The other day I was working on one of my dreaded summer tasks—organizing our basement storage room. When we put away the Christmas decorations in that room six months ago, I remember thinking that we really needed to straighten up all the clutter that seems to accumulate in there, so easily forgotten by its location and the door that closes it away from the rest of the house. After watching a recent episode of Clean House, in which professionals help people organize their messy houses (some of which resemble those on Hoarders), I realized that I needed to attack that room with a vengeance, sorting the contents into three categories: keep, give away, or throw away. Motivated by a stormy day that prevented doing anything more fun or more productive, I headed to the basement ready to confront the job ahead. Moreover, I knew I had a deadline because our city offers clean-out days after major holidays in which they permit people to set out more garbage than fits in the designated trash containers without charging a fee.
With Fourth of July imminent, I had an opportunity to throw away things I’d been keeping far too long. We’ve lived in this house for ten years, and I still haven’t opened some of the boxes from moving that are stored down there. Of course, those boxes contain things I don’t currently need but hate to throw away, such as my college graduation gown, extra napkins from our wedding reception with the data of our wedding and our names embossed on them, and Ed’s childhood baseball trophies. Aside from those sentimental items, Christmas decorations, suitcases, and other assorted belongings, a number of things had no reason to remain and were headed for the large trash bags to be delivered curbside next week or boxes to be donated to Goodwill this weekend. Amid the various boxes of household items to be sorted, I ran across a large laundry-sized wicker basket I remembered that we used to keep on the bottom shelf of our built-in bookshelves in the living room at our previous house, where Alex and I had easy access to its contents. Pulling the basket out from behind the cardboard boxes stacked in the storage room, I discovered a variety of objects geared to help his sensory, fine motor, and language skills that I had gathered to help him work on some of these weaknesses. This basket of learning included the following items:
• three pieces of rubber therapy tubing, each about a foot long, that his occupational therapist gave us for Alex to chew on instead of his fingers or his shirt collars, which worked like a charm, saving his shirts—I threw away two and kept one as a reminder of a problem we overcame with a simple solution.
• a Cootie game with all the pieces (bodies, heads, legs, etc.) still there, a game we used to help his fine motor skills as he assembled the plastic bugs, which he never liked to do, preferring the game Trouble with its Pop-o-Matic dice and brightly colored pegs instead—I put Cootie in the Goodwill box.
• two View-Masters, one newer Fisher Price one I bought for Alex with cartoon reels and an older original one (probably one of the first ones made) that belonged to my dad with a set of National Parks reels, both intended to help his eyes work together by looking through the binocular lenses at the 3-D images—I kept the antique one and gave away the new one.
• a container of crayons, markers, colored pencils, and chalk that were to entice Alex to work on his fine motor drawing and writing skills but never seemed to hold much interest for him since he could type faster and more accurately—Many of these were broken because Alex had trouble holding them properly, and I threw them away.
• a travel-sized Etch-a-Sketch intended to help Alex learn to turn dials, but as I recall, he enjoyed the fun of erasing by shaking it more than creating by turning—I’m thinking I’ll keep this and see if he might try it again.
• a few squishy balls with various textures for his tactile issues that he seemed to enjoy handling—I threw these away in deference to his current choice of squishy small globes my Mom picks up for him at Michael’s craft store. Alex especially likes when I sing, “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands” as he holds his compact version of the world in his own hands.
• a squishy heart with “YOUR [sic] SPECIAL” written on it—Even though I do think Alex is special, the error of using “your” instead of “you’re” bothers the English teacher in me, so this had to go to the garbage bag.
• two large denim beanbags my mom had made, another sensory toy—Filled with birdseed, the combination of age and basement dampness made the beanbags stink and earned them a trip to the trash.
• a set of flashcards about the U.S. Presidents, which were bent and missing a few, and one about animals, which were in pristine condition; obviously Alex preferred the Presidents to the animals—The practically new animals cards are going to Goodwill, the well-loved Presidents are going to the curb.
• a couple of wooden alphabet blocks, clearly well-used by the wear on the letters from being handled often—These will be reunited with their beloved other alphabet friends in the set I found when cleaning out Alex’s room earlier this summer.
• a plastic shoehorn advertising the bank where my father worked when I was a child and a wooden block in the shape of a shoe with holes drilled in it and laced with a shoelace to teach how to tie shoelaces—These were some of the best finds of my cleaning adventure and will be released from their basement confines to the upstairs living areas where they will be utilized since I’m getting tired of helping Alex put on and tie his shoes. Hopefully, he’ll be receptive to trying to learn this basic task once more, especially since he has some new/old tools of the trade.
Although I still have more to organize in the basement, the task is coming along nicely, and I enjoyed reminiscing as I sorted through Alex’s sensory toy basket. Once again, by looking back on our past, I feel a sense of optimism and hope about our future because I realize just how far Alex has come and know that he still has potential to overcome the obstacles autism has placed in his path.
“Don’t store up treasures here on earth, where moths eat them and rust destroys them, and where thieves break in and steal. Store your treasures in heaven, where moths and rust cannot destroy, and thieves do not break in and steal. Wherever your treasure is, there the desires of your heart will also be." Matthew 6:19-21