Look, it wasn’t just me.
Sure, I started bringing in loads of stuff when I had my first baby. And then I kept all of it for the next baby, while adding more stuff. And then kept all of that for the next baby. And so on and so forth, all the way up to eight kids.
Eight kids equals lots and lots and lots of stuff.
Toys. Games. Puzzles. Sneakers. Bedding. School supplies. Bikes, rollerblades, skateboards, helmets, riding toys of all shapes and sizes. Every figurine from every kid movie ever. And, come to think of it, every kid movie.
Okay, so a lot of it was me. But we were also part of an extended family of devoted grandparents and enthusiastic aunts and uncles and a deep devotion to holidays and birthdays and the gifts that go with those celebrations. And so the stuff just kept coming. And I kept trying to manage all of it.
It wasn’t working.
It was making it impossible for my kids to clean up after themselves. After all, when your children’s Barbie collection boasts a Kardashian level of wardrobe, real estate, private jet, motorhome, and yacht (and no Barbie staff to go with it), it’s a little overwhelming. I found that my kids would move from one pile of toys to another.
So I did what I bet a lot of us do. I kept buying bigger tub containers and containers with lots of little drawers. I had complex systems in place for color-coding the Legos. There were bins for keeping the Disney character figurines separate from, say, play dinosaurs. Which then meant I had a whole bunch of tubs with carefully placed labels in Comic Sans font optimistically identifying their contents, all dumped of their items or intermingled in a whole non-categorical mash-up.
Let’s double-check the story thus far:
- I had all the best intentions.
- I wanted to teach my kids good organization skills.
- I invested in container systems and labeling resources.
And the result was…more mess.
Does any of this sound familiar? Just know that you’re not alone.
It took me a long time to accept the following truth, but once I did, a big portion of my kids’ stuff organizing chaos changed radically. Are you ready for this revelation?
You don’t need all the stuff you think you need.
Okay, that might not have been as revelatory as the build up. After all, people had been dropping this wisdom bomb on me for a long time. But I wanted my kids to have plenty of toys to build their imaginations. I wanted them to have the sports and bike and dance equipment they needed to build healthy activity habits in their lives. I wanted them to have all the educational resources they needed. And I never wanted to accidentally give away an item that had significance for them.
But…you still can’t change truth. And the truth is, you don’t need all the stuff you think you need.
The failure in my family organization system wasn’t a lack of a system or of motivation. It was that there was simply too much stuff for us to keep up with. The kids were overwhelmed, I was overwhelmed, our closets and attic spaces and everywhere in between were overwhelmed. Over time, I began to accept that five Barbies play just as well as ten. One good world map gets the job done for school just as well as a whole collection. Babies don’t need twenty-seven iterations of a baby swing, toddlers don’t need forty board books of puppies, and beds don’t need six changes of sheets, all in every cartoon character available.
It took time, lots of cleaning out and, frankly, some bittersweet moments of letting go of items I thought I might want to save for future grandkids. But overall, we finally arrived at a place where my kids could maintain their own bedrooms. The game room returned to a comfortable spot for the family, rather than a precarious toy storage warehouse. And there were three things that helped us turn the corner, once I was willing to embrace that childrearing didn’t require quite so many accessories.
There were lots of items I was hanging onto and organizing and reorganizing because I thought those items were important to my kids. So imagine my surprise when I began asking my kids which items were most important to them…and their answers were not always what I expected. Often they were more than happy to let go of something I thought was of sentimental significance and they were insistent on keeping things that I would have let go. Don’t assume you know what items are important to your kiddos. You could be holding onto stacks of stuff that don’t matter to them.
On the other hand, you might have a child who is extremely sentimental about E V E R Y T H I N G.
In that case, give this a try: Out of sight, out of mind. This is where that bin collection you’ve amassed can come in handy. I would prune down available toys, games, sporting equipment, scholastic resources, and put them in a couple of bins to be secreted in the garage or attic. What emerged was incredibly helpful: there were items the kids would ask for in those bins. Sometimes. Occasionally. But most often, those items weren’t even on the kids’ radars. It helped me see what really got used and what didn’t, without keeping it in the main flow of stuff needing to be maintained. And it can calm down a child who sees you clearing things out and goes into a panic that you’re going to get rid of their stuff. Their stuff is still ‘around,’ but it gives you some space, mentally and in the general traffic of your house, to see what’s really being used.
What’s the plan?
As my kids began to age out of certain categories of items, I was the queen of tucking things away, keeping all kinds of stuff for a future day of grandkids, having things on hand for friends’ children to play with when they came over, and pure sentimentality. After all, I have things from my own childhood that I love. I have some things from my mom’s childhood as well. What a beautiful legacy, what a fantastic thing to be able to hand down, right? But the sentimental items I have received weren’t the entire collection of my childhood nursery items to teenage wardrobe. It’s a few select items. If there is something your child is ready to let go of, but you find yourself hanging on, ask yourself what the plan for this item is. Are you really willing to keep it in storage for twenty years for the next generation? And what are you really attached to, the item or the memory associated with it?
Here’s the beauty of working through the decluttering process with your kids; you’re creating something they can keep for a lifetime. You’re helping them know how to create a liveable space for themselves, with the things that are most important to them on hand and how to let go of the rest. And that’s one of the best keepsakes you can give them.
Julie Lyles Carr is a best-selling author, podcaster, and entrepreneur living in Austin, Texas, with her husband Mike Carr. They have eight kids, two unfriendly cats, and an antique dachshund.