In the modern era of too much too fast, our great challenge as parents is finding ways to slow down. When my first child was a baby, it seemed so easy to control the flow of stuff. I made bold statements that we would only ever allow character-free, wood, lead-free toys in our home. We would take a stand against the commercialism of childhood and buy all our toys at consignment shops. There would be no clutter allowed in our home.
Fast forward to about a year ago, almost five years after my initial declaration of independence from consumerism. I felt like I had lost the war. Although my initial intentions were good, I had eventually allowed the accumulated pile of stuff to find a place in our home. I noticed a pattern of behavior begin to emerge in my children. My pre-kindergartner began organizing and labeling groups of toys instead of playing with them, and my two-year-old eyed whatever her sister was playing with and snatched it from her. Onlookers laughed off the categorizing and quarreling as normal quirks of childhood, but I knew there was more to it than that.
Although I saw their behavior as a cry for help, I was not yet sure what needed to change. Then I read Simplicity Parenting, and I learned that this odd behavior was a symptom of what Kim John Payne calls a “soul fever.” When I invited the clutter in my home, I passively told my girls that all of these belongings held value in our family. As a result, my plucky gals gallantly attempted to keep track of it all and offer each item their unwavering emotional attachment. When this task proved difficult, they struggled to determine which beloved article deserved their affections.
Suddenly, I realized what I’d mistaken to be genuine love of all of these toys was actually the panic of indecision. At that moment, I treated their soul fever like I would any illness. I stopped worrying about what the grandparents would think when they didn’t see the toy they had gotten the girls front and center in their playroom, and I started being honest with them about the patterns of behavior I was seeing. Then I got down to work. I cut our schedules down to half the activities we had been doing, and I tackled the junk, “making a molehill out of a mountain,” as Payne says.
After I put away, gave away, or threw away over three quarters of their playthings, I saw an instantaneous shift in their moods and behavior. Given more room to choose their own adventures, they voluntarily left the house more to play with the dirt, sticks, and rocks that I remember fondly from my own childhood. They stopped hoarding ten stuffed animals on their beds and slept instead with their one most beloved “lovies.”
Over the past year, I’ve seen that more choice does not equal more happiness. My kids crave time to imagine and just be, and when I can tell when they aren’t getting that time, I adjust our schedules and go through their rooms with my big black garbage bag again. I do a big pre-holiday purge to adjust to an influx of gifts. I also serve as a go-between Santa’s Workshop from the grandparents to the kids, letting them know what I think will fit in well and what won’t. While it might seem overly managing or rude on my part, I think it’s better to be transparent; once they know certain items don’t have a place in our home, they stop wasting money on those items.
Justine is an urban homesteader, a minimalist mom, a writer, and a birth doula living in Massachusetts. She is passionate about natural and sustainable living, health, frugality, and her quest for real food and family heirloom recipes. She blogs at The Lone Home Ranger.