What My Kids Taught Me About Decluttering
And then there's the kids' stuff.
Outgrown (but still in good shape), torn, and stained clothing is (hopefully) something you already donate or discard, and your kids don't care. But once children hit the age of 4 or 5, you realize that you need to have a little respect for their belongings. Those millions of toys scattered over the house won't tidy themselves, but if you take it upon yourself to discard some of them you're probably going to get pushback. So you need to involve the kids, and teach them to declutter.
Here's how that might work.
Sit down at the table with a little snack and talk about it first. Tell them they're going to throw all of their toys in a pile on the living room floor. Make it sound fun and free-spirited (but not destructive).
They (and you) may be surprised at how gigantic the pile is. Go ahead and marvel over it.
Put a "YES" card on one side of the room and a "NO" card on the other. Tell them, "Keep the things you love and get rid of the rest." DO NOT comment on their choices, even though you will probably find this hard. (Very hard.)
You might be surprised.
When my kids did this, there was very little hesitation. They knew what they cared about and what didn't matter. If they loved it, they kept it. If they didn't love it, they didn't.
While watching them I realized that we adults attach so much emotion and baggage to material objects.
- If I get rid of that thing my mother-in-law gave me, will she notice and hate me?
- If I get rid of that thing my mother loved, will I forget her?
- If I get rid of these things, did I waste all that money?
- What if I get rid of this thing I never use and then need it someday?
- What if I get rid of so much my space looks empty and inhospitable?
Children have the bliss of not considering any of this. So while I thought I was "teaching" them to declutter, they actually taught me something important.
It's all just stuff.
There's the stuff I think I treasure because (if I happen to look at it) it reminds me of my past or of long-gone loved ones, but now it's sitting in a box somewhere in the garage. Hmmm. Maybe it's not such a treasure after all. After all, what I really love and value about my parents or grandparents is what they taught me, the stories they told, and the fun times we shared. Those things live in my memory.
So the first time I decluttered with my kids, they got rid of three or four bags of toys (some to donate, some to toss). The remainder fit comfortably on the shelves in their playroom, and the whole space felt lighter and easier to manage. They played with the same toys they always did, but they didn't have to dig through a bunch of extraneous stuff to find their favorites. It was better.
My kids spent less than an hour decluttering and reminded me to stop over-thinking it.
If I love it, I will keep it. If I don't love it, I won't.
Updated May 2023