If it weren't for my kids, I wouldn't be two things: a mom and a minimalist. The first is...pretty obvious, but the second - my journey to minimalism - really began because of them. Not because my kids are these mini-enlightened souls who espouse the meaning of life, but when it came to clutter, they reigned supreme.
I was so incredibly overwhelmed by STUFF and most of it belonged to my kids, who are 2 and 4-years-old. Between toys, art supplies, shoes, clothing, etc., I felt as though I was spending my entire day cleaning up after them. As I was cleaning up one mess, another mess was being made. I couldn't see a light at the end of the tunnel. I was stress and overwhelmed, and I couldn't handle it anymore.
I wasn't their mom - I was their maid.
So I was immediately drawn to the less-is-more lifestyle. As I began to purge, I thought I was doing a good job. I would get rid of a box of toys about once a month. I kept a clothing box in each of my kids' closets and when they outgrew something, I would put it in the box. When the box filled up, I donated it (and kept one or two of my very favorite pieces). And you know what, I was doing a good job. I was making a dent. But in 2016, as the holidays approached, I was dreading the influx of NEW stuff, just as I got rid of tons of OTHER stuff. It was as though, no matter how much I got out, the holidays made sure that there was still more coming in.
Instead, I did a couple of things differently this year. And you know what I noticed about my kids since then? A lot. They are much more creative. They play well independently and with each other with fewer arguments over toys. And they are learning a sense of responsibility. When I say to put the blocks in the bag and place them where they belong in the closet, they do. I'm hoping over time that they can do this by themselves, just like at school. So you see, they aren't missing much. It's the complete opposite. And the bonus is that cleaning up is much more realistic for me.
So how did I do it? I'll show you! Let's get started!
I Came Up With a De-cluttering Plan
I started going through all of my kids' drawers and toys. I had my piles: keep, donate and recycle/trash. If it was broken or missing pieces, it went into the recycle/trash pile - no questions asked. But if I wanted to be successful at de-cluttering, it was crucial that I followed these guidelines:
1. Toss anything heavily damaged. For clothing, this means things that cannot be worn anymore. I let my kids go to school in clothes that have a couple stains or holes in them if they aren't too terrible because they can play hard (as kids should do) and there is zero stress about what happens to their clothes.
2. Get rid of incomplete sets. This means mismatching socks, that stray shoe, half a bathing suit, etc.
3. Donate gently-used clothing. Do you see clothing in the back of your kids' drawers and closets that they haven't worn in months? Can you get any use out of it? If not, someone else can. Don't stress over the "maybe my daughter will wear it to school" mentality. If she hasn't worn it in months, she most likely won't wear it again (or even notice that it's gone).
1. Get rid of incomplete items. This includes games and puzzles with missing pieces.
2. Donate obsolete items. By this, I mean anything that no longer piques their interest but is still in good condition. For example, do you have a box of toys on the top shelf of a closet that your kids haven't played with in months? If you brought it out right now, it would be like Christmas for them. But you know what else? They aren't missing any of those toys in the first place! You know what would be a better option for that box-o-toys? LowCountry Orphan Relief. I am a huge supporter of all that they do for at-risk kids. Those toys could brighten another child's day, month or year.
3. Donate age-inappropriate items. Still have those baby toys even though your kids have outgrown them? Pick out a handful of your favorites to keep for your grandkids one day and donate the rest. My mom saved a few of her baby toys and gave them to me a few years ago. I have kept them all because they are a treasure to me, but everything else can go.
Electronic & Plastic Toys
1. Slim down the number of electronics and donate the rest. This is a personal choice. For me, I feel as though there is enough electronic stimulation for my kids through television, my iPhone and an iPad. When they are playing at home, I want them to be as creative as possible and feel as though electronic toys can restrict their pure and innocent creativity.
2. Recycle anything made of plastic. Plastic can never ever truly be broken down. It can be recycled into a zillion different things, but it is not biodegradable and can only hurt our environment if given the chance. Many of those plastic toys end up in a landfill forever, or it finds its way into our oceans (did you know that by 2050 there will be more plastic in our oceans than actual fish? Seriously.) So if I want to keep plastic out of my house, I need to find a good place to send it. Obviously, if the toy is in great condition, I always try to donate it first.
