I get rid of my children’s toys while they sleep, and I’m not even sorry about it.
You might say this is unfair, unacceptable, and wrong. You might be right. But I’m willing to accept that possibility and carry on anyway with the clandestine purging.
I live in 750 square feet with my husband and two children. We have one bathroom, one bedroom for the children to share, no basement, and no garage. I love small space living. It forces us to exist in close proximity to one another, which leads to deep involvement in one another’s lives and a strong emotional connection. A small space can quickly become overwhelmed by clutter, which means I have to be especially vigilant, but even plenty of storage is no excuse to fill it all with things you don’t really need.
I’d much rather be surrounded by tranquil open space than hemmed in by objects.
Here are my top three “hot zones” and my take-no-prisoners approach to dealing with them:
Children are clutter magnets. Before they’re even born you’re getting nonstop messages about all the things children “have to have” to be happy. The deluge of gifts also begins before they’re even born. I don’t mean to sound harsh here–I know my children are being given gifts to demonstrate love and affection. Truly, I am grateful to have so much when others don’t have enough. I want my children to feel a sense of belonging in a wider community and be surrounded by caring family and friends. But too many gifts burdens me with the responsibility of maintaining and caring for each item in my home going forward. Too many toys means my children don’t truly see or value any of them. Children play longer and more deeply if they are not overwhelmed by choice.
I curate their collection of playthings by squiring items they show no interest in out of our home. If there is any question, I have a “holding area” on the top shelf of my closet where items go for thirty days. If they aren’t missed during that time period, they leave for good.
And of course, the best defense is a good offense: it doesn’t really help to get rid of things if you keep bringing them in at the same rate.
If one of my children wants a big birthday bash with more than a few friends invited, the trade-off is that I will write “NO GIFTS PLEASE” on the invites. I will politely refuse freebies at events. I will suggest to cherished relatives that they give gifts of experiences rather than material objects. If I have an urge to buy something, I will wait 24 hours and ask myself if I still want to buy it. 9 times out 10, I’ve already forgotten all about it by then.
We are all more efficient in the morning if everything in our closet fits us and is something we truly enjoy wearing. My children own ten days’ worth of clothing–ten tops and ten bottoms, plus three dresses and three pairs of pajamas each. To save time, tops and bottoms are kept unfolded in fabric bins in their closet–just wash, sort by person, and drop in bins. Done. I buy almost everything secondhand, so it’s not a big deal to get rid of something if it’s not working since I usually haven’t spent much money on it in the first place.
I relentlessly cull my own wardrobe. Why do I need more than one bra and one pair of jeans if the ones if I’ve found one of each that fit just right? I know that there have been occasional items that I’ve donated and then later wished I had back, but for the life of me I can’t remember now what a single one of those items was, so it can’t have been that big a problem.
3. Sentimental items.
Getting rid of something that belonged to a loved one won’t erase the memories I have of that person or their impact on my life. Hanging onto keepsakes from my childhood that I never look is creating a burden for my own children, who will have to deal with these items when I die. My accomplishments, my relationships, my experiences still matter even if there is no material record of them. Things I have unburdened myself of: most of my wedding photos, my high school yearbooks, my late father’s baseball card collection, most of my children’s artwork, some family heirloom dishes, a bunch of other stuff I don’t even remember. I do have a few special items that bring me joy, but the value of these items would diminish if they were surrounded by a sea of other “keepsake” objects.
I’d rather not buy more organizing supplies or try more strategies to fit more stuff into less space by rearranging it. I want to be a more present, relaxed, and kinder parent because I am not overwhelmed by managing my family’s possessions and surrounded by stress-making clutter. I want to live lightly on the Earth when so many don’t even have the basics. It’s so easy to accumulate, but then once something is in your home you are responsible for the rest of its life on the planet.
I often ask myself, “Would I take this with me if I was moving today?” If the answer is no, I definitely need to rethink its place in my life.
Once I decide to transition an item out of my life, I maintain my momentum by following through as quickly as possible. I don’t spend time sorting things into piles to take to different locations, and I rarely try to re-sell anything. The money has already been spent. I have already spent energy maintaining this object in my home. Unwilling to expend more emotional labor on the removal of an item, I prefer to comfort myself over the money wasted by turning it into a charitable donation. In Iowa City, my favorite is Crowded Closet Thrift and Gift, where funds raised provide humanitarian relief in developing nations.
Here are some books to inspire you. (Get them at the library, don’t buy them! If your library doesn’t have them, ask the librarian about interlibrary loan!)