Makers Gotta Mess

May 28, 2013 @ 7:48 pm | Filed under: ,

messy desk with circuitry board

Enjoyed this article today: Why NonGeek Parents Have the Advantage in Parenting Young Makers. The whole piece was interesting but this bit especially grabbed me, because it’s singing my own song:

The parent panel was surprisingly united on several points. “Makers gotta make, so if you can’t get their stuff (maker treasure) under control just find a way to live with it.”  “Kudos for letting your kids disassemble, repurpose, void warranties, and explore fearlessly!” “Allow projects to take time and make room for play and exploration–even if it means lots of projects are in progress at once (if you aren’t going to work on it in the next six months maybe it can hang out in the back of the closet for now.)”

Whenever I speak to homeschooling groups, I urge something similar. Never underestimate the importance of freedom to be messy. Creativity is a messy, messy business. Art is messy. Writing is messy. Sewing, woodworking, robotics, cooking, all these awesome pursuits we want our kids to dive into, all these handcrafts and skills we love to see them develop—they require room to get sloppy. The paint-spattered corner, the room abandoned to fabric scraps and bits of Sculpey, the table overtaken by wires and circuit boards…

I know it isn’t always easy, especially for type-A parents, to live with the clutter and chaos that so often surrounds a creative mind, but there are ways to compromise. For us, it means keeping the front of the house reasonably tidy, one main room where people can count on an uncluttered space, and letting the rest of the house wear a jumble of raw materials with abandon and zest. The girls’ room is overrun right now with wand-making supplies. The house smells like hot glue. Every time Scott looks at me he finds another piece of glitter on my face—I don’t even know where it’s coming from; it’s in the air.

Along with Freedom to Be Messy goes Lots and Lots of Down Time…that’s part two of my refrain: give ’em time to be bored, time to stare into space, time to tinker, time to obsess. So much of my work as a writer happens when I’m far from my keyboard…I’m writing while I’m gardening, while I’m doing dishes, while I’m curled up under a blanket doing a crossword puzzle. I may look idle, but I’m not. Things are churning in my head. Scott used to do his best writing on the walk home from the subway. Now, far from NYC, sans commute, he stands in the backyard, his mind working while Huck runs circles around him. Our kids know that we’re absent sometimes—lost in our thoughts, working something out—and they understand, they know we try to make up for it by being extra-present, fully engaged, in other parts of the day. But also by giving them that same kind of mind-space in return: big chunks of the day unscheduled, unspoken for. Let me get out of your hair so you can put glitter in it.

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16 Reponses | Comments Feed
  1. Melanie B says:

    Funny, I was just writing about creativity and mess today too. I wish I were as at ease as you seem to be. Then again, I haven’t found a way to carve out a space in our tiny house that is kept reasonably tidy. I can’t keep them from playing in the living room and crafting in the dining room.

  2. Joy says:

    Agree! Sounds so much like our house. The recent mold experiments are a bit too much for even laid-back-me though…

  3. Lori B says:

    Amen! Our main floor is open-concept, so we try to keep it reasonably picked- up and clean, but our upstairs bonus room is… ummm… not. When we redid that room last summer we built in bookshelves accross one wall with a giant table in the middle which is the youngest’s (12yo) art desk. It’s never empty, and usually the ‘creativity’ spills over into the other half of the room which has our reading chairs and window seat, as is supposed to be our library 🙂 The older kids’ messes don’t take over the house in the same way and tend to live in their rooms, but we fianlly accepted the fact that the 12yo *needs* to make messes and have a place to leave them out until she’s finished.

  4. Blythe says:

    This really struck a chord with me. Thank you for letting me remember that parenting is a maker project, a circuit that’s making me.

  5. Dianna says:

    I’m so glad you posted this: it’s the encouragement I needed to live with my son right now. He’s only six, but his room is packed full of “materials” he’s saved to build with, and dismantled electronics. His room is such a mess! Thanks to you and your thoughtful post, I will not be transferring most of the contents of his room to the trash this summer.

  6. Fanny Harville says:

    Freedom to Be Messy and Lots and Lots of Down Time — I think these are among the most important principles around which to structure homeschool. Love this post.

  7. maria says:

    Lissa, THANK YOU! Oh how I immensely appreciate your saying all of this and linking to the article. No, I love you for saying all of this! 😀

    For all of my telling others the same sorts of things, I must admit to a part of me that continues to doubt and even feel guilty at times. Times like today. Which, ironically, was preceded by three quite intensely creative days for all of us. Hours spent in our own worlds pouring over ideas, creating, wondering, accomplishing, etc. Being who we are. Then coming together here and there to share something cool that we were so excited about that it was bursting forth with abandon. Days that I dream of us having, yet the “okay, gotta be a grown up here” part of me starts wagging a scolding finger at me this morning. Ick. 😛

    It is so frustrating to realize that such counter productive ideas still lurk about like pestering little buzzing annoyances. The “Pottery Barn” home mentality is not helpful.(that idea that our homes need to look even remotely like a catalog home….no offense to Pottery Barn at all, just an easy example) Or the “inside the box” thinking of some old, odd sort left over from a “school” mentality. Even that which the rows of sameness that suburban sprawl induces or that which is ensued by an industrialized-factory-production mindset. Ugh, these are times I think I need to move to an artists colony or something.

