I hope I’m not the only mom in the world whose kids have already started talking, in rather surprising detail for October, about what they’d like for Christmas. These discussions always spark a small sense of panic in me, as I picture the invasion of new toys into my home. Now, of course I want my kids to have presents. But the holidays are tough for minimalist-minded me, stuck between my goal of a clutter-free home and my desire to see my kids’ faces light up on Christmas morning.
Yes, we’ve talked about the real meaning of the holiday. No, it hasn’t sunk in. When asked their favorite part about Christmas, my kids invariably answer, “Presents!” Perhaps it’s being five years old, perhaps it’s being American, perhaps it’s the Elf on the Shelf and Santa myths that I am fully responsible for bringing into our home, but my kids are stuck on presents.
Let me be clear. Presents aren’t bad. Presents are good. But too many presents = crazy town. And I can’t live in crazy town.
My past solution has always been to surreptitiously spirit away the excess, outgrown toys to make room for the new ones. However, my kids are getting wise to my act. I am forced to answer questions like “Where’s my other magnet doll?” and “Where’s my snake?” with “I don’t know,” which is a big, fat lie. I bought those toys a one-way ticket to the Goodwill. The hypocrisy of trying to teach my kids good values while simultaneously lying to their faces is catching up with me. It’s time to teach them the valuable lesson of letting go.
The thing is… I don’t really know how. Letting go of things I no longer need was a lesson I learned as an adult; I’m not exactly sure how to teach it to a child. My fear is that it will backfire and make my kids hold more tightly to their stuff. But the alternatives are either 1) Putting up with too much stuff in my home, which will result in the crazy town residence I spoke of earlier or 2) Continuing to get rid of my kids’ toys behind their backs, which will breed distrust, which will result in us being a future Dr. Phil family. (Dr. Phil: So when did you start abusing drugs? My kid: It was around the time my mom threw out my GI Joes…)
The choice is clear… I must teach my kids how to “let it go.”(Cue the Frozen theme music, please.)
Here is where I’ve started… talking. When the kids start discussing their Christmas wish lists, I mention the kids in the world who don’t have any toys. (Yes, I realize this is the starving-kids-in-Africa cliche, but cut me some slack! I’m learning here.) I talk about how we won’t have room for new toys in our house unless we choose some old toys to give away to kids who need them. Funny thing, when I first mentioned this, my kids immediately headed to the toy box to pick out unwanted toys. I would like to think this was because they really felt bad for those needy kids, but I realize it was because they wanted sufficient room for the new stuff. Oh well… I’ll start with selfish practicality and work my way toward generosity.
Once we’ve filled a box or two, I want my kids to accompany me to the homeless shelter to drop off the toys. If they see their items being given to others in need, maybe they will realize that giving away toys is a good thing, and not just because it makes more room in our house.
Finally, as we get closer to the holidays, I plan to let them pick some larger items to sell. I will let them keep the money, which I’m hoping will be a motivator.
In the end, I may have to break down and do some Grinch-like scrounging through the toy stash to get rid of the things I know they won’t miss but also won’t part with willingly. But at least they will have had some experience “letting it go” first and that is a start.
Another good idea for helping older kids let go of things comes from my sister-in-law, Gabby. When her girls’ bedroom became too cluttered, she let them each make a list of 10 things they wanted to keep in their room. Everything else had to find a new home. (Granted, my clever niece Willah listed “20 pieces of clutter” as one of her 10 things, but hey, Gabby said that was still progress!) Gabby said the best part was how proud her girls were of their open, organized room after they were done.
Armed with my plan of teaching my kids to let go of their unwanted toys, I am looking forward to a holiday season without my usual clutter-panic. (And by the way, I sincerely apologize for even mentioning the H-word in October. Don’t worry, you still have plenty of time to bake those gingerbread men and hang your stocking with care.) I wish all of you a clutter-free start to the holiday season, too!