Part 1: Curbing Kid Chaos
It’s amazing, the wave of emotions that can hit me upon stepping into the children’s playroom. Anxiety. Lack of control. Bewilderment. Exhaustion.
The play kitchen stands empty – beautiful wooden play food and utensils, lovingly purchased, no longer inside. That hand-painted pizza making kit with all those tiny pepperonis and mushrooms? No doubt each of them has found its own little hiding place, separate from each other, in pockets, play purses, trapdoors, closed game boxes, puzzle boxes, doll beds and doll diapers, across multiple rooms in the house. Just the thought of finding every piece and putting that pizza kit back together makes my stomach churn. How and why would I ever give any more gifts to these kids who can’t even take care of the ones they have?
I know I’m not alone in this. STUFF. We’re surrounded by it. And it keeps coming, on a daily basis. Every time my son goes to Tae Kwon Do they give him a TOY. That’s 2 new toys a week!
And as they say in the North, “Christmas is coming.”
I’m not going to let the STUFF consume us this year. When the kids have too much to play with, they don’t enjoy it anyway. To quote one of their favorite books, “Although I’ve got STUFF I’ve got nothing to do.” That said, I do want to create a little magic on Christmas morning for these kiddos I love so much.
So what’s a parent to do?
If your kids, like mine, have an overwhelming amount of toys, books, and clothes, and you have no idea how you could possibly give them anything meaningful without adding to the general state of overwhelm-nation, you’ve come to the right place. We’re going to work through this, together. It’s going to require some time, kid-free, to evaluate, sort, discard, and donate. But it’s going to leave you with a sense of what they have, what they need, what would delight them, and, importantly, what’s not going to cause problems for you.
Step 1: Prepare
Here’s what you’re going to need.
– A kid-free home. Don’t underestimate the importance of this. You will not be able to sort anything with little ones in the house. That cheap bit of plastic will suddenly take on new importance if they think it’s going to be donated
– Garbage bags, boxes, sharpies, tape: for trash and donations
Step 2: Evaluate
This part is hard. People actually pay good money to consultants who come into their homes and guide them through how to let go of their stuff. It can be painful.
I am inspired by a recent read, “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up.” The overarching premise of Marie Kondo’s bestselling book is that any object you keep in your home should “spark joy” when you hold it in your hand. I’m sort of on board with this, but I would add that being useful without sparking joy is OK by me.
As you begin to sort through your kids’ stuff, here are some questions to ask yourself:
– Is it age-appropriate?
- It’s strange how we buy our kids new stuff as they mature and grow older, but we often forget to get rid of the toys and books that are no longer age appropriate. If it’s served its purpose, it’s time to pass it on to another child. And if you donate it now, that child could enjoy it for the holidays.
- This goes for books, too. I LOVE books… they’re friends to me. But I realize that something’s got to go, including the board books for babies that my children are long-past done with. It makes me feel better about saying good-bye when I think about some other parent and child enjoying reading them together.
– Is it fun to play with?
- Some toys just aren’t fun, and the kids don’t play with them. We subconsciously know this, but we hate to let go of things anyway. Free yourself – just because you bought it or received it as a gift doesn’t mean you have to keep it. If it’s a stinky toy, they’re never going to play with it, and you will eventually get rid of it. Why not now?
– Is it broken or missing pieces?
- It’s surprising how many broken, useless toys I’ve held on to. They don’t work. They’re just taking up space and adding to the chaos. Same with puzzles and games that are missing pieces. It’s frustrating, yes. The game wasn’t put away properly and you just know those missing pieces are hiding under a couch cushion somewhere… But if it’s been months (years?) and the missing bits haven’t turned up, they’re probably never going to turn up.
- Sift through those arts and crafts – crayon nubs, broken pencils, dried out pens, scribbled-upon scraps of paper, coloring books that have been all colored out – toss ‘em and clear space for new materials.
– Is it making you crazy?
- I realized quite recently, when I discovered a cache of those wooden pepperoni pieces in my daughter’s shoe, that no child was making pizzas with the pizza kit. I don’t really know what they’re doing with it. Maybe they’re having fun, but it is at great cost to my sanity. Which reminded me of the definition of IN-sanity – doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. Putting the pepperonis back in the kit time after time is getting me nowhere. It’s time to find these pieces one last time, zip them up in a bag, and donate the kit to a calm, organized, detail-oriented child who will enjoy putting the pieces back where they belong (if you know any such children, please let me know).
– Will your child wear this again?
- Cycling through kids’ clothes is an ongoing process, as any parent knows. They grow so dang fast! You’re likely pretty good at purging things that don’t fit. But another question to ask yourself is whether they’ll wear it again. If a summer dress fits a little tight now, wouldn’t it be better to rid yourself of it today rather than store it until the weather gets warm, only to find there’s no way she’ll fit into it by then?
- There are items in my kids’ drawers that are cute and well-made, but which never get worn. I keep trying, over and over, (insanity rearing its ugly head again) but there is just no way my son is going to wear that itchy Fair Isle sweater EVER. No more! Out goes the itchy stuff, the uncomfortable stuff, the wide leg pants that for some reason he just won’t put on, or the clothes that are well-made, in good condition, that were given to you and which you simply don’t like.
– Should your child wear this again?
- Ah… a question I should ask myself more often. Kids are hard on clothes, and they end up with stains, tears, ragged edges, pills, and worn spots, until the kids look (as my mother would say) like ragamuffins. Try to look through your children’s clothes with fresh eyes to evaluate whether something is ready to be retired.
Step 3: Sort for Donation
– Anything that is useful or can be enjoyed by others is perfect for donation. This is good for you in that your loved items will have a new life with another child. It’s good for that needy child, who may not otherwise have had a chance to have had it. It’s good for the earth, because you’re recycling goods that otherwise may need to be manufactured and purchased.
Step 4: Discard
You heard me. Now that you’ve evaluated what they have and donated the decent stuff, it’s time to start throwing the useless, broken, no-good stuff into the garbage bags.
Step 5: Enjoy the Moment
You have now sorted, organized, discarded and donated. There’s room on the shelves, and your children’s spaces feel more calm and less chaotic. You have a 360-degree view of what your children have and don’t have, what they use and what they don’t. You may even have an idea of some gifts that they will enjoy and use, and which you won’t find irritating beyond belief.
Next, how do we extend that calm, less chaotic feeling to the rest of the house? How do we purge the whole home before the holiday cheer comes roaring in? Stay tuned – next week we’ll post Part II of Readying Your Home for the Holiday Onslaught: Whole House Detox and Prep.
Today I Feel Silly and Other Moods that Make My Day, By Jamie Lee Curtis