    And then, there is an email in my inbox that offers one click to encouragement and affirmation abounding. 🙂 It refreshes like a much needed glass of cold water. I feel officially patted upon the back with encouragement. Validated that yes, we are normal. Normal makers. Normal creators. Normal artists. Normal us. 🙂 So again THANK YOU Lissa! Thank you exceedingly much!

    And by the way, I just told my kids to read this blog post, then I apologized for all the times I had let contrary ideas sneak into our days. Oh for them to never have those pesky buggy thoughts ever. But, if they do, oh that they will remember the truth, that creating is messy and messy creating is good, good, good indeed. 😀

    🙂 maria

  8. Melissa Wiley says:

    Melanie, I think it’s harder to keep things sorted to separate spaces when they’re all little. I have a small army of teenagers to help me now. 🙂 One tactic I’ve always found useful is lots of baskets (you probably already do this) for scooping certain kinds of clutter into when you Just Need Things Picked Up For a While. That’s worked pretty well for the kinds of crafty things the older kids like to do. I worked out a pretty good system for paint supplies a long while ago (dedicated kitchen drawer) and that helps keep the table easily clearable for dinner. Sculpey, playdough, and anything glittery or gluey happens at a table in the girls’ room. (Rose, Beanie, & Rilla share a [small] room. It’s a war zone.)

    I’ll hop back over to your post to respond to the tidy-up topic specifically. 🙂

  9. Pippi says:

    Oh I have such a hard time with this! I really believe in messes and little projects and I’m not even close to a neat freak but in a tiny apartment with 5 people — one of whom is a mobile baby and one of whom is a toddler — productive messes become destroyed messes so fast. And the choking hazards. And then there’s the single table where we create/make messes/and attempt to eat 3 meals a day. When the glitter gets into the broccoli I do start to loose my mind. Any ideas on where to keep works in progress?

  10. Lisa says:

    Amen to down time and messy. So much better in the long run than soccer league….. Mine are now pretty much on their own, but they still “do” stuff like this and I love it.

  11. Maria says:

    Pippi, it was tough living in a tiny house when my children were small a tiny apartment would be maddening at times. I finally set up a separate table for creating and making in one corner of our tiny dining room and we ate in the kitchen at a tiny table. Not sure if that would be an option any where in your apartment.
    As for storing in progress items, we used the very top shelves of bookcases, the top of the refrigerator and even a top shelf in a cabinet in the kitchen.(we also stored creative supplies in this cabinet) Boxes with lids are handy as well, especially if they can slide under say a bed. I do not care for plastic boxes but must say I did rely on them a great deal for storing a lot of things that were in progress as well as supplies for creating and making. I finally set up a separate table for creating and making in one corner of our tiny dining room and we ate in the kitchen at a tiny table.

    I hope that helps some.
    🙂 maria

  12. Pippi says:

    Thanks, Maria! There’s definitely no room for another table but the top of the fridge is a great idea — right now it covered with egg containers. Some of them are great for project but they seem to breeding up there. 😉 We use our kitchen cabinets for the messy art supplies, too. I think one of the most difficult tasks in drying paintings. They make so many (which is wonderful!) but then there’s no place to put them while dry. It can get…very painty.

  13. Pippi says:

    Glad some of my rambly ideas might be of some help. What about a clothes line of thick string or yarn on the wall or from corner to corner in a room to hang the paintings to dry, or would that be too drippy? You could hang them w/clothes pins or paper clips. We did this for a while w/paintings that were not too thick w/paints.
    Or do you have a place to hang them outside on a balcony maybe? Again, atop the frig or the tip top of a book shelf or wardrobe. Oh another idea is to get or make a tiered stand for them. I recall using these at school when I was a child.(of course then you have to put the stand somewhere) Cookie sheets stacked crisscross each other w/paintings on them atop the frig maybe. Hope this helps some.
    🙂 maria

  14. Melanie B says:

    Oh yes, we do have lots and lots of baskets. But they are always being overturned to become houses, boats, dolly beds, garages, etc. Oh my little makers just see so much potential in them…. And they are also constantly being sat in, stepped on and generally squashed and destroyed. I haven’t yet found a container that can withstand the hard use. Plastic shatters, baskets get squashed, even wooden boxes, which you’d think would be pretty hard to destroy. The wooden box for our wooden blocks is continually falling apart and I have to stick it back together.

    I’m trying very hard to appreciate the creativity that underlies all the messes…. but sometimes I just start ranting and roaring. I should bookmark this post for when the urge to climb the walls gets too strong.