1. Snap a pic, then recycle it. I started taking pictures of my kids' artwork and then recycling it. This was hard. Probably the hardest because these are sentimental items. I mean I LOVE my kids' art. I would make a shrine out of it if I could. But there are also so many pieces of art, and it isn't realistic for me to keep every piece. Instead, if I take a picture, I can keep it on my phone, send it to my digital frame, upload it to my Google Share Drive, etc. So the emotional part of seeing it can remain with me forever - and that's what's most important anyway.
I Made an Amazon List
Making an Amazon list for the holidays this year allowed me to pick out what gifts I wanted our kids to get for the holidays. I chose things that were educational, like games and books. This way, my family did not have to spend time figuring out what the kids would like, and I didn't cringe as they opened temporarily-satisfying gifts, age-inappropriate gifts or duplicates.
Most importantly, many of these items offered three benefits:
- opportunities to learn (naturally),
- opportunities for a completely different play experience every time,
- opportunities to do things together as a family.
Next year, I may try a different approach to the holidays. Maybe I'll gather a list of things that are locally made or purely educational again. Or ask for experiences instead, like money toward school, shows, ballet, the aquarium, soccer, etc.
I Took Inventory
As a parent, I am constantly looking at my children's things and taking an inventory. I'm paying attention to what they play with, what they love to wear and what they ignore. I tend to get rid of more of my son's things because he is still 2 and hasn't become attached to things yet (especially clothing) as my almost 5-going-on-30-year-old daughter.
I learned that I had to do these purges while my daughter was at school. My son is pretty easy when I'm on a de-cluttering mission - he will play with whatever he has in front of him. But my daughter is very observant and very detail-oriented. She sees something and feels instantly connected to it. So by doing these more severe purges while she was at school, did I feel like I was manipulating her?
I was doing this behind her back, yes, but since my first big purge, I have gotten rid of hundreds of toys...and she has only asked about one. Yes, ONE. She literally has not noticed what I have gotten rid of. This makes me feel fully confident that 1.) she has way too much stuff, and 2.) I shouldn't feel guilty because she has more than enough stimulating her. Granted, she's noticed more clothing, but if she asks about something, I remind her why it's gone, i.e. it was too small or there were holes in it.
I Empowered Them
I would love to secretly get rid of all their least favorite items and give them a minimalistic room and closet that satisfies my de-cluttering soul - but - I know that it's just not fair to them. I wouldn't want my mother coming into my room today and going through my things without my consent, so I don't have the right to do it to them. Of course, I have gotten rid of things that they truly don't use, like all of the broken, incomplete and obsolete toys, non-essential items, and clothing that doesn't fit. But as far as things that are in perfectly good condition, I try to include my children when de-cluttering so that they are empowered by their decision.
Of course, my 2-year-old is not ready to make these decisions. My 4-year-old is definitely involved. At the end of the day, though, when it comes to approaching these kinds of decisions, each kid is different, regardless of age. You know your child best and whether they can or can't handle de-cluttering their things.
I De-cluttered My Stuff Before Theirs
Your kids look to you for everything; they're watching more closely what you do rather than what you say. And they're going to model themselves after you. So if you do your stuff before your kids' stuff, that's a powerful lesson to teach. If they see you de-cluttering your closet, then doing theirs won't seem as unfair to them. If they are used to living in a clutter-free home, it will feel natural to have a clutter-free bedroom.
I know, I know. The toys are probably driving you the most insane, and you'd rather start there. But de-cluttering is a commitment, no matter how big or how small. Chances are, you have some stuff to go through, too. When you start with your things, however small, it will give you the motivation to keep going. Small wins make a big impact!
- I suggest not sending your kids old toys to grandma and grandpa's house. This is not teaching them to live with less or to be happy with people. This is just teaching them to rotate their things.
- Consign whatever you can to make some cash. If you are like most Americans, you have some sort of debt. Consign your kids' items and put it towards your debt or something useful, like their college fund or a family vacation. Less debt + more money = less stress. Use this as a chance to get ahead! Because you won't use the money to buy something shiny and new to bring into the house, right? ; ) Find a list of local consignment shops in the Charleston area here.
- If possible, bring your kids with you when you donate their stuff. Donating gently-used items to a local charity or shelter that can use them is such a fulfilling feeling, and one I highly suggest sharing with your kids so they can see exactly the kind of impact their decisions make. Check out a few local organizations in the Charleston area that accept donations here.