15 May How I Taught My Crafty Kid to Let Go
Many of my clients are creative people–photographers, writers, teachers, and the like. One thing I’ve noticed about creative people is that they tend to like stuff. And I have a theory about why: creative people see the potential in everyday objects the rest of us don’t see.
How do I know this? My daughter is one of these people.
Sweet, sentimental, kind, artistic Mercedes. I love this girl like crazy. She is a true seer of potential. That empty donut box? It’s not trash. To her, it’s a few markers and some glitter glue away from becoming a comfy bed for stuffed animals. That takeaway cup? It’s an umbrella. An egg carton? Add some Sharpies and it’s a complex game to which only she understands the rules. And so on and so forth. (I’ve sometimes wondered if it was a mistake to put the recycling bin next to her craft table…)
But I love this about her. Allow me to wax philosophical here, but I think creativity is the #1 quality needed to sustain the human race. Creative thinkers invent airplanes, new medicines, and alternative fuels. Creators inspire us, they take our breath away with murals and sculpture, they remind us of our humanity, our place in the world, and our responsibility to others. The last thing I would ever want to do is crush her creative spirit.
And yet, I can’t have donut-box-animal-beds littering my house.
What to do?
I fall back upon a tenet from my days in the public school classroom: If you want students to do something, you must teach them how.
That might sound like common sense, but often, we parents are guilty of not adhering to it.
We expect our kids to clean their rooms without specifically telling them how. We expect them to understand that burping at the table is rude without explaining why. We expect our crafty kids to realize that a collection of takeaway-cup-umbrellas in their bedrooms = crazy mess bordering on a health violation, yet we don’t teach them how to let go of their stuff.
And, to be honest, parents aren’t often very good at it, either. I used to save every single birthday and anniversary card because I thought I was supposed to. I squirreled away boxes of souveniers in my attic. I kept all gifts–regardless of their usefulness to me–out of a feeling of obligation to the giver. Lucky for me, I read about minimalism as an adult and quickly realized I didn’t need all that stuff.
But my kids don’t know that. They are doing what kids do–exploring, finding, testing, seeing. It is our job as parents to set the limits and teach them how to balance creativity and clutter.
Thus, I allow my daughter to “decorate” her dresser top with crafty creations. She has a variety of different sized boxes in which she houses treasures. Those that don’t fit in the boxes end up on the dresser top.
I could allow her to accumulate stuff until it drives me insane and I yell something like, “Clean up your room! Your dresser is a mess! You can’t even see what’s on it!”
And, to be honest, I sometimes have to bite back those very words. But then I remember: if I want her to do something, I must teach her how. So I approach her, as I did earlier this afternoon, in the spirit of teaching.
Said spirit came upon me today because I noticed she had emptied one of the larger boxes ‘o stuff on the floor, creating a mess, but more importantly, an opportunity.
“Mercedes, you emptied one of your boxes on the floor. You need to clean it up. This would be a good time to decide what you want to keep and what you want to recycle.”
Because she is used to this drill, she followed me into her room and we sat down on the floor. At this point, I treated her like a younger version of any client.
“Just put what you want to keep back in the box, and hand me anything you want to recycle.”
She began picking up items and making decisions, handing me things she no longer needed and putting her current loves back in the box. Note to parents: This will only work if you allow your child 100% authority to make decisions. I never, ever question her decision to keep or recycle an item. To do so would effectively teach her that I, as the adult, have more authority over her stuff than she does. It would teach her that her opinion doesn’t matter much, even if I say it does. (Consequently, she then learns not to trust what I say… yikes!) And it would set up a battleground of resentment in which I hope to never find myself with any of my children.
If she chooses to keep everything? Fine. We can try again in a month or two. Practice makes perfect, and kids will not be perfect at this the first time around.
After about 5-10 minutes of working together, she had chosen to recycle or donate this collection:
Interestingly, she chose to let go of all these notes I had put in her lunchbox this year.
I remember when she would bring these notes home from school and I would tell her, “It’s okay to recycle those notes. I’ll write you another one the next time I pack your lunch.” But she would respond, “No, Mama. I want to keep them.” And into a box on her dresser they would go.
But today she was willing to part with all of them. Perhaps she realized, as we all eventually do, that the love and sentiment from letters and notes is not contained within the notes themselves, but within our hearts. In any case, I silently celebrated her willingness to let go. It affirmed something else I believe: we all know when we are ready to let go of sentimental items.
Another note to parents who want to try this with their kids: When I started teaching Mercedes to let go of crafts, the conversation went something like this: “You know what? When we recycle crafts, the people at the recycling center turn them into new paper so we can have fun making more crafts. If we don’t recycle, we will run out of paper and we can’t make new crafts! That would be so sad!”
That may sound a bit hokey, but on a global scale, it is absolutely true. It is imperative that we teach our children that resources are finite. That it is responsible to reuse and recycle whenever possible. And that sheer accumulation actually cripples our ability to create.
Here’s what her dresser looked like after we were done:
It’s still a creative 6-year-old girl’s dresser. There are visible crafts and special items. This matters to her. I doubt she will ever love the clear countertop the way her mama does, and that’s okay. A dresser like this brings her joy. And as her mom, it’s my job to nurture the happiness in her life.
I hope this helped some of you parents consider teaching your kids to let go of their craft creations. I know all families look different, so I’d love to hear ideas on how some of you do this with your own kids!
Rose Lounsbury is the Dayton, Ohio area’s up-and-coming professional organizer. She also understands the creative possibilities of a donut box, which allows her to eat donuts guilt-free every Friday morning. After blogging about her own journey toward a minimalist lifestyle, Rose was inspired to start Less, a minimalist-minded professional organizing company. If you’d like Rose’s help with an organizing project at your home or office, please call her at 937-626-9030.