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  • Dr Sarah Strong, ND

More or Less...

I recently sat in my seven year old's room and started feeling the anxiety coming on. Bits of paper were everywhere, her bed was a pile of blankets and stuffed animals with several books thrown in. Drawers were open, yesterday's clothes were in the middle of the floor and more books were strewn around the ground. I should state that all of this came after numerous discussions and requests for her to keep her room clean and after only an hour after she had already cleaned her room! We have sorted, minimized, prioritized- all to no avail. If I took things out she pulled stuff from the recycling or even the trash can and I can tell you this mama hit a breaking point. Maybe it was a bit extreme but she had been warned that this would be the next step, so at least it wasn't a surprise. I bagged up EVERYTHING in her room aside from just enough clothes for the week, a pillow, a blanket, her favorite stuffy and a couple books. I put it all in the guest room and waited for her to come home. Granted, she had a moment of shock but what has happened in the month since this event has been pretty wonderful.

After she cried for a minute we sat down and talked. I explained to her that this wasn't a punishment but an experiment to see how much stuff she was able to handle taking care of (because obviously the amount she had now was too much). We discussed how every day that she kept things clean she could choose an item to add back in to her room. She agreed to the plan and then suddenly realized that her afternoon was free- mom wasn't bugging her to clean and she didn't have to spend the whole afternoon on her room! You could see the light come into her face. I asked her what she wanted to do with all this time and she chose to paint. We made some beautiful pictures for our bathroom (I keep frames on the wall in there and have the kids make new drawings regularly for them- it keeps them busy for hours!). We painted toenails. We made muffins. She played outside with her sister. All in all, it was a lovely and relaxed day. The next morning she woke up, made her bed and we had another easy and fun-filled day. She was getting on board with this new plan and seemed less emotional than usual.

We continued this trend for a couple weeks with her picking out an item to return to her room most (but not all) days. It was interesting to see which things she chose and which she passed over. She still had free access to the living room toys- dollhouse, blocks, legos- plus our art supply cabinet and all her outside toys so she was by no means deprived. After a while I sorted through her remaining items and bagged up the ones I knew she wouldn't miss and put them in my closet. This has been my method for years- I'll sort through their stuff and put items they never play with out of sight for a month or more and then donate them if they don't ask for them anymore. I was left with a laundry bin of items that I wasn't sure about. I asked her to go through it with me and it wasn't exactly Marie Kondo style but we kept the items she truly loved and found homes for the other items where they would be used and appreciated.

So what's the point of all this? Simplification. Time. Quality over quantity. I know many will feel like this is a bit cruel and I don't even necessarily disagree but after years of battles and other methods it was the point we reached. Now, though... it's a different dynamic. Her younger sister has always been tidy but now she has also minimized her toys to a couple small bins. My 7 yo now has 3 bins under her bed- one for art supplies, one for her craft stuff, and one for other toys. It's easy, out of sight, and when her bins get too full she knows it's time to sort through them. We have more time as a family and she seems happier to have more time playing and less time cleaning. Both kids now make their beds without being asked (most days...) and we have an ongoing donation bin and friends with younger kids that make letting go a bit easier. My youngest loves sending videos to our friend's two year old explaining what an item is and asking if she'd like it.

I've always been a purger with items and prefer things minimal but with kids clutter somehow follows. A few years ago we started asking for specific items from family members for holidays or for them to only gift experiences or books. It's been lifesaver and birthdays and Christmases are no longer overwhelming. My husband and I are both more relaxed because we spend less time cleaning and more time doing home projects and spending time with our girls. While he has never been as concerned with messes as I have even he admits that it feels nice having a less cluttered house. I don't think you need to limit books to 30 or less or fold your shirts into tiny origami squares but getting rid of the clutter is an amazing way to enjoy life more.

There are so many organizational books and videos out there but I think it's best to figure out what works for you. With our garage, my husband's tools got a bit overwhelming. Our solution was to buy a bunch of matching bins, organize and label. Everything is still there but it's easy to find and visually more pleasing. Is my house always clean and organized? Absolutely not. I'm a working mother of two with a house that is usually under construction in one way or another. Messes happen! My kids still need plenty of reminders and I still get overwhelmed by the amount of laundry and dishes (I swear- they never end!) but overall the daily tasks are easier and there is more time for everything else. So start small- bathroom cabinet or a book shelf and just take it from there. Give yourself room to breathe again and give yourself more time to enjoy life. Here's to a more clutter-free year!

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