Kid Clutter: Experiments in Decluttering Toy Tornadoes

The floor: for many of us parents, the sight of a bare floor is an amazing and rare spectacle, rather like the sighting of a double rainbow or a shooting star–beautiful and hauntingly brief–before it is submerged under a deluge of toys again.

I’ve tried many things to deal with this problem, like buying more toy bins from ikea and sorting the toys into them…repeatedly! Storage is not the solution, when everything is just going to be dumped out again. I’m also constantly decluttering and making give away bags of clothes and toys for Big Brothers Charity to pick up from my doorstep. I’ve even tried my sister’s method of toy jail, except sticking a box or bag of toys out in the garage temporarily. She told me:

I grabbed a garbage bag every night and a laundry basket. Set the timer. If things weren’t put back where they belonged they went in the garbage or into the “toy jail”. Then the jail went up on the fridge till they earned their toy’s freedom.

She was much more disciplined about doing this every night to establish a habit of tidying up. By the time I hit evening, I’m often too done in to do this. Or I’m just as overwhelmed as the kids by the sheer amount of tiny things to be responsible for. Hundreds and hundreds of little things to pick up, sort, organize, and put away. It’s a lot of pressure to deal with all this stuff.

So I finally hit a wall of frustration last weekend and decided to be a little more drastic. I brought in huge rubbermade bins from the garbage and dumped all the toy bins in them. I gathered up all the toys from the floor, everything but the toy food from in the toy kitchen, and a stuffie or two on each bed, and I put it ALL in the garage.

I waited for an explosion of outrage. For complaints. For tears. For…anything! But nothing came. The kids barely seemed to notice. My three year old Eddie turned all the empty toy bins into a toy train.

In his bed he has his Spider-Man doll and his Star Wars book. He’s perfectly happy. He has his siblings and his imagination. He has space to run and jump and play, instead of living in a toy tornado. We might bring some toys back in after a while, but not until they are specifically requested. So far, in a whole week, only one toy has been asked for, so I’ll go fetch that one thing.

I share this anecdote to demonstrate that sometimes we put too much stock in material things, thinking our happiness depends on them. It is a greater happiness to live the adventure of participating in making the world a better place. Life has much more savour and zest when we are not trapped in the tunnel of thinking mainly of ourselves. I read a great comment by a woman named Lauren in comments in We Are That Family blog:

My pastor said that we expect our children to be grateful when we shower them with gifts, but the only way to be really grateful is to live without.

I think the sheer amount of gifts children receive really cheapens everything. It’s so hard to really care about that many things. Especially when an empty box is just as fun to play with– or more!

We are still a fair way away from Christmas, the season in which loving relatives attempt to drive mothers insane by dumping down the chimney a sparkling deluge of tiny toys, to be picked up and sorted and lost and cried over and fought over approximately 2946393 times.

May I suggest, for those who may be thinking ahead, to consider experience gifts instead? Like taking the kids to a play or paying for an art class? Kids will love it! Nothing has brought my 6 and 7 year olds greater joy than their art class at 4 Cats art studio this fall. They are growing in confidence and learning new skills. Mothers all around the world will thank you for not bringing a million more tiny collectible toys to their house, especially every night when they go upstairs to read their kids a bedtime story, and can actually see that much coveted and beloved object: a clear floor!

As an added bonus, buying less toys is better for the environment, and helps preserve a more beautiful world for our kids to grow up in. Win-win!!

Homeschool Fun: Making Butter

Recently we did a simple science project from my daughter’s Behold and See 6 workbook: making homemade butter out of whip cream. We poured a litre of whip cream into a glass jar, closed it up, put on some fun 50’s music and proceeded to dance about shaking the jar like crazy. It’s a lot of work, so we all took turns….even the toddler lugged the giant jar about for a few minutes, at her own request.

After some time, and a change of music to Nintendo theme songs, requested by another child, we discovered it had become whip cream. We snuck out a small bowlful, sprinkled it with granulated sugar and dipped chopped fruit in it.

Then back to work with lots more dancing, jumping and shaking, and plenty of admiration for the ladies of old who did this by hand every week, like Ma in “Little House in the Big Woods,” which we are reading together. Eventually the jar started to slosh around again with buttermilk, which had separated from the large yellow clump of butter inside. After a bit we took the butter out and rinsed it off, to get out the buttermilk which could make it go rancid more easily.

After the water which we rinsed and kneaded it in ran clear, we took it out and put it in out butter dish. Voilá!

It’s yummy! Another time maybe we will add garlic and herbs and spread it on a warm loaf of bread from the bread-maker! The litre of whip cream only made about a half pound of butter, which made me better appreciate butter’s price!

Decluttering and making a house a home: a family effort!

It is a blessing to have someone on your life who loves you enough to kindly tell you how you could do better…some one who loves you enough–as you already are–to help you grow even better. My big stepsister Dymphny is like that. Totally accepting, yet boldly courageous in proclaiming the truth with love.

