Inside: How we declutter with kids will affect how they see minimalism – for better, or for worse.
My son cried today. Not just a whine or a single tear, but deep, gut-wrenching sobs.
Did he get hurt? Did one of his siblings hurt his feelings, take away a toy, exclude him from a game?
Nope. It wasn’t any of those things.
It was me. I did it.
And I caused those tears by doing something any minimalist mom might do.
Related: The Downside to Minimalism That No One Likes to Talk About
Decluttering Out of Frustration…Without Asking
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As his sister started to explain that he wanted a game (I couldn’t understand him through the choked tears), I started to feel uneasy. The game she was describing started to sound awfully familiar.
Awfully like a game I knew I dropped off at Goodwill over two months ago.
My heart sank.
He was crying for this game – an insanely difficult puzzle activity, where shapes get matched together to fit inside an outline. It’s supposed to make kids smarter…or something.
My kids? It mostly made them scream with frustration.
The pieces never stayed where they were supposed to.
Those same pieces ended up all over the house: the kids could never find the rare ones that every single puzzle seemed to require (cue more crying).
Instead of it being the advertised, “hours of engaging play”, it ended up being hours of me supervising, correcting and comforting.
Not fun. It was a game I definitely could live without.
So when months went by without mention of or interest in that particular game, I started to wonder – maybe we could get rid of it!
I wordlessly moved it to the storage room, hoping the out of sight, out of mind principle would do the trick.
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Goodwill Clutter Drop-off Gone Horribly Wrong
The time came a few months later to do a Goodwill run.
Almost everything else in that Goodwill pile I had cleared with the kids and my husband. Everything was clutter we didn’t need in our house, and everyone said it was o.k. to give the stuff away.
Except that game.
But there was so much in the pile, I just tossed it on top. After all, they hadn’t asked for it or mentioned it in over a year.
Surely it was far from little hearts and memories. I didn’t think twice.
If only I stopped to think about what I learned just a few short months ago about honoring the little people in our lives by asking permission to give away/throw away their possessions.
Instead, I dropped the entire load off with a sigh of relief. It was gone – never to be thought of again.
Or so I thought.
As I watched the tears stream down my most sensitive child’s cheeks, remorse welled up inside me yet again.
There was nothing else to do except sit on ground with him and hold him. To apologize and ask forgiveness.
What About the Kids in Minimalism?
How many more moments like these will it take for me to get it?
These little people in my family, they have their own thoughts, opinions, attachments and memories. Young kids especially love to collect things. They love the touch and feel of certain toys.
They have fond memories playing games together as a family – memories we, the clueless parents, never even realized they had!
Games parents remember as frustrating and annoying, kids remember as time spent together.
They don’t even remember the screaming.
And pretty soon, those cars and blocks and games will be left behind, anyway.
Minimalism is the intentional promotion of the things we most value and the removal of everything that distracts us from it.Joshua Becker, Becoming Minimalist
As moms trying to live out minimalism with kids, aren’t these kids in front of us the things we most value? Aren’t they a large – if not the biggest – part of our purpose?
Then we have to start thinking about what they value, too. We have to start seeing that they are people, too.
So let’s be careful, minimalist mamas, lest our kids have too many memories of their moms giving away beloved toys – without even asking.
When they can’t walk or talk, we can get away with it. But not when they’re bigger.
Don’t think they’ll remember? They just might.
Related: 7 Rules for Decluttering Toys – For Quick & Easy Decisions
How Will They See Minimalism?
I read an article recently about a mom quitting minimalism, and her moment of decision came as she was going through her kids toys for the millionth time (with them standing by, watching with resignation).
All of a sudden, she was hit with a painful memory of her mom selling her favorite dollhouse at a yard sale – without asking.
That’s when she quit minimalism.
But here’s the thing: while I completely understand her decision, I know that it’s a whole lot easier to quit than it is to find balance.
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Minimalism with Kids Is About Finding Balance
I’m not advocating that we let clutter take over our homes and lives.
Half the battle is what we allow in in the first place.
But I am challenging myself (and all of us mimimalist moms of little ones) to ask before we get rid of their stuff– instead of being afraid that our kids will never want to get rid of anything.
I avoided asking permission to get rid of things for a long time because I didn’t want to deal with the conversation.
How can we know if we never ask, if we never even try?
I need to do a better job at explaining why we choose minimalism in the first place. Kids can understand better than we think.
All of that is on me as a minimalist mom.
Is it more work?
Having those challenging conversations and finding balance?
It sure is. But I think it will actually help our kids choose minimalism later in life when we honor them in the decluttering process.
Let’s do the hard work, minimalist moms. I think we’ll find that years from now, it was worth the effort.
Related: How to Declutter with a Sentimental Child (Who Wants to Keep Everything)
On the flip side of all this, when I was a kid, I felt like I was forced to keep things I hated. We had too many toys, and my parents would be upset that my room was never clean. I loved my barbies, and my beanie babies, and anything animal-related. But I had three stacks of plastic drawers full of baby dolls and accessories that I never ever wanted to play with. I didn’t like them. Didn’t want them. But. My extended family had spent a lot of money to buy them as gifts. So. The only part of my room that stayed organized was where the baby dolls were, because they took up all the storage room, and I never ever touched them.
