jen groeber: mama art

4 kids in 3 years: reflections on motherhood, art and life.

Cleaning House: The Craft Table

This is the part I wrote two weeks ago:

Once a week I take all the recycling piled in the mud room out to the garage, put it in five big blue bins and bring it to the curb like a quarter mile away. I drive the monster bin of compost and the two bags of garbage to the compost bins and dumpsters at the school. In my car. Ick. I clear everything off the floors, off the counters, out from under the beds. I even clear off the floor of the laundry room where, contrary to all things sensical, I pile the clean clothes on the floor and the dirty clothes in the basket. And then I put the clothes into the appropriate drawers (folding them first is for rookies, are you with me?)


Time to sort the laundry. (Clean clothes on the floor.)

There’s one thing I never can get to though. We all have that place. That place where everything gets dumped. Okay. I may have about four of those places not including the basement, closets and computer desk. But there’s always one place that is the absolute worst.

The kids’ craft table. It’s where everything in my house goes to die; drawings I want to keep because they seem to reveal an artistic milestone like people with ears, the inclusion of eyelashes or a mature understanding of the power of negative space; piles of recycled Frank Gehry-esque structures or Alexander Calder sculptures made by Mica that he’s now emotionally attached to; the crafts they make at the library or at school or at a crafting birthday party that celebrate Thanksgiving or Christmas or Martin Luther King.

Please note the craft table at the top of the picture.  This was a particularly neat-table day. Totally inspiring, am I right?

Please note the craft table at the top of the picture.
This was a particularly neat-table day.
Totally inspiring, am I right?

The table was a gift from my sister-in-law. And I loved that art table, or at least what it represented. It was going to get us organized while supporting their creativity. But now I’ve lost it. I mean, I’ve literally lost it. It’s been eaten by a pile of sewing scraps, sketchbooks, stamping supplies, paint supplies, bins of stickers, feathers, Perler beads, bead beads, Rainbow looms, potholder looms. I believe it’s under there… I mean, sometimes I see a chair peek out. But it’s been awhile since I saw the whole thing.

And I know that every time my dear, sweet mother-in-law sees this pile in the corner, it must give her heartburn. I know this because one afternoon while she was watching the three youngest kids for me, she cleaned off the whole top; organized it into bins, set aside drawings, recycled way more than I would have. In the end she looked ex-haust-ed. And the whole semi-organized table imploded two days later, like a 42 year old in skinny jeans at a Mexican restaurant. (You know what I mean.)


Recycling bins the week of the Great Art Table Clean-up by my awesome Mother-in-law. It would have broken you, too.

I remember my art table when I was a kid. It was an old school desk with three stickers on it in the corner, including a Keep on Truckin’ sticker and a scratch and sniff pickle, which I scratched until every scent was gone. I remember this so specifically because stickers were precious commodities back in the day, and because I’ve always loved pickles, and also because I have that desk in my basement right now. My kids don’t love sitting at that desk.


My old desk. (Keep on truckin’!)

But I remember when it sat in the corner of my childhood kitchen, under the red wall phone. I’d stash my metal Mickey Mouse box filled with a treasure of over fifty broken nubs of crayons. Precious indeed. And every day my mother would gather the yards of computer paper covered with artwork and she’d unapologetically chuck it in the trash.

I have plans to clear off that table of ours, organize the bins, maybe get those bookshelves from Target with all the fabric bins and then sort all their art crap like the teachers do at my son’s kindergarten.

There are so many conclusions I can come to, but I’m afraid none of them are new.

1. I’m trying to raise my children to be a better, luckier, more spoiled me. More art supplies means more love, am I right?

2. I have inherited my mother’s tendency towards hoarding. (It’s all relative as they say; she had an uncle who saved every magazine and catalogue he ever got, my mother has three cats and wall-to-wall cardboard boxes, and I have an abominable art table.)

3. I’d rather be doing crafts at my kitchen table with my kids (which thankfully gets cleared off each meal) than cleaning off that hideous pile.


You can only live with something that wrong for so long. No one should be picking up sliding avalanches of colored paper and capless markers every day. No one. It’ll break a woman’s spirit.

So I did it. I bought the shelves and the bins and spent the day (with four little helpers) putting it all together. Then they sorted the Crayon nubs and capless markers and glue sticks and scissors. I sorted the rest. And this morning I slept in. Only to awaken to this:

Enough to warm a mother's heart!

Enough to warm a mother’s heart!

And there was a multitude of angels with heavenly voices singing praise over our brand new art corner.


I immediately texted my mother-in-law and sister-in-law a picture. This victory dance is worth sharing.


So today, may you too find peace and solace with your own literal and metaphorical art table. Hallelujah! (Amen.)

17 comments on “Cleaning House: The Craft Table

  1. Janice
    January 28, 2014

    Love it! Having things better organized brings a calming sensation over me. You know I am anal retentive about things being organized, but the one room I also cannot get a handle on is my laundry room. You see, I wash clothes every day. However, I only fold clothes every 5-7 days. So, the clean clothes sit in a laundry basket on the floor getting wrinkly. Then, the basket overflows so the clean clothes end up on the floor. I hate my new laundry room because it is also our entryway from our garage… and I park in the garage. So, I get an uptight feeling every time I walk into my house. Of course, it still doesn’t get me to fold the clothes any quicker.

