Monday, August 5, 2013

How to Speak Kid: Ending the Clutter Guilt

How many items of clothing can they wear at once?
It's pretty widely agreed-upon in the world of organization that holding onto things out of a sense of guilt is not a good idea. But how often do we say to our kids something like, "You can't get rid of that! Aunt Amy bought that for you for your birthday and you haven't even worn in yet!" or, "I gave that to you for Christmas and you've barely even played with it!"

Stop and think - do we want to convey to our kids the message that they should hang onto things just because of guilt? Isn't that a habit that many of us are actively try to break?

As adults, things should be in our homes because we love them and use them. Difficult as it might sometimes be, this is a lesson I'm trying to teach my kids from the time they are young. Then, hopefully, when they are adults, it will spare them the guilt-induced anxiety of agonizing whether or not to keep the hideous cat sweater just because it was a gift from grandma.

The last time I went through my 7-year-old's closet with her, we made a deal. I held up each and every article of clothing, and she either said "Good" or "Done." "Done" could mean that it doesn't fit anymore, it's not comfortable, she doesn't like it, whatever. She doesn't need to explain it to me. At first this was hard for her to get used to. "It's just itchy around my neck," she'd say regretfully, looking up at me with big, anxious eyes. "Don't worry!" I kept assuring her. "You can get rid of stuff you don't want anymore. You don't have to explain it to me. If you don't love it and wear it, I don't want you to keep it." She also gets a lot of hand-me-downs from her cousin, some of which are really nice, but just not her style. She doesn't need to keep those. She doesn't need to keep gifts that she doesn't play with, clothes that are uncomfortable, toys that she's outgrown, or anything she doesn't use and love.

Obviously if you have a child constantly begging you for things and then not wearing or using them, you'd need a different plan. But I don't even mind getting rid of something that one of my kids begged for every once in a while. Have you ever bought something you really loved at the time, only to find that you didn't really like it after all? Or someone asked if you were pregnant when you wore a certain dress, or it didn't fit right, etc.? I try to give my kids the same allowances. Maybe she really did love the Hello Kitty shirt when she begged for it, but then someone in her class said only Kindergarteners wear Hello Kitty. Maybe the swimming suit looked really cute to her at the time, but the stitching was terribly itchy. It's okay. It's okay as adults to get rid of things we don't use and love, and it's okay for kids to get rid of things they use and love. Getting rid of it is no more wasteful than letting it sit there, unused. If anything, it's less wasteful because someone else can be using it.

So next time you're going through your kid's room with them, think carefully about the messages that you're conveying about their possessions. Think about your own goals and attitudes about clutter and organization, and the ways we all wish we were better. Maybe, hopefully, with some understanding and grace, we'll get a generation that won't grow up afraid to get rid of the cat sweater. Maybe someday I will be so brave.

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