I read and receive questions about this topic a lot this time of year. Or I hear mom friends of mine discussing how they spent the morning cleaning their child’s (children’s) room in preparation for the hoards of stuff that will be descending upon them here shortly.
In my opinion, this is one of the best times of the year to begin a quest for simplicity or even just decluttering. It is also one of the best times of year to establish new patterns. This is our opportunity as parents, care givers, guardians of the future to provide our children with lifelong skills in responsibility, decision making, honesty, and possibly generosity. You may even inspire a child’s creative nature. My son pilfered the hand of one action figure that he didn’t like, took my super glue, and attached the hand to his favorite action figure whose own hand had been damaged. If I had been purging without him there, the favorite toy would have gone to the recycle bin and been sorely missed. And the other action figure would still be clutter in my house. It’s two years later and that is still a favored toy. Though it is now completely handless. It has also been given a sharpie marker beard and the uniform has been painted a different color.
This is your opportunity to cultivate in kids of all ages a change in mindset from one of loss, where people are “getting rid of” their things, to one of generosity, freedom, cleanliness, you put your own positive spin as it applies to your family. Think about it, wouldn’t it be super nice to donate those unused or gently used toys to the children’s hospital? Or to some other local organization that will welcome and relish the items? Does your city have a homeless shelter? Or a Women in Transitions center? Often the children in these places have nothing. Or, do like I do and garage sale the items and use the funds to pay for family adventures.
Does your child have a friend who adores that toy that your child doesn’t like? Have your child wrap it up and gift it. Who decided that all gifts are new? Recycling and up cycling is better than the recycle bin any day!
You get less clutter, they get a sense of ownership, pride, and maybe even friendship.
I recommend not purging their things without their involvement. In our house, we set the timer and go. If a toy is calling too much attention, we set it aside. Short bursts work best. Ten minutes, fifteen maybe. When the timer dings, we are done. He knows before we start that it will be quick and painless. Try to do a few of these short bursts every week until you get where you want to be. I never toss his stuff for him. How would you feel if one day you opened a drawer and someone else had thrown away your things? I may be alone in this, but it feels disrespectful. How will they learn to respect other people and things if we don’t teach them?
I also give my son a finite amount of space. When the space is full ‘stuff’ has to go.
We practice the ‘one in, one out’ rule. If either of us wants to bring something into the house, some thing (or things) must go out.
We also have some maintenance ‘rules.’ Even the visiting children know (and usually follow) these rules. If you get a toy out, you must put the toy back BEFORE getting out another toy. Yes, even when there are ten boys in the house. I remind my son that he is responsible for his things and his home and that it is his job to make sure his friends respecting that. We have one or two boys who are also no longer invited over to play. At my son’s choice. He was tired of how they treated him, his things, and even other friends.
Another great opportunity to clear the clutter every day is the nightly clean up session. We make a focused, conscious effort every night to spend the last fifteen minutes picking up. Usually there isn’t much (see maintenance above), a book laid here, the blanket mussed, a glass or something can feed the clutter bug. We also have the opportunity to assess things at this time. For example, if a toy was broken during play that day, it doesn’t go back into the toy box. We determine if we can fix it, if we can we set it aside for the next day. If we can’t, it gets tossed, by the kid, that very night.
This can be a chance to learn about value. Recently, my son used gift money to purchase a much sought after Batman action figure. He thought nothing of spending the $11. I thought the doll looked cheap and chintzy. I tried to guide him to a different doll, but he was having none of it. He bought the Batman. The Batman was broken before we got home, less than 15 minutes later. A waste of $11? Not necessarily. It gave me the opportunity to show him why I had known that the doll would break (although, that was MUCH sooner than even I had expected). Now, he knows what to look for in the design of the toy, how the joints are put together, etc. Now when we go to stores, he instigates a conversation before spending his money. The broken doll didn’t even make it into the house, by the way. I gave him the option of returning it or putting it in the recycle bin. He decided it wasn’t worth our time to drive back to the store. He also, without any guidance from me, said he had paid good money for his lesson. Proud momma moment right there. Time value can be a difficult concept to teach, but he is getting it.
What about the gifts?
If you are trying to reduce the volumes of ‘stuff’ coming in, this is my gentle reminder to you that you control your own purse strings. Set a budget and stick to it. Identify a set quantity of items. Agree to experiential gifts rather than material ones. The options are endless.
“What about family? My parents/spouse/ex-spouse’s parents/aunts/uncles/WHOEVER go crazy buying for the kids every year!”
