Thursday, September 20, 2012

Whose Stuff Is It, Anyway?

I haven't used my crockpot in probably two years. I don't know why; I just kind of got out of the habit and it sat in the pantry a long while. This week, I decided to make stew. The Agents love it and it's easy and it makes me think of fall even though the weather here isn't exactly cooperating.

But when I went to find the crockpot, I couldn't. I thought and thought about where it could possibly be: Did I box it back up? Did I move it to another shelf? Did it get lost in the move? 

When I talked to Hubby later that evening (after preparing something else for dinner) I told him all about my missing kitchen tool dilemma. And luckily he knew exactly where my crockpot was!

He noticed I hadn't used it in a while, and really wanted that space in the pantry for something else. So, he took it to Goodwill and dropped it off. 

He figured I wouldn't even miss it, so he didn't bother to tell me. Besides, I haven't earned a paycheck since December 2007, so technically I didn't "buy" it, so it really wasn't mine to begin with. 

Plus, we have been on this mission to declutter the house, and really this was just being helpful, right? Now I would learn to live with less and be content with what I have! 

And maybe next time I'd think twice about wanting to purchase yet another kitchen appliance when I already have a fully functional stove, refrigerator, and dishwasher. I even own a coffeepot and a waffle maker. Surely, a crockpot is just overkill.

Any of this sound completely ridiculous to you?

It should. It's complete fiction and would never happen at our house. My husband would never assume he could decide what to do with something that is mine (or ours jointly) without talking to me first.

And we wouldn't do this to our kids either. It is not okay to take our children's belongings. They have as much right to hold onto their crockpot (or legos, or dolls, or books) as I do.

From what I've been reading lately, this does not appear to be a very popular stance. 

I saw a blog post recently about a mother who took away all of her children's toys and previously allowed screen time and replaced it with a pocket playground. (Yeah; I had no idea what it was either.) There was really no logical reason to why she did this other than she wanted to see what happened. Her kids were understandably devastated and confused, but because they eventually learned to adapt (kids are resilient like that) she considered it a "success."

Another story I read just this week was about a parent who cleared out everything from her daughters' room after spending hours cleaning it and coming to the conclusion that they didn't appreciate their stuff and therefore didn't deserve it. (Why she spent four hours cleaning her children's room without enlisting their help or communicating about what she was doing, I have no idea. Probably a whole other post though.) She "allowed" them to "earn" back a few treasured possessions, all the while patting herself on the back for being so clever.

And remember that chore bin photo that circulated a while back? Where if a child left something out the parent held it ransom until the child paid some penance to get it back? Because we all know that adults never leave their keys in random locations, or lose their cell phones, or forget to put away something they finished using.

Conventional parenting wisdom (and most mainstream parenting advice forums) would have us believe that this is completely okay. That it is our job as parents to [teach our kids a lesson, make sure they know they can't have/do everything they want, show them there are consequences for XYZ]. That out of sight means out of mind and if they don't ask for it back it's okay to ditch it. That it's really our stuff anyway, because children don't actually have the right to "own" anything.

I personally don't follow this "logic" at all, and here are some reasons why:

1. Assuming your child is old enough to engage in meaningful back and forth conversation, he or she should be involved. Contrary to what some may believe, children are people and have feelings about their possessions. Even ones they haven't looked at in a while.

2. It won't teach them to take responsibility for their things. It might, however, teach them that sooner or later mom (or dad, but face it, probably mom) will get fed up and do it for them.

3. If the item in question was a gift, and you are swiping it back, it teaches them that gifts are given conditionally, not freely.

4. It's doubtful (at best) that having a few possessions snatched at random will teach them to appreciate their belongings more or to be content with less.

5. If we are still tempted to do one of the above, we probably need a good long look in the mirror first.

Wait wait wait . . . hold on a second. I know what you're thinking: It's not the same because you are an adult and your children are, well, children. Adults can and should make their own decisions when it comes to these things, and children . . . Can't? Shouldn't? Don't deserve the same respect?

Or maybe you agree with me, but are thinking: Okay, that's all fine and dandy, but seriously . . . what am I supposed to do with all this stuff?

Some possible solutions:

1. Limit what comes in. Less stuff, less clutter, less of an issue. Don't worry about what you should have done to prevent it in the first place, move forward.

2. If you already have too much, start by setting an example with your own things. Talk to your children about what you are doing and why. Involve them in both donations and purchases big and small.