She flew down to help me reorganize my home, because we have been fortunate enough to be able to rent the suite below us, and now have the whole house! Instead of 3 bedrooms for 9 people, we have 5 and a den, besides an extra little kitchen and bathroom. One of the most exciting parts is the large living room, which will be our new homeschool room, instead of the tiny, narrow dining room we’ve used for school till now.

Things have been rather quiet on my blog because they’ve been so packed here! The kids and I, with some help from Grandpa, my brother and my lovely landlord Joe, repainted the downstairs…transforming the pale, depressing, hospital-gown green suite into cute Bubblegum Pink bedrooms, a Thai Teal bedroom, and a English Daisy yellow schoolroom! 🙂

Everybody helped…

It was quite the fun project…home renovation and interior decorating 101! My 12 year daughter became an overnight IKEA expert and made a massive list of everything we needed to make our new space beautiful. Since I never usually buy many new things for our home, the list was huge, and we had a rather epic expedition involving a 5 hour shop and a U-Haul. Happily my sister and brother were there to help!

Of course my productivity manager came along as well…

We survived!! IKEA soft ice cream was a definite must in our way out the door.

But besides buying new things to make our space lovely…we had an even more important job to do: purging everything unnecessary, ugly, extra, etc, that was currently making our home cluttered, chaotic and well, rather resembling a ramshackle thrift store instead of a beautiful, intentional space. No more!

My daughter’s new bedroom

This is where having a loving big sister with an objective eye for crap came in so handy. She wasn’t going to let me hang on to anything that didn’t make my life better. Rather, she helped me dig out the precious things hiding under the clutter so I can display and enjoy them instead of having them tucked away and forgotten, like the fancy tea pot I bought for my birthday on my last IKEA trip last Advent…and still haven’t used, less than a month till my next birthday!

It’s a gift to have someone affirm that you’re better than some kind of recycling bin, and that you don’t need to hold on to everything that comes your way. Sometimes when trying to sort stuff alone it’s hard to cut the invisible strings of guilt that make you keep stuff for “one day” or because it’s from “so and so”…or because getting rid of stuff feels wasteful.

Sorting books

The minimalist mom Allie Casazza says that whatever takes up your space, takes up your time. You don’t need to lose time shuffling around odds and ends you don’t need. I’ve done this for years. And what’s really wasteful is harming your relationships because of unnecessary stress….not being able to find things, arriving late, not wanting to have people over because of mess, etc.

It’s so freeing to let go. Chuck those old shampoo bottles and extra creams into the recycling. Take pictures of all those kids drawings and then let them go. Let someone else enjoy those books and clothes you don’t need. Live with a lighter heart and be able to find things. A clear beautiful space is so calming. A study quoted on a Gretchen Rubin’s podcast Happier found that women’s cortisol levels, indicative of stress, were directly related to the amount of clutter in her home. No wonder I’ve been on edge!

I was so grateful to have Big Brothers to pick up our porch full of donations, and Half Price Rubbish Removal to come the next day. Seeing what we don’t need has opened our eyes to see how we could enjoy our home even better. Having space to do so more peacefully and enjoying the presence of family, including our IKEA expert building expert Opa, has been the best gift so far this season!

Bad Day Mama Blues

Sometimes when you’re tired it feels like the world is ending, even though everything is actually ok. So this is a shout out for all the moms out there who had a bad day, or even a bad week, and don’t want to feel alone. If you’re tired of airbrushed social media images of perfection, this post is for you. 

So it all started with running out of coffee. Think alarm bells and

Code red, code red: mom down, mom down!

  

A disaster of epic proportions…leading to an immediate need to at least consume extra chocolate. So how ’bout you join me? Here’s a chocolate quiz. Eat one chocolate for every time you answer yes (chocolate chip or chocolate bar? That’s up to you!).

  1. Did your baby spit milk on you within 3 minutes of getting dressed? (Hey, good job getting dressed!)
  2. Was there a civil war at breakfast over who was looking at whom, followed by the building of a cereal box wall?
  3. Did you have to chase your naked toddler around the house to get his or her clean diaper on, right before you had to leave?
  4. Did you wonder if climbing the piles of laundry counted as a homeschool sport?
  5. Did your dishes magically reproduce the second your back was turned?
  6. Did you daydream about hammocks and drinks with little umbrellas in them?
  7. Did you feel inadequate or incapable…especially late in the afternoon, during that “witching hour” before dinner?
  8. Are you getting a toothache yet? 🍫🍫🍫
  9. Did your kids run screaming or getting suddenly faint and ill when you mentioned chores?
  10. Did it take three tries to call your child by the right name when correcting them?

Well, my friends, you’re not alone! Hope you’re munching something yummy, and ignoring those little ugly voices that sneak up when you’re tired and tell you you’re not good enough. If you’re worn down and feel like you have nothing left to give, it’s likely because you gave it all already. Like a fireman, you’ve been putting out fires all day…so the smoke and dust are a sign you’ve worked hard. Battle scars!

