It's been a good six months since I read "Room: A Novel" by Emma Donoghue, so I won't be going into any details in this review as frankly, I don't remember them. What I will talk about primarily is how, intentionally or not, the book changed my life and that of my family.
What was most astonishing about the book, and what made me re-examine my own life, is that as far as Jack is concerned, life in Room is pretty good. His mother tries to give her son as normal a life as possible - they have a routine, they exercise, they read and play games, and watch a TV show or two a day. From a parenting point of view it was fascinating to note how the mother's parenting choices appear to have naturally fallen into something akin to attachment parenting - Jack is still nursing and they sleep in one bed (once Old Nick, the abductor, leaves for the night). But what is truly amazing is the simplicity of life in Room and the richness of Jack's experience during his life there, despite or even because of this simplicity. When they play, the use the same items for a myriad of different games. They have just five books, which they read over and over and which appears to drive the mom a little nuts but how dear and familiar those books are to Jack! In fact each item is so familiar to him that it has it's own name, he uses no articles when referring to Bed, Chair and most endearingly, Melty Spoon. And why would he? The objects in his universe are entirely limited - as far as he knows there is literally no other beds in the world.
Life in Room is safe, it is quiet, it is peaceful and all that Jack really knows of life is his mother's love. Contrast that with life outside Room, or "in the world" as Jack calls it, and you may find yourself longing for the serenity of Room. Life in the world is loud, and fast, and busy and full of people who are full of pleasantries but lack any depth of connection and most of all it is full of THINGS. There are just so many things in the world, so few of them necessarily, almost none of them precious.
Perhaps life in the world is best summarized by Jack himself:
"In the world I notice persons are nearly always stressed and have no
time. Even Grandma often says that, but she and Steppa don't have jobs,
so I don't know how persons with jobs do the jobs and all the living as
well. In Room me and Ma had time for everything. I guess the time gets
spread very thin like butter over all the world, the roads and houses
and playgrounds and stores, so there's only a little smear of time on
each place, then everyone has to hurry on to the next bit.
everywhere I'm looking at kids, adults mostly don't seem to like them,
not even the parents do. They call the kids gorgeous and so cute, they
make the kids do the thing all over again so they can take a photo, but
they don't want to actually play with them, they'd rather drink coffee
talking to other adults. Sometimes there's a small kid crying and the Ma
of it doesn't even hear."
Obviously we are looking at an extreme case, a sensory overload. And I am not about to suggest that life is better locked away in a room somewhere. Having lived in this world all my life I am perfectly adjusted to it's pace, it's occupants and it's overall purpose, if one can call it that, but as a parent I had to examine if what I am offering my children serves their best interests. Even before I picked up this book I was already a firm believer in not over-consumerizing my kids. I tried to limit the amount of toys Offspring has and paid close attention to the type of toys we do choose - limit the plastic, nothing that makes noises and is operated by batteries, ideally something constructive such as blocks or Legos, perhaps puzzles. But still they pile up. And so does everything else we own.
So Husband and I made the decision to downsize our household. The objective: keep only what is
a) useful and actually used,
b) serves to educate or constructively entertain (e.g. books, computer, art supplies),
c) is of sentimental or esthetic value (e.g. childhood or travel souvenirs, art),
limit the number of the things we keep in multiple (e.g. only 6 forks, spoons, plates etc) and sell or donate the rest.
It took a week of full car load trips to the dump and Salvation Army until we saw any difference at all in the appearance of our home but the cathartic feeling of freeing yourself from so many possessions was truly amazing. So far we have finished the kitchen and most of the living room (the TV, VCR, DVD player - all gone!!!). We still have a long way to go but I think it is already making a difference in the way I feel about our home and our life.