3. Give some things away to charity if that's a mutual decision, but have a conversation about it first. 

4. Rotate toys by putting some in a storage bin (or a cardboard box) in the attic, garage, guest room, hall closet, tool shed, wherever you have space. Put away some newer art supplies until they've used up what's out. Tell them what you are doing and why, and be sure they know the items are not going away forever. 

5. Organize what you have with a better system. This doesn't have to be expensive or catalog worthy. Get your children's input; they'll be more willing to keep up with the organizing if they helped with it from the beginning.

6. Make reasonable requests. A two-year-old will never understand the command to "clean up your room" . . . heck, my very sharp six-year-old can get overwhelmed by a statement like that. Stick with short, specific goals. And be prepared to participate while your children are young. I'll straighten out the pillows and blankets on the bed while you put all the books back on the bookshelf. Put all the stuffed animals back in the toy box while I find a basket for these blocks. 

But what if it "works"? What if they do become more content with less, don't notice, don't care, and/or truly appreciate it?

This is definitely a possibility. And the truth is, I really don't know how to answer that one. However, in general I don't believe the end (however positive) justifies the means.

What is your take on kids and clutter? How do you handle this at your house?

Thanks for reading and have a blessed day.


Dena said... [Reply to comment]

I live in a very small house. My two year old has a small toy box full of toys and he barely plays with those. We also don't really have any art supplies. We do have a lot of books that he loves to read. We have a book shelf that he can access and he puts one book back before we read another one. I do wonder sometimes if I should have more toys or art stuff for him. Your post was good food for thought.

Julian@connectedmom said... [Reply to comment]

As a minimalist (or wannabe anyhow) I have trouble with this. It's so easy just to whisk a box away after bedtime & feel lighter. As my son gets older and isn't so easily fooled we've started a one-in-one-out system. Any new toy or other item he receives as a gift or talks grandparents into buying at the checkout is usually 'traded' by picking an old toy to put in the give-away box... I say 'wow, that's a great car! Let's make room for it on the shelf by putting another toy away for someone else' ... Seems to work as a balance.

Tara said... [Reply to comment]

We pull toys and rotate them. It does sound mean, but we do it while our three year old sleeps because he doesn't yet grasp the concept that they're not going away forever. He knows where they go in the closet and occasionally will go through the box when he's bored, but mostly he doesn't miss them when he wakes up and doesn't ask. We've also pulled toys that were given in violation of the no character toy rule, because we don't want it in the house. Honestly, our kids and us too are happier with less stuff. We keep his three favorite toys out. When grandparents visit, we do another toy pull before their arrival knowing more toys are going to be coming in. Art supplies we have lots of but we also donate things to the Children's Museum of the Arts when we have stuff we can't use. And we regularly purge our own stuff. Have you read Simplicity Parenting? I recommend it! When our kids are older, then absolutely, I wouldn't go into their rooms to get rid of their stuff. But as toddlers and preschoolers? Keeping toys to a minimum has been the best thing we've ever done.

truth in weakness said... [Reply to comment]

wonderful post! "children are people and have feelings about their possessions" -- absolutely. (i know i did as a kid!)

i have strong enough tendencies to be a saver that i've taken this area as an opportunity for our son to learn how to sort & purge. (we currently live in a small house, so it doesn't take long for us to run out of room.) so i offer direction as to how much stuff we have room to keep & how much stuff we need to get rid of (like X number of games, or X number of stuffed animals), & he starts to sort & make his piles of the things he wants to keep & the things he wants to get rid of. and he's done really well with it. and i'm encouraged b/c i think that involving him in that process not only gives him ownership, but also respect. AND also the ability to pull it off better than me as an adult! ;)

thx so much for sharing,
tanya (one of your neighbors at the parent 'hood)

Erin said... [Reply to comment]

Thanks for this great post. You had me freaking out there at the beginning for how your husband was treating you (in fiction). That gave a great perspective on the whole thing. It is the same with this kids. You are right.
I used to get rid of toys occasionally when my kids were tots. Then when they started talking about how much they loved this toy & that toy & I wonder where I ever lost it, it made me feel SO SO bad. It was totally wrong of me to do that. Now we purge together. And guess what? The kids were really into it. They were honest about what they wanted & didn't want. (Some of the stuff they didn't want, I still wanted to keep!) Now I only get rid of stuff when it is done together.
My husband grew up with his dad throwing things away if he left them out. Eventually he learned to just keep his stuff in his room & keep to himself. That was he wouldn't accidentally leave something in the living room. Then when he got older & went to college, his parents got rid of all his stuff that he left in his room. They even got rid of his dog. All of that still really hurts him. No respect. :(

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