Yep, I get this a lot. A lot, a lot. And have the same situation over here. I suggest a conversation. Why are they buying so many things? Is this how they are trying to connect with your children? If so, suggest an outing. Find a common interest. For example, one of my parents recently went to an aquarium that he thinks my kiddo would love love love… when he asks what gift he should get, my answer is going to be “Let’s spend the day at that aquarium!” For a few years, it was tickets to a baseball game.
There are a multitude of sites and posts that offer suggestions on this one, so I won’t go into too much detail. Some quick suggestions include:
- Memberships to gyms, museums, children’s museums
- Pay the sports club dues – this one can be a great way for out-of-town family to ‘participate.’ They can’t be there physically to experience the events, but they are there in thought for every one.
- Gift cards to places the kids like to go – locally we have a indoor/outdoor go kart place, an indoor trampoline center, movie theaters, water parks, etc.
- Weekend trips
- Day outing to someplace special
- A day together making something
Just to name a few.
And don’t be afraid to return gifts or re-gift gifts. Giving is truly for the giver. If the giver insists upon giving something you don’t want in your home, it does not need to come into your home. Period. This may take some grace and finesse on your part, but it is your home. Have in it only things you value. If someone in your family is renowned for their awful gifts, maybe it’s time to have a family chat.
I come from a list family. We make lists for everything, but especially for gifts. List making can be a helpful tool in the decluttering process. Make the list with your child. Pull pictures out of magazines and toy circulars or wherever. Then sit down and have a chat. When my son made his list, we had a great conversation. He made his list, we reviewed it. We both know which items will most likely come from which grandparents. We agreed that there will be no “stuff” gifts from me. We are getting into hiking, camping, and backpacking. His gift, with his agreement and a family discussion, will be his very own Camelbak pack for our trips. He likes this idea because he knows that we will spend time together using this gift. Whereas most of his gifts are things I can’t do with him. Normally, I wouldn’t share with him exactly what the gift will be, but these packs are not cheap. I wanted to make sure he was interested in doing the activities before I bought the gear.
What the list does for you is to give you some perspective on how much stuff is likely to come into the house. (To know how much needs to go out beforehand). It gives you a talking point for those relatives that feel they must buy something. You can also hopefully avoid duplicates by giving different pieces of the list to different gift purchasers.
There are so many ways to take control of your clutter, your home, your life. I hope these few tips here help you get a head start on this up coming season.
What tips do you have or have you read about? What has and has not worked for you in the past? I would love to read about them in the comments. Leave me a note, I read and reply to each and every one.
Getting Grandma on board with “minimalist Christmas ” has been impossible. We do live 1000 miles away though, so I can understand why she wants to get what she does. My MIL is truly a sweet, loving woman, I just wish her taste in toys were more similar to mine (or at least reflective of my son’s interests). Any suggestions?
Thank you for the question.
Is she open to suggestion? At 1,000 miles away she is out of touch with what your son is “into” from day to day.
Is it possible to try having a conversation with her about why she feels compelled to buy so much ‘stuff’? Don’t try to dissuade her, rather try to get to the why of it.
Does she have technology? Maybe try Skype, FaceTime, or Google Hangouts and have regular video chats with her. (If you don’t already) If she sees what he is playing with and enjoying, maybe she will be closer to the mark with the purchases. If you do already do video chats, maybe make sure that he tells and shows her what he is into?
If those don’t work and your son doesn’t like what she buys, maybe you can donate them to Toys for Tots or a nearby Children’s Hospital?
Good luck. I would love it if you come back and tell us what you tried and whether or not it worked.
Thank you for the good ideas! My daughter is 4 and her birthday is in early December. So we have a huge influx of “stuff” this month. I like the idea of purging as a lesson in living simply and being generous. I hope I can get that through to her! Also, I really like the idea of not purging without her consent/presence. Up until now, that is what we have done. But you are totally right, how would I feel if someone purged my things? I am excited to have this conversation and experience with her!
Thanks Kelly! I read a really great article just this morning that had some other really great ideas in it. The author was trying to combat the sense of entitlement she was seeing in her kids, but the “non-gift” suggestions she had in the post were absolutely wonderful. I wish I had read it a month or so ago. I am definitely putting it in my tickler file for next August/September. If you would like, I will send it to you. Let me know ~
Yes, please send it to me! So I had a conversation with my 4 year old last night about going through her toys before Santa comes to make room for new and to give some of her old to children who may not have toys. Ummm… she’s not ready for that yet! She told me how she NEEDS all her toys. This will be a process…