I really don’t enjoy clutter. A big hurdle for me, since having kids, has been to overcome my need to have everything neat and tidy and uncluttered. Don’t get me wrong, I love arts and craft and making a mess… but come the end of the day I would really prefer it if everything made its way back to a ‘home’. I regularly declutter my own spaces and routinely give away whatever I am no longer using. So you can imagine how much of an adjustment it has been, going from a life where I could actually see what colour my coffee table was, to having precious pieces of artwork endlessly lying around on every surface. You know the kind of thing I mean… it looks like someone was testing out how glue and glitter works on an old piece of scrap paper but isn’t an actual ‘thing’.
To be fair, Ella does often pack away her things at the end of the day (although lately she moans the entire time – gosh I am dreading those teen years if this is her at the brink of 5). I see so much value in free play and creative activities, that this has overcome my urge for constant orderliness. Our house is pretty much always a chaotic mix of deadly Duplo pieces (just waiting for an unsuspecting bare foot), recyclable boxes, paint pots, dress-up clothes and toys. I do however also see plenty of value in teaching my girls (from an early age) about caring for their toys, responsibility for their own belongings and about cleaning up after themselves. At the end of the day we have reached a fairly happy medium of chaos during the girls waking hours and a little order at night – after all no one wants to trip over a toy while sipping on a much needed glass of vino J
I have always tried to foster a mutual respect with my girls. I may be aching to throw that half painted glob of old salt dough away but to Ella it is a carefully crafted chair for her Barbie, and I need to respect that. I am not a saint though and so I will admit to occasionally going through all the toy areas of the house (when I’m home alone) and throwing away things that have been forgotten about and really need to just be let go of – sorry kids (and hubby).
We are very fortunate in that we have relatives and friends with girls who are older than ours and so we get a lot of pre-loved toys and clothes (which I adore… I’m all for reducing my consumer footprint). Usually if we get gifted these, I would then rifle through the cupboards to see what we can pass on or pack away (from big sister to little sister – or to another family). Today I decided to do things a little differently. Ella is almost 5 and received a huge assortment of toys, games and puzzles from her cousin yesterday. So instead of me making a decision on what she might like to keep or what she wanted to pass on I asked her to go to certain areas of the house and look at all the toys/games/puzzles there and take out what she no longer played with, what she thought we should pack away for Mila (almost 1) and what she wanted to keep.
This was amazing in so many ways…
Firstly, it gave her the sense of complete ownership and control over her belongings (I am all for giving kids control whenever an appropriate situation arises – let’s face it, they get almost no control over any decisions, so it is an amazing feeling for them to get these opportunities).
Secondly, now I can remind her that she chose to give a certain toy to her sister. I’m hoping that this will help reduce the tears that happen when Mila starts to play with (what used to be) one of Ella’s toys.
Thirdly, we had a really great number and age discussion. On most boxes they give a recommended age range for toys and puzzles. Ella checked all the boxes for this and then decided if she was too old for the toy and at what age we could give it to her sister. She also tried to figure out how many more years she would play with a toy or how long we had to wait until Mila was old enough for it.
Lastly, it gave me the satisfaction that we could pack the new toys and puzzles into empty-ish drawers and not have piles of excess toys lying around Ella’s room (secretly driving me a little crazy – yes I do realise I have issues).
Most importantly I have a happy little girl… happy not only because she has some new toys to play with but also because she felt in-charge, empowered and listened to.