When our 11-year-old daughter, Brynn, made the jump from elementary school to middle school this summer, it seemed like she matured overnight. We were (and are still) a little overwhelmed by how responsible she suddenly is. Does she still make dumb choices? Of course. She's human. But she also empties the dishwasher at 6:45 every morning (without being asked). I want to complain because the noise from the dishes wakes me up, but I don't want to put away the dishes myself so I cover my ears and contemplate whether I should get up and help her. We've given her more freedom and trusted her to take more control over her life. And that included letting her choose how to redecorate her room.
It was tough. I'm not gonna lie. For a mom (and dad) who are a little bit control-freaky, it's hard to give up the reins to a kid. It's my house. I want it the way I want it. That's why I do everything myself.
But this isn't my space. It's hers. And I reserve the right to take it back, but if she can ride her bike to 7:15am swim practice every morning of the summer and get straight A's in school and spend six hours a week at dance and do dishes and take care of her pet mouse and clean out the cat's litter box twice a week? She can handle making some decorating decisions.
Based on our experience, here are our four tips for letting go and letting your pre-teen redecorate:
- Help your pre-teen find inspiration. If she's not already using Pinterest, set up a board on your account for her. You can check out Brynn's board here. The times that she's been allowed to access it have been few and far between but, even so, it's fun to see the progression in her inspiration, from what was clearly going to be a turquoise-based room to a navy-based room. Somehow, she also discovered the existence of Pottery Barn Teen. She talked me into signing up to get their catalogs. (We don't, as a general rule, receive catalogs. Patagonia, High Country Gardens, and Ikea are the exceptions.) Her one copy of PBTeen is dog-eared, water-stained and starting to fall apart. She let it be her main guide in finding inspiration.
- After your pre-teen has seen what things cost, let her set a budget. Brynn knew that she wanted the yellow and white chevron duvet from PBTeen and she knew that it was going to cost her about $75. (Sidenote: why are duvets so ridiculously expensive? It's two flat sheets sewn together!) Based on that, she thought she could get new sheets and some paint for another $75. To give herself some breathing room, she added an additional $5 and ended up with a budget of $155. Clearly, she forgot a few things. Her new desk, for one, which I'd already bought but still had to refinish. I suppose that was my contribution. Curtains, to name another. So I matched her budget and told her we'd aim for $310 total.
- Give your pre-teen a range of choices but not a blank slate. If you're a Love & Logic parent, this will be familiar to you. "Give your child lots of choices, all of which are fine with you." Remember that? Do you want to wear your jacket or carry it? Do you want an orange or a banana? Same goes here. Once I was on board with her decorating inspiration (which included white walls) I gave her 6 white paint swatches from which to make her choice. I didn't care which one she chose, but she had the power to make the final decision. For her desk, she got to choose between navy blue, yellow, and coral (the three colors she'd chosen to build her room around). I didn't care which one, but that's a pretty impactful decision for her to make. I chose the exact hue because the paint I used (General Finishes Milk Paint) comes in a limited range of colors. I did the online shopping for her sheets (she wanted navy sheets) and gave her a few choices. We talked about the thread count, the softness, how well they would wear, whether one had more organic cotton than another, and the price. She decided which sheets to buy. She is, after all, the one who will be sleeping in them.
- Involve your pre-teen in the actual work. This is where Scott came in. Repainting a room isn't difficult work, but it is time-consuming and tiring. It's not photoshop. In a world where things seem to just appear on a whim, we wanted to be sure that Brynn knew how much actual work was going on behind the scenes. Day one was clean-out day. She actually took every single non-furniture item out of her room. All of it. She moved most of it into the hallway but also took a bunch to the basement and set up camp down there. She sorted all of her stuff and got rid of about a third of what she had. Scott helped her move the furniture to the center of the room and cover it in drop cloths. Day two was clean and prime day. She and Scott dusted and cleaned her walls and chair rail and then they got to work priming the ceiling and walls. I'm not sure whether Scott knew how hard it would be to let an 11-year-old help him paint a room. I knew -- I let two 10-year-olds and two 8-year-olds paint the inside of the Bunk-alow last fall. Using paint brushes. There is some skill involved in painting a room and it takes time to develop. In Brynn's room, the lack of skill meant that the roller tray got stepped in a few times and paint was dripped on the floor several times. By day three, painting day, Scott actually got up early and tried to start before Brynn woke up. The reality was, priming exhausted her and she didn't have much enthusiasm for painting. She helped with the painting but not quite like she did with priming. Lessons learned (and that was our goal).
I'll be back later this week with more photos of Brynn's new room and a source list. Until then, I'd love to hear your thoughts on your kids' roles in planning their own rooms!