That little junk room holds hope and memories

lpemberton@theolympian.comJuly 8, 2012 

Inspired by a photo of an adorable playroom on Pinterest, I recently set out to redesign our “Harry Potter Room” – the 3-foot-by-12-foot space under our staircase.

First, I had to remove a massive toy pile. I felt as though I was undertaking an archaeological expedition.

I wasn’t sure what I’d uncover in the storage area that had been taken over by tiny metal cars, plush animals, movie-themed Happy Meal treasures, and toy dishes.

I was hoping to find our son’s long-lost Nintendo portable video game machine, our daughter’s missing ballet slipper, and the keys to a filing cabinet in our office that I hope doesn’t contain anything important because we haven’t been able to open it in months.

I also was hoping that I wouldn’t find bugs, spiders or the skeleton of any kind of critter that could have squeezed through the nearby crawl space access.

OK, the last one was mostly generated by an over-active imagination, and the fact that I’ve watched far too many episodes of “Hoarders.”

Still, the chances were fairly high that I’d encounter something scary and gross, such as a forgotten lunchbox full of rotten food.

When we bought our house five years ago, we envisioned a fun, organized playroom with ample storage for our three children’s toys. I wanted to paint the alphabet on the wall, build customized cubbies and buy fuzzy floor pillows so the kids would have a cool place to play and read.

Yeah, most of that never happened.

At first, each child had a plastic tote for his or her toys, and our daughter kept anything that was a choking hazard in her room, away from her baby brothers.

But then, those two babies got bigger, and so did the toy pile.

The Harry Potter Room became a parking place for two giant ride-on Tonka trucks, and an alternate location for the Little Tikes kitchen set. By the time our baby turned 3, those plastic totes were overflowing with mutually owned cars and trucks, wooden blocks and jumbo Legos.

We usually tackle the Harry Potter Room every six months or so with a thorough cleaning.

We’ve tried a number of strategies to keep the toys from taking over our house, including holding toy buy-back programs, forcing each child to fill up a paper sack with toys to donate to charity at Christmastime, and rotating toys in and out of the garage during different times of the year.

And I’m not proud to admit this, but we’ve even “accidentally” tossed toys into the box meant for outgrown clothes headed to the Goodwill.

If we hadn’t resorted to that, I’m sure we’d still have baby rattles and stacking toys in the house.

When I returned to work about 18 months ago, the room became less of a place to play, and more of a place to stow away any nonclothing, kid-related item that didn’t belong in the living room or kitchen from soccer gear to old Halloween costumes.

It didn’t help that the room was dark for months because we kept forgetting to pick up the circular fluorescent tube for the lighting fixture.

Most of what the kids really care about has been in their rooms for months, and the Harry Potter Room has become a storage shed of sorts.

I asked our kids if they would volunteer to help clean up the room. They said no, and I’m pretty sure they gave me the same look I give my husband when he asks if I’d like to help clean the garage.

Our oldest son said he didn’t care what we got rid of, as long as we kept his stuffed animals.

Our youngest son wanted to keep his Army guys, play figures and their accessories, especially the, ahem, weapons. Our daughter scrunched her nose and said she didn’t want anything in there. Either she’s really growing up, or she gave me that answer because two of her friends were within earshot.

With so much freedom to get rid of toys – toys that my kids had broken, neglected, outgrown or forgotten about – it turned out to be a fairly easy cleanup job.

The only scary thing I found was a dead beetle. I suspect it rode in on a remote-controlled monster truck, or one of the many sticks or rocks that were in the room.

Right away, the boys began playing with some of the remaining toys they had long forgotten about it. Later that day, when her friends were no longer around, their sissy even grabbed a few toys and played along.

I still need to paint and add a curtain to create a place that could double as a fort or a reading nook. But once again, the Harry Potter Room is a place filled with hope and imagination.

Lisa Pemberton is one busy mama, raising three children while working as a reporter at The Olympian. Reach her at lpemberton@theolympian.com.

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