I don’t think I am alone when I say that we are a family with too much stuff. No, it isn’t to hoarder status and most people visiting would say my house is “always tidy” but I know where my stuff resides: drawers, closets, shelves, hidey-holes, and storage areas.
In my Simplicity Parenting workshops, we begin talking about decluttering and organizing the home environment as a first step toward simplifying our lives because it is actually the easiest and most tangible place to start.
The best place to begin the big clean-up? The toys and other junk that clutters kid art spaces, bedrooms, and playrooms. Because we live in a culture that is constantly encouraging us to buy and consume more stuff, I have found that it takes a dedicated commitment to keep up. I begin with the kids because I notice an immediate difference in how they spend their time and behave as they re-discover their own space and cherished and valued toys that are revealed as we move out the unvalued debris.
One of the most important values we can share with our kids is to be happy with what we have. None of us would be proud of raising children who think the world revolves around them and what they want. We would be disappointed if our children thought that buying stuff was more important than our relationships with others. My goal is to help my kids focus on the importance of connecting emotionally with people rather than with things.
To really get me fired up to take action around my clutter, all I have to do is remind myself that it isn’t just about clean spaces and organized closets: “this profusion of products and playthings is not just a symptom of excess, it can also be a cause of fragmentation and overload…how too much stuff leads to a sense of entitlement…or relates to too many choices, which can relate to a childhood raced through at far “too fast” a pace” (Simplicity Parenting by Kim John Payne p. 56).
It is amazing that it was only 50 years ago when things began to change in our culture and more toys (many of them plastic) began to be produced for kids. Kids used to play hide-and-seek, tag, marbles, ride their bikes, and make mud pies before it became all about buying them toys.
We know that giving too many choices to kids under age 7 can create mini tyrants back from this post. As a result of too many choices of toys, art supplies, electronics, and even books we have allowed the consumer culture to take over our home environment, create a sense of entitlement in our children (and in ourselves), and increase stress and overwhelm resulting in a soul-fevered child.
One way to detect if your child is living into this sense of entitlement is to observe how they play. Kids who have a lot of stuff will constantly ask for more stuff. Okay, the best example of that kind of child was in Charlie and The Chocolate Factory – Veruca Salt. Veruca had everything she could ever want but she was never satisfied and she valued none of what she had. She got sent down the “bad egg” shoot after claiming that the Golden Goose was all hers. Let’s not forget that we are not immune to this sense of entitlement either.
Kids with too many toys actually don’t know how to play with it all. By the end of “playing” you may find just a lot of dumped bins and baskets of toys strewn about, increasing your stress at the end of the day as you try and engage your child in cleaning-up when you’re both tired.
Try this to get you started: Close your eyes. Imagine all of your child’s toys in a big pile in the middle of the room. Every toy from every nook and cranny in the middle of the room. Yep, that is a lot – especially if you have more than one child!
What if you were to discard just the toys that fit these categories:
- broken or missing parts
- too young or too old for your kids’ developmentally
- break easily or too complicated
- too noisy or irritating
- “fad toys”
- create corrosive, negative play
Okay, now look at the toys left. You’re already 1/2 way through the pile! Keep the goal in mind to get to the core of toys that are truly cherished by your child and allow your child to play deeply and creatively. Simplifying the toys is not meant to a punish your child nor is this project necessarily age appropriate to do with your child under the age of 7. If you feel unsure about discarding something, put it into a bin for storage to swap out. If you have children ages 8-14, you could talk about the de-cluttering strategy together and use it as an opportunity to connect and work together. Kids and adults alike can become very attached to things. The purpose is not to create a traumatic experience so certainly use your good sense as you move forward.
The surprising thing that I have noticed each time I do this exercise as my children get older is how excited they are by their “new” rooms and how much joy they find in the simplest of items found after decluttering.
My commitment to my value of “less is more” simplifies my job as mom again “when the world of play is re-aligned with kids rather than consumerism…when we can refute the notion that [our children’s] imagination is for sale…” (p. 68).
Will your child feel less entitled with fewer toys? No, probably not. But hey, it’s a start in a new direction! Simplifying our lives is a journey as a family. Small change begins in our behavior to bring us back on course. This first step of organizing and streamlining our home can stir feelings of gratitude and contentment in what we have and for one another and allow a new conversation around what we truly value begin.