It’s that time of year. The weather is warming up, and windows can finally be opened again so the house can breathe out the stale air of winter and in the scent of spring.
Do you get into spring cleaning? I despise cleaning, but I *heart* organizing. Recently it has come to my attention (ahem, my husband may have been pointing this out to me for years) that the biggest hindrance to my cleaning is the sheer amount of stuff that we own.
You know what I’m talking about. Piles on the kitchen counter make it hard to wipe down. Legos strewn about the living room floor make vacuuming impossible. Dusting kids’ dressers when they are covered with books and loose change and jewelry is a nightmare.
My solution? ORGANIZE!
- Get more bookshelves.
- Invest in Rubbermaid storage bins.
- Alphabetize the books.
- Check out Pinterest for cute and clever toy storage ideas.
But does this really solve anything?
Isn’t it humbling (and a bit shameful) that as Americans we are so often drowning in excess, while others around the world are going without? Our solution to too many toys is to buy more storage containers, to come up with a better organization system, or to put them into a “toy rotation.” And while I bought into the toy rotation idea for a season (because let’s face it, it works!!), recently I started wondering if it was really the best solution for our family, and for my children.
If you’re not familiar with it, the idea behind toy rotation is to put away the majority of the toys where they cannot be seen or played with for a time, and then every few months pull out a new batch and put the current toys away. Kids are highly amused by anything that seems new and tend to play happily for longer periods of time when the fresh batch is revealed.
But, a few months ago I started asking myself, Why are they always asking for more? Why am I always wanting for more? Does rotating toys actually breed an attitude of discontent in my children? Could they be content with fewer and fewer toys?
As part of our homeschool curriculum we’ve been reading The Story of the Wright Brothers and Their Sister by Lois Mills. Katherine Wright, sister to the famous brothers, only had ONE doll to her name. One! My kids were shocked when we read this. Can you imagine an American child with only one doll? I get frustrated with my kids because they have trouble picking up their dozens of toys and taking good care of them. But Katherine Wright treasured her one doll, and that resonated with me. I want my children to value what they own. And, frankly, I think our kids are often as overwhelmed with the amount of stuff they own as we are!
So this spring before we tackle cleaning, my husband and kids and I have been going through our collections (toys, clothes, and tools — both in the garage and in the kitchen), pulling out anything that we don’t use on a regular basis. When deciding what toys to keep, sometimes I let my kids help and sometimes I sneak things without them knowing. As Mom, you know which ones will be missed and which ones won’t! I’ve tried to adopt the Bluedorn’s advice of having “tools for exploring, not toys for adoring,” only keeping toys that inspire imagination and creativity, like Legos and dress-up clothes.
As we have taken boxes and bags-full to donation centers (and sold a fair amount on local swap sites), it’s been liberating for us all. My seven-year-old has actually been able to keep her room clean independently for weeks at a time! And I have had more time to spend reading to my kids instead of wasting precious minutes every day picking up endless clutter around the house (or harping on them to help out!).
Can you relate? Want to join me in decluttering? Worried that your family will resist?
Oh mama, I hear you. I’d be lying if I said there haven’t been a few tears shed during this process at our house. But it’s been SO worth it. We’ve had some great discussions with our kids about less fortunate people, and how blessed we are, and what we should do with our blessings to bless others.
So are you ready to start? Wondering how exactly to go about getting rid of stuff and involving kids in the process?
My advice: cast a vision. Better yet, cast two!
1. Find a cause to donate towards.
One summer a few years ago our family had a huge garage sale and donated all our profits to Heifer International. My kids had a BLAST shopping online with our proceeds, choosing water buffaloes, goats, and ducks! And they were much more willing to part with toys when they knew how it would help others.
This winter we took a trunkful of stuff to Overflow Thrift Store in Ames. The proceeds from sales at this secondhand store will go directly to orphans, widows, and other vulnerable people in Africa. Specifically, they sponsor children through the same organization that we do — potentially friends of our own sponsored kiddos! This makes it really real for my girls; they have been writing letters back and forth with two girls in Uganda, so they understand just a little bit what the needs are over there. (Click here for more information on sponsoring a child. You could use money made from selling your extra stuff to pay the monthly sponsorship fees!)
Another great local option would be to drop off donations for Encore Thrift Store. They have two Des Moines locations, and all their proceeds go towards Hope Ministries, serving the homeless. Another local option is the Des Moines Refugee Center. They furnish homes for refugees when they move to the area and can always use household goods including furniture, toiletries, linens, cleaning supplies, and kitchen items. Basically anything a family needs, they will take. What a great way to bless people locally who have been displaced!
2. Set a family savings goal.
Our kids really want a swing set for the back yard. Sure, we could just go out and buy them one, but we want them to be invested in it. We’ve learned that our kids tend to place a higher value on things they have waited for and worked for, so we’re looking for any and every opportunity to let them “help.” Any proceeds we make this spring from selling their toys go directly into an envelope marked “swing set.” It builds so much character for them to wait for something and to see the value of saving up money towards a goal. And, they are more motivated to get rid of stuff. Win-win.
My favorite quote from the Wright Brothers biography was a description of their home, which was “decorated” primarily with books and bookshelves. The author states, “Uncluttered by needless trinkets, there was space here for thoughts, big thoughts.” I had a “moment” as I read that to the three blond-haired, blue-eyed faces sitting around our kitchen table. You know what I mean. That moment when time seems to stand still, so you read it out loud one more time and let the words roll around in your mind and change you.
“Uncluttered by needless trinkets, there was space here for thoughts, big thoughts.”
Our stuff often gets in the way. It hinders us from cleaning, sure. But it can also distract us from more important things — from ideas we were meant to think, from relationships we could be building. Is our “stuff” holding us back? Getting in the way of really living?
I want our home to be like the Wrights’. Uncluttered. With space to think big thoughts, and dream big dreams. Those famous brothers went on to invent the airplane! What might we, and our children, be able to accomplish if we remove the distractions and create more space — to live, to think, to create, to dream….