Reviewing: “Jensen Cleans His Room” by Coby Greif. Mill City Press, Inc. 2022. English. Paperback. 34 pages. ISBN-13:
Coby Greif loves to clean. So much so that he just published a book about his passion, featuring catchy rhymes and colorful illustrations to entice young readers to look differently at the typically unpleasant task. “Jensen Cleans His Room” is an ebullient ode to organizing—not only in order to keep shalom bayit but also as a way to help others.
The project is a showcase for Greif’s unique combination of talents: writing, childcare and tidying. He honed his chops while growing up with two brothers in Stamford, where he graduated from Bi-Cultural Day School (now Bi-Cultural Hebrew Academy) in 2007 before going on to SAR High School in Riverdale and earning a B.A. from University of Massachusetts Amherst in 2015.
Greif moved to Atlanta to work with a publicity agency representing film studios before returning to his hometown to take a position with a Manhattan PR firm. For the last year-and-a-half, he has worked as a technical marketing specialist for a chemical company. He also writes about comic books and film for two websites.
While still a teen, Greif worked with children—as a babysitter, a counselor at the Stamford JCC’s O-la-mi summer camp and youth director at the Young Israel of Stamford.
He realizes that his penchant for the pristine is a bit unusual, but something that others might find useful. “I love cleaning but I know that most people do not—and that they’re willing to do almost anything to not clean and be organized,” he said. “I wanted to create a children’s story that shares my passion for cleaning and shows how to do it in the most effective way.”
With premise in hand, Greif summoned his Dr. Seuss-inspired love of rhyme and,
“One night in 2018, I started writing the book, and it poured out of me,” he recalled. In a few hours, he had completed half the story. With input from family and friends, he kept writing until early 2020, when he launched a Kickstarter campaign to complete the project. Nearly 100 donors—including several of Greif’s teachers from Bi-Cultural and SAR—raised $4,000 to hire illustrator Haley Moss and publishing company Mill City Press. In March, the Ferguson Library in Stamford hosted a book launch, which drew a crowd of more than 100.
In the book, Jensen uses the author’s tried-and-true sorting method of keep, donate and maybe, hanging on to the few items that really matter and donating the rest. Greif named the title character after his younger brother—not because the real-life Jensen (the current youth director at the Young Israel of Stamford) is particularly untidy, but as a placeholder during the writing process. Like a cherished item that survives Greif’s cleaning process, the name Jensen made it into the final draft.
Adult readers can pick up a few useful organizing tips from the book, which even draws from Jewish wisdom. “In Judaism, we’re very rooted in ritual and tradition, and there are so many physical components to the religion,” Greif said. “Most holidays have items that we need in order to celebrate: for Pesach, two separate sets of dishes, Haggadot, the Seder plate; for Chanukah, the menorah; machzors for the High Holidays; sukkah decorations—as well as everyday Judaica like Shabbos candles, artwork, mezuzahs. Those things are important and can be very sentimental; for example, my wife and I use the Shabbos candlesticks that my great-grandmother gave to my mom when she got married. That stuff is not clutter; it’s meaningful, and you should make room for it and use it in your everyday life—and then it’s both sentimental and purposeful. But there’s a difference between having a few organized boxes in a place that’s not taking up your livable space, and surrounding yourself with junk that you’re attributing sentimental value to.”
For Greif, treating items thoughtfully is the most important message of the book, as illustrated when Jensen and his parents prepare to dispense with his donate pile.
“Why keep nice stuff in your house just to gather dust?” Greif said. “Even if it’s sentimental, it’s just withering away and you’re almost doing a disservice to those objects because you could give that Seder plate or siddur or toy or piece of clothing a second life with someone who can’t afford it, or who could really use it. Even if you don’t want to clean or organize your stuff, by doing it anyway, you can really make a difference in someone else’s life. If it’s just taking up room in your house until you eventually pass away, your kids have to deal with it and who knows where it will end up? Take advantage of the fact that you can choose where this stuff goes.”
Greif’s wife, Heather, shares his ardor for the orderly, and the first-time parents now have the opportunity to pass along their cleaning capabilities to Nora, born earlier this month. Greif will read “Jensen Cleans His Room” at the Young Israel of Stamford on May 29. For more information, visit cobygreif.com.