The SIFTED | Playroom
"Mommy, I'm bored. Mommy, there's nothing to do. Mommy, I don't want to pick up." Stamp! Stamp!
If this is your house, you might have too much stuff.
When I am at a restaurant and there are too many menu items, I get overwhelmed and stressed. When I walk into a department store, I instantly feel my anxiety levels rising at the thought of so many choices in front of me. When doing laundry and matching socks, I'm frazzled at the amount of other clothes I have to sort through. Our children are no different.
When they have a gazillion toys to choose from, they can't choose any. It's white noise, a fog of over-stimulation, indecision and chaos - and it leaves them fatigued. Every toy presented to them is a decision and we as humans can only filter so many decisions at once. So maybe it's time to sift that mess and make play time what it ought to be about - playing.
Bringing your kids on board with decluttering is surprisingly simple. Once they understand why you want to streamline their toys (so they can spend more time playing and less time cleaning) they're quick to join in the fun. Sharing minimalism with them is not a punishment - you are not taking everything away, but rather getting rid of the distractions that hinder getting to play with the things they really love.
And it is so important to get kids involved in this process. Don't be sneaky and try to do it for them - that will only damage their trust in you (I know this from personal experience - "Mama, did you take my ___ to the thrift store?" Guilty.) Not to mention you are depriving them of a wonderful opportunity to learn what actually brings them contentment and to cultivate their environment.
As a former admissions counselor at two different higher education institutions, I worked with literally hundreds of teens who were not ready to do life on their own. (I actually had a mom ask me if I would please make sure her kid was awake for class. !!! HA!!)
Two words to remember: roots and wings. We are raising our children to leave us. We have got to equip them to make choices. While still in our hom, we can give them chances to make choices with our supervision and values while the stakes are relatively low. Teaching your kids how to sift is a marvelous way for them to reflect on what makes them happy and to rid themselves of what distracts them.
So, down to the nitty-gritty...
Kids are concrete thinkers. Give them physical parameters for their stuff. Maybe it's a bin or basket, a tote or shelf - whatever it is, make it a visible, tangible fence their possessions are bound by.
Within that boundary, give them freedom. Let them choose what stays and what goes. Encourage them to choose only what they love most and let the rest go to another family to bless them. Kids are incredibly open-handed when they know it will help someone else.
Help them through the sifting process by guiding their thinking with questions. Do you like this toy? Do you play with it? When did you play with it last? If you could only keep 5 things would this be one of them? Is it a duplicate? Could you choose a couple of your favorites instead of 20? You will be surprised at how honest they can be with the reality of what they gravitate toward.
Once they practice letting go of things, reward them! Take them out for ice cream. Let them have a friend over. Take them to the zoo. Make it a fun experience that will encourage them to keep what they love and let go of the rest.
Ultimately, you are the gatekeeper. The influx of preschool papers and party favors are your job to manage. If you create a system for handling these things, you'll be able to manage the mess.
For instance, when our daughter comes home from school, we open her folder, take out her papers (art/parental notices/made-up books/etc.) but with art, Alice gets to keep one. That one she proudly displays on the refrigerator. If when the next one comes home she likes it better, she can replace the former and recycle it, making room for the new. I know that sounds stringent, but the quality of work they are producing at this level is not precious. The two pieces I thought truly artistic hang on the playroom wall with washi tape. This is how we control the paper clutter.
The party favors we are not overly concerned about. Most all of them are cheap and break within a few days of coming to stay with us so there's nothing permanent to worry about. Let them enjoy these little things - they eventually bite the dust and it's no longer a concern.
Now what about gifts, you say? Grandmas and aunts and stepmoms and everyone wants to lavish your child in presents? Smile and say "thank you." Giving gifts is how some people in your life want and need to say "I love you." Always receive them with gratitude. But once they are yours, they are yours to do with as you will. A gift given with strings attached is not a gift - it's a bribe. And a burden. Use discretion and grace here. You don't need to notify the giver that their gift (translation: their love) isn't wanted - that would only damage your relationship. However this is your life and home, not theirs which means you choose what is in your home.
Do not hand them a list of gifts you'd like for your child (unless it's a baby shower) - that tells them that their act of love is only acceptable on your terms. It makes it a transaction instead of a gift. While the giving is for your child, the giving is also for the giver and their joy in giving just what they want your child to have. Gratefully accept such love.
If the influx of stuff is becoming overwhelming and stressful, really begin your sifted life, then share with passion how happy you are with less. How your kids can play better and imagine better and build better with fewer toys. Talk about how much they love going places. (But don't share at the birthday party - some other downtime when they won't feel guilty for having just given your kid the equivalent of a tiny toy store.) You don't have to be rude or hurtful in your pursuit of less, but your clear enthusiasm will perhaps make them think twice the next time they go on a shopping spree.
Now let's talk preventative measures. We don't know what we're missing if we don't know what we're missing. Translated: stop exposing them to stuff - and the compulsion to own more stuff by eliminating trips to the toy aisle as well as screen time. I'm not saying "no toys ever again" or "no tv," I'm saying less. Your kids are advertised to something fierce. Their brand recognition at early ages is sickening. In our house, our kids don't watch commercials and we don't take them shopping for anything but groceries. This has averted countless cases of the gimmies over the years, and I'll tell you a story in a minute.
One more note on helping your kids find contentment: you've all been to kids birthday parties. It's a present extravaganza. We tell them to open one, and no sooner do they rip the tissue paper off to see what's inside, we tell them to set it aside and move quickly to the next. Because we need to be efficient, right? But let's stop and think.
What are we telling our kids when we do this? That happiness in the next thing. As adults, we have to combat this everyday. If I could just get that job. If I could buy that pair of shoes. If I could travel to this country. If I could drive that car. If I could get this many followers on Instagram, then...then what? Then you'll be happy?? I'll let you in on a secret: You'll never be happy. Not with that mentality. You'll always be chasing, never content with what you have. Friends, that's bondage. That's an empty life spent chasing bigger and better when what's in front of you is freaking fantastic. Don't you want to spare your children from that?
This past Christmas my parents took our daughter Alice to see Santa. When it was time to sit on his lap, Santa asked Alice the inevitable: "What do you want for Christmas this year?" After pondering a moment, Alice finally managed this: "I think I'd like a medium-sized toy from the North Pole." That was it. A medium-sized toy from the North Pole. Didn't care what. Just that.
Clearly something good is catching on here. Contentment is ours for the taking right this minute and I'm so excited that it won't take my kids three decades of learning the hard way to figure it out.