Motherhood is a tough job, and requires all your strength and all your heart. Chances are you’re doing an awesome job…not perfect, but awesome, so keep it up, and here’s to moms everywhere, struggling to love their little ones and make their homes happy, even when disaster strikes, and the coffee runs out! 

Habit Building: How always is easier than sometimes…

So I’ve been pondering the virtue of order again, as I always seem to be, because I’m not what the homemaking guru the Flylady calls a B.O. (born organized). So this Lent, more than focusing on giving up something, I’ve been focussing on aquiring something, namely the virtue of order. I’m hoping to bring more rhythm and smoothness to my week, so that certain things can happen more naturally, because that’s now simply when we do them, rather than waiting for them to happen in a fragmented and haphazard way…

So this scatterbrained poet is cleaning bathrooms on certain days, and doing laundry on certain days, and things like this. But how did this come about? Moving and Lent. Moving was a great way to have a fresh start…to hit the reset button and begin again. And this happened to coincide with a great spiritual impetus for interior growth and change for the better, which is the season of preparation for the joy of Easter. 

These things complement each other well, because as when more things are planned (like meals, daily topics for homeschool, some daily and weekly chores) my mind is freed up to be more contemplative. I can read or pray without being quite as distracted by my revolving to-do list spinning about my head. I find those tiny household decisions take up a lot of brain power, and prevent me from being as peaceful as I’d like. (Who feels peaceful at 4:45 pm if you don’t know what’s for dinner and the kids are gnawing on your ankles?) So in this sense, knowing when I’m going to do certain things, rather than restricting me, has actually made me more free. 

 
One of the things I’ve been trying to do this Lent is do the dishes right after each meal, instead of getting distracted by the kids, phone, next project (squirrel!) and letting them pile up. I’m actually generally doing better with them than I did when I had a dishwasher! And often it’s over the kitchen sink that I think of new blog posts…my little reward!

Both the routine and a spiritual motive make it easier to do my work promptly. Somehow it’s easier to make myself do certain things when they are simply part of the routine, instead of something I might do now…or maybe later…when I feel like it (because honestly, when will I feel like cleaning a toilet?). 

The kids agree that stuff you do always is easier than stuff you do sometimes. My 9 year old told me, “It’s like making my bed…when I do it every day, it’s easy, but when I used to just do it sometimes, it was really hard each time.” So each week I am trying to add just a few more little things that we do on scheduled days. I don’t have really specific times for each thing, because too many details would set me up for failure…and be too much pressure. But little by little, I’m hoping to make this ship run more smoothly, with the idea that more pirate adventures can be had with mended sails and a swabbed deck!   

We are NOT our stuff

It’s easy to get mixed up about who we are…what is important to us and where we spend our time… Sadly those two things don’t always coincide. Sometimes we spend a lot of our time dealing with stuff that doesn’t really matter. Like our junk. Our millions of clothes, books, toys, papers, household supplies etc.     There’s a saying that where your treasure is, there is your heart also. We might think that our heart isn’t in our physical possessions, but if we spend huge amounts of time buying, organizing, sorting and maintaining them, then isn’t it true? Society (or at least advertisers) actually tries pretty hard to make us believe our happiness and identity does come from what we own. We define ourselves by our possessions:

I have Ferrari = I’m successful. I wear expensive jewelry = I’m classy. I have the latest fashions = I’m attractive. I eat organic = I’m pure.

There’s nothing wrong with these good things, but none of them actaully defines the core of who we are. None of these things come with us when we die. I believe it was St. John of the Cross who said, “At the evening of our lives we will be judged on love.”     So how does stuff relate to our capacity to love? St Augustine tells us that “any lessening of concupiscience (the disordered and selfish desire for or attachment to things) means an increase in charity (generous love for others).” So the less our heart is crammed with stuff, the more room there is for people.     I want to relate this again to how we use our time. What has the time you spend dealing with your excess stuff (at least if you have too much of it like me) prevented you from doing for others? Perhaps volunteering at an old folks home, visiting a lonely relative, having a friend over who really could use a heart to heart chat, etc.     Or what does needing to constantly clean and organize prevent you from doing for yourself? Reading great books? Exercising? Meditating? Praying? Reflecting? Writing? Wouldn’t doing these things make you happier than trying to shuffle around the belongings you don’t know what to do with?     We don’t want to live caught on the surface of life, amidst our clutter. We want to go deeper, love better, ponder life’s meaning and find ways to nourish our souls. Having too much stuff can trap us in the superficial…so there’s only one solution: get rid of it and free yourself to live better!     I’ll write more on doing major decluttering soon, including insights from organizational master Marie Kondo’s book “the life-changing magic of tidying up: the Japanese art of decluttering and organizing.” Until then, all the best, and remember, you are not your stuff, you are so much more! Trimming the excess clutter will only free you up to be more yourself…