I was overwhelmed, and full of guilt.
And so, maybe, ask you kids. And see if there are toys that are nice and new and clean, and maybe expensive, but they don’t really like them as much as you hoped they would
Hey Erica! Thank you SO much for sharing. I love when people share from their own experience and childhoods. So helpful to keep in mind that every family and every child is different. Balance is critical!
Wow- I just had a similar moment with my 5 year old… in declutterubg. The house for a big move, I grabbed toys that had been untouched for the past 6 months and bagged them up. A week later my 5 year old daughter started helping me clean the house- for days and days. It turns out she was on a hunt for “Elsa’s horse” that she had “lost.” My heart sank. I was fairly certain that was one of the toys I had donated. It was little plastic thing that couldn’t even stand up on its own. This girl had enthusiastically helped me clean 4 rooms, crawling under beds and into closets with a flashlight all in the hopes of finding this toy. She was heartbroken when I told her it had “probably” been gifted to another child…
I ended up having to order her a new one- it was the only right thing for me to do. And we did the rest of the decluttering together. She haS remarkably good judgement and a few items I would have mindlessly tossed, she had really good justifications for why we should keep it. A few times I could coax her into letting go of certain things and other times she put her foot down and I respected her wishes. Our new deal is mom HAS to ask first.
Thanks for this post. Glad to see I’m not the only one who’s made mistakes!
You’re so welcome Sarah! Thanks for sharing your experience – glad I’m not the only one to have made this mistake. I hope others can learn from us!
I have memories of my mother getting rid of my stuff all the time. Even as an adult my mother gave my stuff away. Even my old room became a guest room for her Air B&B she has a ton on stuff but gives all my sisters and my stuff away. It felt like my stuff held no value in her eyes. She would use the terms “passing it on” but it doesn’t matter it’s still being given away. She gave my childhood guitar to our neighbor with our asking and he loved it and put a bunch of stickers on it and basically destroyed it. And of course I couldn’t ask for it back. It had been years and he had gotten rid of it. I actually saw him with it but didn’t even realize it was mine because of all the crap all over it. I asked her many times to ask me before getting rid of my stuff and she always just says I’m so sorry it didn’t even occur to me. I was 12 when I learned to play that guitar and was 19 when I asked for it. I just assumed she still had it because she never asked about it. It wasn’t the only thing either. I just didn’t understand why she didn’t ask. Just a rant/thought! I agree with this post!
I’m so sorry! That sounds painful. Are you able to take your things from her house now, so you can decide about everything from now on?
I think a good way to find balance would be to occasionally ask your children if they have anything that they would like to give to other kids who have less than them, or that you can donate to a children’s hospital. Most kids love the idea of helping others so will be more likely to want to help with the decluttering process, and they won’t feel bad about it since they were the ones to make the decision.
That’s a great point, Steph! And while it can take longer for my kids to part with things these days, it’s much better now that they are consenting to every give away. We also have put some boundaries in place: you can’t get any new stuffed animals (at yard sales, etc) without choosing one to give away.
Guilty as charged. I asked my daughter if i ever gave away something she really liked and she said no. I don’t usually ask permission when i declutter the playroom. Unless it is in their room; then we do it together and they are pretty good about it. Once when we moved i gave away a huge aircraft carrier my oldest son would use for his planes once in a blue moon, and i think that disappointed him (he later inherited new planes from my cousin) but they mostly just always played with legos or dress up as spies and such. I asked if he remembered anything i gave away and yes, the airplane give away was saddening for him. He said really bummed him as he loved playing with it; it just was so big we had to keep it in the storage room. My girls enjoy barbies and big dolls/ play food and camping. Playmobil and calico critters are rarely used but i still keep them. My youngest son had been crazy about trains and dinos but outgrew them. Once i almost gave away a race track item for toy cars, but my youngest son convinced me not to. I think the key is to let your kids choose their birthday and Christmas gifts (it’s still a surprise to get them as they seem to forget it was “just what i wanted!”) and limit the number of items (i always did 4/ occasion like birthday or Christmas, but as you can see from 16 years of toys it adds up!) and of course to budget cost. This helps keep your spaces from having too much and for it to actually be wanted clutter.
This is so good and I’ve been guilty of this as well! I need to be more aware of my kids’ feelings and not just my own need to be rid of all.the.stuff!
Hey, June! I enjoy reading your posts so much! They keep things in perspective for me. Thank you for always sharing your heart! Recently, a blogger friend nominated me for the Mystery Blogger Award. The challenge is to nominate others, and I nominated you! Just check out my most recent post for details. 🙂
Aw – thanks friend! I read the post and will work on a post this week. 🙂
This has happened just recently with my daughter. I felt like such a dirt bag, and I still do just thinking about it. I hope I have learned my lesson.
It is heart-wrenching, isn’t it? I hope I’ve learned my lesson, too! Sometimes getting rid of stuff (and not asking) is such a bad habit though – hard to kick.