    • jgroeber
      January 30, 2014

      Can you believe I just saw this comment?! Yes you can! Because you know that my brain (and computer desk) look just like the before pic of the craft table!
      And if I had to walk through my laundry room every day, I would stab myself. Thank goodness it has double doors I can clooooose.
      And I really do think folding is BS. Things stay neater if I gently fluff them into the kids’ drawers. Also, baskets cause wrinkles. It’s a fact.
      Hoping to come visit your laundry room soon (which sounds creepy to anyone reading this reply, until they figure out you’re featured in 1/3rd of my bog posts.)

  2. Kelly
    January 28, 2014

    I would like to listen to the song that has these lyrics “including a Keep on Truckin’ sticker and a scratch and sniff pickle.” Please and thank you. 🙂

    • jgroeber
      January 30, 2014

      Bruce Springsteen, perhaps? “Screen door slams, Mary keeps on truckin, like a vision she dances across the porch to the scratch and sniff pickle.” (To the tune of Thunder Road, of course. Thank goodness I didn’t try to rhyme with truckin’… ack!)
      Blog on!

  3. momasteblog
    January 28, 2014

    Congratulations! It is lovely!

    • jgroeber
      January 30, 2014

      Thank you for reading! I’m so glad to report it’s still clean. (Pretty much, anyway!) The kids still can’t get over it.

  4. Pingback: Kinds of Blogging – Personal, Filter, and Topic Driven | Amber's Blog

  5. talesfromthemotherland
    February 2, 2014

    I loved this entire post, but… at the very end, when you actually fixed it, I just about jumped out of my seat to fist bump you! I am a border-line hoarder. I’ve written a few post about it, thinking that if I out myself, I’ll fix the problem… My office is a disaster! Seriously. It is in my head all the time. And I keep saying I’m going to fix it… and don’t. This is so damned inspiring! If I wasn’t visiting my in laws right now, back east, I’d go right to my office and start. By the time I get home, I’ll be jet lagged. Then, I’ll forget again. So I love this story… before the fix and after!

    • jgroeber
      February 2, 2014

      I have to say, every once in a blue moon I actually choose a corner of my life (my bag, my mud room, my refrigerator) and I straighten it up. It is such a sweet blessed relief! But it’s only ever one place, and by the time I get to the next one the last one is a wreck all over again. It’s just so constant. But doing this one for the kids? Totally worth it!!! (Plus I loved the excuse to buy the snazzy shelf and bins at Target!) I didn’t actually think I’d have an after. I was actually accepting the chaos. Ha!

      • talesfromthemotherland
        February 2, 2014

        EXACTLY!! I love when I finish something and can dispose of containers, etc… clearly a sickness. 😉 No matter how much I declutter, there’s more!!

  6. themarvellousmrso
    February 2, 2014

    I have to say I almost felt disappointed the craft table has been organized! We have craft cupboard, so I can close the door on the multicoloured vomit of paint and glitter an paper that spews out from within. I can’t remember the last time I saw a felt tip that had its original lid on, or even a lid at all. I look forward to delving through the rest of your blog!

    • themarvellousmrso
      February 2, 2014

      That should say A craft cupboard, my fingers ran away on me there.

    • jgroeber
      February 2, 2014

      Ha! My fingers run away all the time. And we also have craft bins and containers and an easel and another desk and probably a cupboard. And those are maybe not quite so clean. 😉 But I have to say, straightening up this table has been an inspiration. They are making so much better art. Ha! Maybe I should do the same to my own art space?
      Thank you so much for stopping by and poking around. Really.

  7. The Sewing Grove
    February 2, 2014

    Really? tell you? (I am impressed with your comment invitation.) I was just sure you were going to learn to live with your mess of an art table and be contented that you were not stressed and you had chosen the high ground. My heart leapt at the cleaning up event and the subsequent morning. This last summer I spent our “vacation” sorting through paper bags, bins, banker’s boxes and file folders of various colors. I found notes from seven years ago with all the receipts that should have been filed with the trip insurance company following the vacation from hell. I found countless typed pages of lists (behavior modification systems)–all attempts to clarify and communicate like a good mother. Only now do I know how upside down that was. I found sacks of unopened mail and users manuals for equipment long ago given to Goodwill. I grieve those years that life was so chaotic, but to move on to the present, I loved that “vacation” in terms of peace, productivity, creativity and a burden that was moved off of me. My hoarding tendency is part thrift and resourcefulness. The seductive sinking sand is the part that dreads the emotional turmoil of choosing personal freedom or responsibility to be prepared. I like the way the freedom felt and doing what it takes to get order is way up on my list of priorities.

    I apologize for the long comment.

  8. Margie S
    February 24, 2014

    You go, girl! And when you are done at your house, you can come on over to mine! I am a Stage I hoarder. It’s just that very time I throw something away, some time down the road, I wish I hadn’t. It is true, organization can bring some peace.

    • jgroeber
      February 24, 2014

      Totally missed the spring to a spinner for a game this weekend. The spring got thrown away with the table clean-up. Even with the good comes the bad. I still prefer the clean table. At least now I get to throw the game out, too! 😉

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