This is what happens when you take the blue pills and play with matches. (photo used with kind permission of Patrick Roddie*)

This is what happens when you take the blue pills and play with matches.
(photo used with kind permission of Patrick Roddie*)

In the midst of an exhaustive and ongoing tween & teen bedroom clean out this summer, I thought I was well placed to offer you, dear reader, some organizational advice on busting clutter for good. I’d gathered lists from ‘Uncluttering Your Space’, culled suggestions from ‘The Organized Home’ and collected every clear out tip from Martha Stewart and her team of experts. I was ready to be a fountain of wisdom. To help each and every one of you start the school year with hard-working, well-organized spaces.

I anticipated some battles with the kids: me wanting to purge, baby, purge and the girls, EO in particular, wanting to keep everything. I was prepared for budding hoarders and collectors.

I told you to go before we left Reno! (photo used with kind permission of Patrick Roddie*)

I told you to go before we left Reno!
(photo used with kind permission of Patrick Roddie*)

But then YO wanted to throw out these really great toys (all of her Legos! Seriously!), and my heart shrank. I’m not a sentimental person by any means – more prone to minimalism and insensitivity actually – but the clean out started to evoke strange sensations and reflections in me. I think you know what I’m talking about. All those bittersweet, strangled emotions unique to parenthood; feelings that continually surprise, beguile, frustrate and shadow us on our journeys as moms and dads.

What helped me through, and what I want to share with you now, is the idea of a clutter clear out as a great, big festival in the desert. An experiential project of togetherness, celebration and mind expansion, but without the sand storms, port-a-potties and painted, naked people.

Thus, in the spirit of the Burning Man festival, which kicks off in Nevada this Monday (25 August – 1 Sept), I give you:





1. Radical Inclusion

Burning Man states: we welcome and respect the stranger.

Yes, you might think this applies to the smells emanating from underneath your son’s bed. But what I’m saying is: during this emotional time of purging, if your child’s dolls or toy animals start talking to you, don’t be afraid. You might want to take pictures of them, as I’ve done. Maybe even keep them. In brightly colored storage boxes or pretty baskets if possible.

2. Gifting

Burning Man is devoted to acts of gift giving.

As is Grandma, whose favorite saying while visiting Stanley Market is known to be: ‘You can’t not buy it.’ This well-meaning shopaholic, often cursed but always loved, can be very tricky to deal with. After wading through EO’s 50 different purses and sleepover bags plus innumerable souvenir t-shirts, soft toys and pieces of costume jewelry, I say, as only a Hong Kong mom can: I’m sure our helper’s church will be happy to take them off our hands.

3. Decommodification

Burning Man is unmediated by commercial sponsorships, transactions or advertising.

Translated simply as: do not let those Rugby Sevens corporate freebies even leave the damn stadium.

4. Radical Self-Reliance

Burning Man encourages the individual to discover, exercise and rely on his or her inner resources.

But you can take that as: If you choose the loft bed, that’s going to be you up there making the bed and changing the sheets. Just sayin’.

Embarrassed child realizes Mom has raided the dress-up box for Tutu Tuesday. (photo used with kind permission of Patrick Roddie*)

Embarrassed child realizes Mom has raided the dress-up box for Tutu Tuesday.
(photo used with kind permission of Patrick Roddie*)

5. Radical Self-Expression

At the festival, radical self-expression (Burning Man code for public nudity) arises from the unique gifts (= body parts) of the individual.

But for our purposes, I like to think it means: I am down with that uber-creative Austin & Ally poster montage blue-tacked to your wall, if that’s your thing.

6. Communal Effort

The Burning Man community values creative cooperation and collaboration.

Use, as needed, while cleaning:

  1. Stop making your sister do all the work.
  2. Put the device down, now.
  3. I said now.
  4. Clean out your &*#@)+% closet or there’s going to be no trampoline park!
  5. Okay, I’ll just get rid of everything.

7. Civic Responsibility

We value civil society.

Mommy will stop yelling now. You can keep the American Girl accessories, all 1,001 of them, and I’ll open this bottle of wine.

8. Leaving No Trace

We are committed to leaving no physical trace of our activities wherever we gather.

Ha ha ha. Okay, that’s not gonna happen. Next.

9. Participation

Our community is committed to a radically participatory ethic.

Crazy, I know, but EVERYONE has to help tidy up. This ain’t no free ride.

Say you'll remember. (photo by therockmom)

Say you’ll remember.
(photo by therockmom)

10. Immediacy

Immediate experience is, in many ways, the most important touchstone of value in our culture.

This I get. The time is always now. You dig? Because as much as we love the fun, young people our children are now and wish with all of our hearts that they could stay 11 or 13 for a few more years, we can’t stop them from growing up, and giving away their entire Finding Nemo toy collection (still struggling with that one).

We will never get these years back. Ever. So don’t stress the clutter. Keep what’s important, donate and recycle the rest. Tell your daughter you have no idea what happened to that crossbow-and-arrow set that Gran brought back from Papua New Guinea. And, if you need a cleansing, cathartic bonfire, please make sure you’re about 50 miles out in the American desert. Upwind.

Now go, be with your kids.

And trust me when I say: save the wombats for your grandchildren.

Please don't forsake us. (photo by therockmom)

Please don’t forsake us.
(photo by therockmom)



*San Francisco-based photographer Patrick Roddie has been documenting Burning Man for over 15 years, and he very kindly let me use a few of his wonderful photos.

You can find all of his work at


Posted on August 22, 2014, in American culture, children, parenting, parents, teens, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. RockMom that was priceless! The analogy with Burning Man was brilliant. Hit me in the core. I laughed until I cried and what is up with those Wombats?

    • Hey! Great to hear from you and thanks so much for reading. Don’t you love the wombats? There’s no way I’m letting YO get rid of those.

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