I wanted to take a moment to tell you about how I’ve learned to tidy with my boys. The younger fella on the left, he loves it, most of the time. The fella on the right doesn’t believe in tidying. He thinks it is an excuse for me to get rid of his things.
Oh my goodness, children get a lot of things! When I became a mother, I quickly became overwhelmed by the gifts the boys received. Not only at birthdays and holidays, but also from the grocery store clerk and the dentist and the neighbor’s mother and so on. It’s all given in kindness and very thoughtful, but it adds up insanely fast. I had no choice but to reduce their items or we’d have overflowed quickly.
I kept this habit as they grew. That’s when I got caught. I would rid of something they hadn’t touched in a long while and of course they’d start asking for that item. I felt bad, but I knew it was ultimately essential to continue clearing items because another birthday, Christmas, or grandparent gift was just around the corner.
Then I learned from The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo, that you cannot tidy other people’s items. Only they have the right to choose the items they love, just as adults. That’s when I started to involve them.
When I started this I was worried about two things:
- They’d want to keep everything.
- They wouldn’t want to keep the things I wanted them to.
Here is what actually happened:
- They did NOT want to keep everything. In fact, when we discussed their selecting only the items that spark joy, they were very comfortable selecting what they wanted to keep.
- Some items I wanted them to keep, they didn’t want to own any more. This led to an important realization, I was actually contributing to some of their clutter problem by making them keep some things only I thought was adorable! That was truly unfair because I was stealing some of their space for their favorite items!
In her book, Marie Kondo recommends tidying with children as young as three. They can select the items they love easily by this age and by starting then I could have forgone the sneaking route, leading to better habits. (My initial tidying methods probably created some or at least added to my older son’s tidying skepticism.)
With this in mind, it’s important to remember that time is very different for young children. They may not understand that an item they discard today won’t be available to them ever again. When we tidy sentimental items, I have found the best option is to create an “in limbo” tote storage for reassessment. This way the boys can reaffirm their choices, especially if they seem to want to rid of an item that seems surprising to me. Basically, if the boys brought up a missing stuffed toy they wanted to keep, I’d check the tote and bring it back out, but ask what we could put in instead. I’d also limit this to one tote for a short period of time, as not to create a whole new storage clutter problem. While this may seem counterproductive, I feel it is respectful of their needs. It contributes to their sense of security alongside developing a habit of tidying. Most of the time, they don’t ask for the items and it got cleared.
Now that they are older, as we repeat the tiny clear outs that occur before holidays or birthdays, they understand the process fully and tidy like any adult.
Children are fabulous at tidying, I shouldn’t have been so worried to try. I would highly recommend tidying alongside your child with an open mind. You will see their personalities and skills develop in a meaningful way.