Stuff is about so much more than the physical objects that create our clutter. The condition of my spaces correlates to the condition of my mood. This can also be true for kids and I believe there are important principles that we can teach our children about their relationship with the things they own.
I come from several generations of excessive consumers. Women mindlessly buying things without much thought for what was going to happen to those things. I think we all do that to some degree, but these same women kept their things with great thought. They couldn’t possibly let something go and chance missing its opportunity to be used on the Great One Day. I grew up hearing, “You might use that one day.”, as often as I was told to eat my fruits and veggies. I was never taught to get rid of anything and no one ever considered that it might actually be good to let things go. These were not healthy habits to pass down to my children.
Because of my upbringing, I became very intentional to teach my kids stuff detachment. Once both of my kids were past the toddlers stages, I started to involve them in the declutter process. I vowed to take myself out of their decision making as much as I could, and I still commit to this.
What that means is if they decide to keep something that I think is junk, they get to keep it. If they decide to get rid of something that I think is special and sentimental, they get to get rid of it. When I take myself out of persuading them what I think they should do with their stuff, it opens up conversations and helps us better understand one another. Some things I think are sentimental to them are actually only sentimental to me and some things I think are trash may be things they have plans to repurpose or use in a creative way.
Decisions they make occasionally tug on my mama heart, for example when my son decided to remove his Precious Moments train from his room it was bittersweet because something he once was excited to receive every year had now become babyish to keep in his room. He was growing up and as much as I wanted to push him to keep those, I had to remember what I’ve told him his entire childhood – “Never keep something because someone makes you feel guilty about getting rid of it.” I would have been the guilt giver.
Other things they’ve kept have made me laugh. We my daughter was kinder age, she insisted that we keep a Cool Whip top for her cork display board because she liked Cool Whip. She kept her Cool Whip top displayed for years and every time I went into her room, it was a sweet reminder that I was teaching her to make decisions about her stuff management.
In our home the kids are given certain spaces and they can only keep so much that will fit in those spaces. The idea that everything in your room needs to have a home within your room is reiterated to them anytime we clean up. They each have only so many shelves, drawers, or cubbies in their rooms. Once those spaces are filled then something has to be removed to make room for anything new. Instead of creating more room for more stuff, we live by removing unused things to properly use the space we have.
I’ve never heard a child make the connection that he/she was stressed out from having too much stuff but our children can certainly feel the anxiety and frustration that comes with living in cluttered spaces just as we do. My son is beginning to appreciate, at 12, having an uncluttered room. He is beginning to declutter on his own and tells me how good it feels to walk into a calm space. I know that I have given him the tools and the allowance to make his own decisions with his things so that he can have a clutter free, peaceful space.
As my kids become accountable in their declutter decisions, I also find that they are coming to me less and less asking where something is that they’ve misplaced. That’s not to say that they don’t misplace things. I wish that’s what it meant. We’ll get there one day, but when they are missing something they know that I truly don’t know where it is. They also know I that they can’t blame me for getting rid of their stuff. Even if they don’t remember if they’ve donated it or not, it was a decision they made on their own.
Our children our growing up in a world pressed harder to buy more than we ever were. They will be solicited and marketed to in ways that we have yet to see. Thirty years ago, we wouldn’t have comprehended being able to order make-up or a new purse through the computer attached to our hand. In the next thirty years, the accessibility to have more will expand beyond online ordering and drone delivery. The world will always strive to have more faster and cheaper. While buying stuff certainly leads to clutter, getting rid of stuff is a habit that we must be intentional to practice and pass down to the next generation.