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From sneaking to teaching (more thoughts on kids and stuff)

I had just pinned it to my Just for Mama Pinterest board, the pretty watercolor flowers in the background of a message I hold close to my heart – If it doesn’t nourish your soul, get rid of it – when five minutes later, someone left a comment: “And if it nourishes the souls of your children???”

Ah yes. The struggle. It is real.

For those of us who crave the uncluttered and who sometimes shake angry fists in the air with Littlest Pet Shop creatures underfoot, the tension between the ideals of simplicity and the realities of family life can reach a fever pitch. And when that happens to me, I usually start marching around the house with a garbage bag, throwing in the things I want to throw out.

Yet as my children have gotten older (my older two children are now ten and seven, and our twins are two), I’ve become highly convicted about how much I was quietly sneaking out the stuff of theirs that I just couldn’t stand to look at/put away/trip over anymore.

Yes, that’s me. The one who wrote so many years ago about how as parents, we get to decide what stays in our homes. I have to admit, that philosophy was much easier when my children were little, easily distracted, and not quite as vocal about which toys stayed with us and which toys found a new home.

But I recently read Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, and it caused to me evaluate what I am really teaching my children about stuff when I am the only one making decisions about their stuff.

I was inspired to know that Marie began her quest for peace through thoughtful, organized living when she was a young girl. It’s so hard for me to step back and see how much my children are really capable of internalizing and acting on; when I look at their big brown eyes and kiss their sweet faces, I still see my little babies. But they are not little babies, and in fact, my oldest is over the halfway point of how long she’ll live at home.

When it comes to teaching them how to make thoughtful choices about their physical belongings, I’ve got some catching up to do.

In other areas of life, I am focused and intentional in teaching them what I want them to know. We talk often about how our family is a team, and we all work together to give it our best try at winning each day. They know I get a little serious-eyed and intense when it comes to teaching them about their bodies and who can touch them where and when. Many conversations go down about how powerful words are and how we all need to use our words to show love for those around us.

So why have I skimped on teaching them about the enjoyment and peacefulness that comes from keeping only that which nourishes our souls?

The primary answer to that question is that it’s just easier and more efficient for me to curate their stuff for them. Have you had a conversation with a seven year old lately about what in their room brings them joy? That level of zen-like patient endurance seems elusive to me. Just let me get in there and do it myself while they are at school.

But if I’m being honest, part of the reason I am still decluttering for them is that I don’t want to relinquish the control of letting them choose. I realize this is in direct opposition to everything else I teach them; in all of life, I want them to feel empowered and to experience agency and to own their own choices. Yet I’ve been hesitant to let go of control in this area because I’m fairly sure there will be a disconnect between what I want them to keep and what they will choose to keep. It feels uncomfortable to navigate that divide, and so by doing it myself, I’ve avoided it altogether.

Finally, the most disconcerting aspect of this habit of mine is the one that is most powerfully fueling my desire to change. When I was a child, no one taught me how to be thoughtful with my belongings. My own parents are far from hoarders, but they are certainly not minimalists either. I have so often wished that the habits of simple living were ingrained in me from my earliest years, and now I have the chance to redeem that by teaching my own children now all that I would have loved to have learned back then.

So starting now, I’m starting fresh. No more sneaking toys out of the house to be donated. From now on, it’s going to be me partnering with them to learn side-by-side what life looks when we are surrounded only by that which delights us. We’ll learn as we go, one stuffed animal at a time.

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