Recently Read: Clutterfree with Kids by Joshua Becker

On my last visit to the library, I picked up a slim volume with a very hopeful, though possibly oxymoronic, title: Clutterfree with Kids by Joshua Becker. Since the fall, I've been spending some serious time trying to organize our home and I figured this quick read would help me in this endeavor.

It did and it didn't. Let me explain.

Becker's message is simple: forget about organizing your stuff. Instead: GET RID OF MOST OF IT.  He's got a blog and a number of books out that expand on this minimalist message and so I've spent some time perusing it all. But the title of this particular book contained the mystery I really want solved: how to manage a clutter-free life with children. I certainly think I could be an official minimalist - if I didn't live with two small humans whose entire existence appears to be dedicated to the stuffing of every closet and the littering of every horizontal surface.

(For the sake of this post, we're leaving my husband out of this. But he does live here, too. AHEM.)

I am sentimental about a few possessions so I appreciated Becker's advice to chose carefully what items to save, to remove as much as possible around them and then show them off.  I often feel like having too much stuff robs me of my enjoyment of what special items I do have.

After finishing this book, I found myself looking at our home in a new way. Every room gets my hard appraisal: what in this space is truly necessary? What do I think is beautiful? If something is neither necessary or beautiful, I try my best to get rid of it.

So I've been slowly divesting our rooms of stuff.

But now comes the harder part: keeping stuff out of our home. I don't enjoy shopping and have a ruthless ability to get rid of things before they even enter the house. But how in the world do I convince the rest of my family of the need to stem the tide of crap that flows into our house on a daily basis?

Becker points to our influencing power as a parent and partner; that is, if we show our families how much better life is with less, they will follow our example.

Yeah. That's not happening too much around here.

Both my girls are collectors. They want to keep bags of rocks from any hike, every valentine from their school party and each and every toy they've ever touched. It is a battle to get them to let go of things and so instead of relying on inspiring them, I am once again covertly disgorging their junk from every surface while they are at school or asleep.

Before reading this book, I thought the answer to my clutter struggles would be found in the aisles of the Container Store.  Surely with just the right closet organizer, all my clutter issues will be solved. I still think that organizing things well makes a difference and I am still forever in search of the perfect system for organizing pretty much every closet and cabinet. But I am grateful for the wake-up call: it's much easier to get our things organized - and keep them organized - if there are less of them.


The right thing

Dear (Drama Teacher),

I am writing to you with some confusion and chagrin and guilt.

So, for me, just a regular day as a mom.

A month or so ago, I vaguely remember seeing a notice come home about the third grade play and costumes and volunteers but then I needed a snack or I recycled the paper accidentally or it's still in a pile somewhere but the point is I didn't volunteer. I can sew, but not very well, not with confidence.

I'll be frank: I didn't volunteer to help sew the costumes due to equal parts laziness, embarrassment about my skill level and inertia.

Then, last Wednesday night, Z was up late, unable to sleep. She found out that morning that she would need to wear a Chinese silk dress for her school play, and that the options were various shades of pink and one blue one. This was causing her great anxiety because she was told the blue one was spoken for already and she hates pink. This thing about hating pink has been an ongoing identity issue for her, after deciding about a year ago that anything remotely girly is NOT for her, so this did not surprise me. We've been buying clothes in the "boy" department in our quest for things that don't have pink or glitter. Why does everything for girls have to be pink? she laments frequently.

I will wear a dress, but I can't feel okay, can't feel like myself, in pink, Mom, she plaintively explained that night, tears streaming down her face.

We talked through her options and settled on having her write you an email explaining her predicament. She's been learning to type at school and so spent a half an hour typing out a four sentence email, her hands always returning to home position with earnest precision.

You responded nicely, understanding her position, but explained that the available costumes were what the volunteers were able to find and/or make. The blue one was in fact spoken for by the girl whose mom who had volunteered to help with costumes (GUILT GUILT) so Z would have to either find her own costume or use one of the available pink ones.

And she had to have a suitable costume by Monday.

So Z and I talked about our options. We were sure we could find a simple Chinese style dress locally. Surely someone we knew had a suitable dress?! I went on Facebook and asked my local mom's group if anyone had one they could lend us. No one did but several people suggested that we try a shop that carries dresses from China in the local mall. I assiduously avoid malls, despite my New Jersey heritage, but when the next day turned out to be a travel-able snow day, I agreed to take the girls to the mall to look for one.

(This is where the snowball gathers speed. And size.)

The mall store didn't have the kind of dress she needed and we drowned our sorrows in Ben and Jerry's and Cinnabon. (I remember now what I like about the mall!) By now I felt invested in making a non-pink dress happen for Z. Why? Maybe I felt guilty for leading her on with these possible solutions, getting her hopes up only to dash them repeatedly. Maybe it's because I too detest the tyranny of pink. Maybe it's because she was handling the continued disappointment so well, sweetly appreciating my every attempt to help her. Or maybe I was feeling like what I was about to offer is the kind of thing I'm supposed to do as a stay-at-home mom.

Whatever the reason, I offered to make her a dress.

We stopped at the fabric store, bought some fabric and came home to research Chinese dress tutorials.

Sitting here today, I don't think this was the right thing to do. The first right thing would have been to volunteer to help out with everyone's costumes in the beginning, when I could have advocated subtly for plenty of dresses in a variety of colors which would have avoided this conflict all together. The second right thing would have been to gently guide Z to acceptance of a less than perfect situation. After all, this could have been a valuable life lesson: some times you suck it up and do things you don't like.

The less than right thing, the thing that I did, was to make her a blue Chinese dress. I'm bailing her out, I realize. I'm possibly creating expectations that I can't or won't want to meet in the future.

But it's done. She's bringing her dress in to school. I hope you understand.

(I hope this less than right thing will not be a big mistake.)


this Clueless But Hopeful Mama

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