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Now that spring has finally decided to grace us with her presence, I am in full-on Spring Cleaning Mode over here. I am re-reading Dana K. White’s How to Manage Your Home Without Losing Your Mind (which I talked about extensively in this post), I’m actually participating in a (free!) challenge offered by the same author and Ultimate Bundles about tackling your scariest space (you can click here if you want to participate, too), and even my husband has noticed that I’ve been “really good at staying on top of the kitchen lately.”
Yesterday, I took no fewer than five white garbage bags full of clothing to the DI (a local thrift store), as well as a few boxes of random stuff, an old table grill, and an old tricycle. And I’m feeling GREAT (not to mention ready for more!).
But let me back up. I want to talk about that donated tricycle for a moment.
If you would have talked to me a year ago about donating that tricycle, I would have said that I was totally ready to give it up—my daughter had recently gotten a nicer one for Christmas, and we had no reason to keep two.
But I was afraid to give it away because I knew that my daughter Raven would notice…and, uh, that she wouldn’t like it. So I decided to keep putting it off until the tricycle really meant nothing more to her, and THEN give it away. (Ya know, when she’s 13.)
But then I read something in one of my many decluttering books (I’m so sorry I don’t remember the actual reference!) that you have until about the age of six to more or less easily teach kids about parting with their things and the importance of getting rid of things that no longer suit us. After that?
It gets significantly more difficult (at least according to the book).
Well, I knew I definitely didn’t want it to get MORE difficult for me to get rid of my daughter’s things in the future (since she’s already in the habit of checking our recycling box for “treasures” every time we leave the house), so I decided to start an experiment.
I gathered together a large box of toys and stuffed animals of hers that I personally wanted to get rid of to free our house of some of the never-ending clutter, and I called her in.
“Hey, sweetie,” I said. “Have you noticed that we’ve been having a hard time closing the drawers in this toy dresser? It means we have too many toys. But guess what? There are other kids who would love to have these toys who we could share with.”
Raven: “Why do we share the toys with the other kids?” (Because that’s her default—going straight for the Why)
Me: “Because we have SO many toys! We are SO LUCKY that we always have plenty of toys to play with, but sometimes, other kids might like to have more toys but they don’t have enough money to buy new ones. And so we can share our toys with them!”
Raven: “Oh. But I LIKE my toys!”
Me: “We will still keep most of your toys, sweetie. But I’ve put some toys in this box that I’ve noticed that you don’t play with very much. How about this? How about you get to choose five toys out of here that you want to keep, and then we’ll give the rest to other kids?”
And you know what happened?
She originally chose seven things to save, and when I explained that she could just choose five, she carefully looked over her options, decided on two she liked less than the rest, and then put those back in the Donate box. Then, as I watched, astounded, she went over to the drawers I’d just combed through, selected two or three MORE things, and said, “Let’s give these ones to the other kids, too!”
The fact is, it’s REALLY EASY as a parent to fall into the trap where you just go through your kids’ stuff when they’re not around, secretly dispose of it, and then act a bit stupid if they happen to ask about it again. (Oh that toy? I haven’t seen it for a long time. Maybe it’s lost…Or I think the garbage accidentally ate it…)
Trust me, I know. I’ve been there.
But now having taken the time to explain my reasoning and work through a few different scenarios like the one above, I’ve come up with a few things that have really worked for us.
1. If you plan to donate your toys or give them to someone in particular, tell your kid that!
Many kids have a natural tendency toward being altruistic if they’re given a chance. Often, if you’ll explain that these toys might make another kid happy, they’ll probably have a much easier time parting with them. So do some homework—find an organization or place to donate, then explain the mission of that organization or the general situation of that family to your child. It will teach her to start thinking of others instead of herself, and it will teach her that even young kids can make a difference for good in the world.
2. If you’re just starting out, try putting a big box of stuff together that you think your kid will be okay with donating. Then tell them they can “save” a certain number of items from it, if they choose.
It would likely be completely and utterly overwhelming for most kids to be given the task of simply deciding which things to donate from a large mass of stuff. So try the reverse, like I did—gather together the toys and books that your child has shown very little interest in playing with over the past several months, then tell them what you’re planning on doing with them. Then, as it might be upsetting to your child, tell him that you would be okay with him choosing four or five things out of the box to keep for awhile longer, and then reiterate the reason why you’re getting rid of it all in the first place. (There have been a few times when my daughter only saved one or two things rather than the five she was allotted, just because she wanted to donate them to other kids!)
3. Let the container be the bad guy.
One of the most paradigm-shifting things I learned from Dana K. White (the author mentioned above) was the concept of The Container Rule, which is basically that you need to let the container where something is going to go determine how many you can keep.
So, if you have one bookshelf where you keep board books and that bookshelf starts overflowing, you need to get rid of books until you’re down to what will fit in that predetermined space.
Or, if your toy drawers have trouble closing (like ours do), let the drawer be the bad guy. Tell your child that you need to give away enough toys from that drawer/space/box until it can easily close or until they can all easily fit.
One way to do this (if you have the time) is to take everything off the shelf or out of the drawer or box or whatever and then have your child put things back in based on their order of favoritism. So, the very favorite thing goes in first, then the next favorite, and then the next. When the container is filled, all the rest go. (Explain to your child what will happen first.)
This way, you don’t feel as much like the bad guy—the container simply can’t hold anymore, so you’re teaching a basic fact.
4. If something needs to be thrown away or recycled rather than donated, explain why.
Eventually, you want your kids to be able to recognize what’s trash and what still has potential value for other people. And the best way to ensure they recognize the difference?
Teach it to ’em young.
I frequently explain to my daughter why I’m constantly recycling her preschool worksheets or random drawings rather than keeping all of them (we do keep a few, or I take pictures of her holding them before we recycle them), and if clothing is beyond repair and wouldn’t be good for rags, I explain why we’re not going to donate that to other kids. (Although I recently learned last year that our local food bank actually takes old clothes–even ones with holes–because they can sell them for rags/scraps. So that might be an option in your area, too. But still explain to your child why you won’t be donating those clothes for people to wear.)
5. Let your child be there when you actually donate or give away the item.
If you’ll be dropping off your toys and too-small clothes to a family you know, let your child come. If you’re taking a load of toys to your local thrift store, let your child come. My daughter LOVES being able to hand our stuff over, and she gets a big smile on her face as she’s able to see that other people appreciate our donations.
Back to that tricycle for a minute.
After several rounds of teaching my daughter to be more okay with donating her toys and clothes to other people, I asked her, offhand, if she thought we needed to keep all the bikes, tricycles, and scooters in our garage while I was loading the other bags of toys and clothes into our car that we’d already gone through.
And you know what?
Without hesitation, she said the trike could go. So we loaded it into the car together, and now it’s gone.
But I’m hoping the lesson remains.
Do you ever hide stuff you’re getting rid of from your kids? How do you help your children be better about parting with their stuff? Please drop a comment below and share!