By Dr. Patricia Nan Anderson
A certain amount of clutter is part of childhood. It’s an artifact of the speed of children’s development and the range of their thoughts and ideas. Trying to keep children too neat squelches creativity and limits intellectual growth. So an obsession with neatness, if that’s your issue, is your issue. Concentrate on keeping things in hand, not with apple-pie-order.
At the same time, great disorder overwhelms a child’s sensibilities. Some children are more susceptible to this than others, and need more clarity in their stuff. Even for more typically mess-tolerant kids, understanding order is the first step towards self-discipline. Montessori knew this. She knew that an orderly environment is essential for intellectual and creative growth.
So what can you do to reduce kids’ clutter without becoming a neat-freak?
Reduce what’s immediately available. With your child, if possible, sort through things and box up stuff that’s not needed right now. Store these boxes in a closet or basement but do NOT fall into the trap of moving toys to rented storage space. No toys are worth their own apartment! The idea here is to make neatness easier by reducing the number of things needing space.
Remove what’s no longer wanted. Be ruthless. Don’t keep things toys or clothes your children have outgrown for your future grandchildren or just because you spent a lot of money on it. Move it out – maybe first to boxed storage but then to Goodwill or to friends. Stuff that is broken and unwanted needs to go to the trash. Don’t save it “for parts.”
Replace the old with the new. If something new comes in, something old goes out, to boxed storage or out of the house completely. Some parents keep a 100 Toys list on the computer – the 100 toys that are in the playroom and a child’s bedroom. When something new is added to the list, something else is deleted. This rule requires a lot of self-discipline but it helps when your child is begging for some item to ask him to consider what he’ll get rid of to make room for the new toy.
Restrain new purchases. Not every nifty thing that catches your child’s eye deserves a place in your home. Resist the impulse to buy souvenirs when you travel or “bribe-toys” to shut your child up on a shopping trip. Avoid the necessity to “collect them all.” Recognize this for what it is – a marketing ploy.
Stuff is just stuff and the lifespan of most toys is pretty short. When you do buy toys and things, buy quality items with real play value.
The secret to an uncluttered life is a shift in perspective. No matter how cute and beloved something once was, your family doesn’t owe it anything, least of all a permanent place in your lives. Permanent places are reserved for the people in your family, and maybe for your pets. Inanimate objects must earn their shelf space or give it up.
Help your children to a proper perspective on “things” and guide them in knowing when to let things go.
© 2013, Patricia Nan Anderson. All rights reserved.