Strategies for Dealing with Clutter (or How to Live with a Keeper)

I am not a keeper.  I don’t like clutter, and I don’t function well when things are in chaos around me.  For all of the facets of personality and preference in which my husband and I are opposites, this is one upon which we both agree. We aren’t into knick-knacks, pointless decorations, or clutter.  That isn’t to say that those who like things around them are wrong – it just isn’t my preference.

I believe that, for all of the things that are passed on to our children by them simply observing us, this trait isn’t one of them. I think that we naturally come to either enjoy things being around us, or we don’t.  Or, we choose to keep things around us for different reasons other than having seen it modeled.

I can say this because somewhere along the journey of raising my children, I realized that I inadvertently raised a keeper.  I have a child who places value on keeping a memento as a way of keeping a memory.  She collects things while she collects memories. The objects have emotions filed with them – for her, the two go hand in hand.

I also have Goodwilled/thrown away/garage saled (garage sold?) way too many precious items. To this day, my littlest (who is 13) talks about a doll that was sold when she was 5.  Still.  To.  This.  Day.  And each time, I find myself trying to keep my head above a tsunami of guilt.

My struggle as a parent is the balance of giving grace and room for each of my kids to be completely themselves, while teaching them good organizational skills and keeping our home a place of peace for those of us in the family who are not keepers.

My mom is an example in this for me.  She keeps things – maybe not as a memory keeping tool like my daughter, but to always be ready for anything. For years, she and my dad directed high school plays in a rural school that didn’t have a budget for props or costumes.  Being a gifted seamstress, she took the costumes on herself, using any fabric on hand, from toss-away scraps to some of my (and my sister’s) high school clothes.  It became a strategic practice for her to keep anything and everything, because you just never knew when it might be needed to make the perfect prop or costume.

For years, every time I came home to visit, I was driven to purge and organize her stuff.  I got matching cardboard boxes, I got file cabinets, every organizational supply you can imagine, and went to town on her collection.

Over time I began to realize that she really knew where everything was, even in the midst of seeming chaos.  Somehow, the clutter and disorder actually held a specific code that she knew how to decipher.  Eventually I quit trying to “help” her, and relaxed in the comfort of her system.

With that delicate balance in mind, I have a few suggestions on how to help those of you who are raising keepers.

*  Be intentional about having a conversation with your kids about organizational skills.  Don’t assume that just because they live with you, they’re getting your skills.  Teach them how to approach a cleaning job.  Teach them to be systematic (start on one side of the room and work your way around) and how to be detailed.

*  On a regular basis, schedule time with your kids to purge.  Encourage your kids to evaluate their possessions as to whether or not they still hold value.  Teach them how to make decisions as to whether an item is a keep/sell/give away object.  Note of caution:  Be extremely sensitive in this process.  Don’t rush or push, threaten or bribe.  This is a very personal decision.

*  Put a rule in place that nothing can be added until something is removed. Unless you have endless space, just for practicality, something must be removed if an item is being added.

*  Ask your parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, friends to NOT give your kids stuffed animals.  We found that these took up so much room.  It isn’t that we are anti-stuffed animals entirely, but they become the go-to gift when someone is a unsure as to what to give a child, and eventually, their rooms will become overrun with bears, dogs, penguins, zebras, etc.

*  If at all possible, give your child their own space – either their own room, or a drawer, closet, or box, in which they can keep to their heart’s content.

I also recognize that there are some adults who are keepers.  If you have unlimited space, if your roommate or spouse is completely fine with having lots of objects around them, or if your keeping hasn’t gotten out of control, then don’t worry about it.  There is nothing intrinsically wrong with having stuff.

But, if you feel like your habits are infringing on those with whom you live, or if you feel like your collecting has gotten out of hand, then maybe some of the things I mentioned will help.  I hope so!

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1 Comment

Filed under Family and faith, General thoughts, Parenting

One response to “Strategies for Dealing with Clutter (or How to Live with a Keeper)

  1. I’m the same way…not a big fan of the clutter, so thank you for this wonderful story that reminds us to keep the clutter out of our lives. And, to also, understand those that have emotional connections to memento’s. This was a well written story that truly spoke to my heart! Thanks, Lori!

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