up scattered over the room during the day. Never bothered me in the slightest - he wasn't obsessed with them (usually had one or two favorites at any given time), and could easily travel and bring a favorite along.

    He doesn't sleep with them anymore - he just gradually lost interest, and grew out of this phase. But, at the time, it was comforting to him and made him feel safe. Just relax. This isn't a big deal.

    Posted by CC January 28, 11 10:12 AM
  1. There should be three rules for kids' rooms:

    1. Sanitary--no food trash, dishes, used kleenex on the floor etc.
    2. Not a fire trap, major tripping hazard or otherwise unsafe
    3. Needed items are reasonably accessible--no being late for school because they can't find their shoes.

    Other than that, insist they pick up after themselves in the rest of the house, close the bedroom door, and be glad that this is your biggest problem.

    Posted by di January 28, 11 01:13 PM
  1. My daughter at an early age had to sleep with all her little friends, from Tigger to the Big Bear. She is now 20, and well I wish I had seen and read the Last Lecture, By Randy Pausch. In it, he describes letting your child not dictate what he or she does, but letting them live a little, express themselve.

    I put restrictions on my daughter thinking I am the Parent and you are the Child. But looking back, who did it hurt, I was fighting the spilt milk syndrome. No one got hurt, no one died.

    The clutter, yes I agree can be at times unsightly, but unless Better Homes and Gradens is coming for a photo shoot. You should be all set.

    Watch the Last Lecture on Youtube, and listen and then determine if it is worth all the fighting or disruption.

    Posted by Mark O'Connor January 28, 11 01:56 PM
  1. Buy a chest for the end of the bed and so she can keep the stuffed animals in there during the day. She can take them out at night when she goes to sleep.

    You get a de-cluttered room, she gets to sleep how she wants to sleep.

    But I really think it's not a big deal. Kids tend to have stuffed animals on their beds.

    Posted by mk January 28, 11 02:01 PM
  1. My sisters and I had a triangular mesh "stuffed animal hammock" that hung in the corner of our room, closer to the ceiling than the floor. It was specifically made for this purpose. $10 on Amazon! Got them off the bed, but still nearby and visible. Gradually we lost interest as we got older. Maybe that's a possibility?

    Posted by serafina January 28, 11 05:31 PM
  1. Wow, what an obsessive - you hate the clutter of HER room? Meaning stuffed animals on the bed?
    Lighten up, pilgrim, you'll live longer.

    Posted by Jenna January 29, 11 09:49 PM
  1. I agree with CC and Mark O'Connor specifically, and many other posters in general. A child's room needs to be sanitary and safe (and preferably able to find necessities quickly). Other than that...yes, watch or read The Last Lecture. Find a solution like a stuffed animal hammock or bin/trunk. And shut the door.

    All that said, I understand it's easier said than done for some parents. But I'm with the group that suggests you try!

    Posted by Alison January 31, 11 11:26 AM
  1. I was one of those kids. ALL my stuffed animals slept in my bed for a few years there. LW, has your daughter indicated that she's scared of anything - monsters, ghosts, the dark? I had a vivid imagination and the stuffies, carefully arranged around me, made me feel safe from any monster that might creep up along the edge of my bed. I knew monsters weren't real but worried about them all the same.

    And yes, my room was a mess. My parents cleared a path so they could walk through without impaling a foot on a Lego and otherwise left it alone. We had to pick things up in the family areas, though.

    Posted by KJB January 31, 11 11:49 AM
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Barbara F. Meltz is a freelance writer, parenting consultant, and author of "Put Yourself in Their Shoes: Understanding How Your Children See the World." She won several awards for her weekly "Child Caring" column in the Globe, including the 2008 American Psychological Association Print Excellence award. Barbara is available as a speaker for parent groups.

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