One of the biggest realizations since becoming a parent?
The best thing to do is not always the easiest.
Take, for example, the ongoing issue of de-cluttering. With two little boys, that means two birthdays and two Christmases each year where they each get a bunch of STUFF. While we try our best to give our boys gifts of experiences rather than more toys and, well, stuff - it doesn't always work out that way.
So, during our most recent bout of spring cleaning, I realized how much extra stuff we had. Toys that weren't ever played with, or too many of one item (who can possibly play with twenty two matchbox cars at once? Ten is more than anyone ever needs). Partially inspired by this article, I resolved to get us back to our simplistic, minimal, creative toy collection. I'll be honest, however - the thought crossed my mind of doing it at naptime. We had so many things, surely Cole wouldn't notice a handful of toys that disappeared while he was sleeping, right? And I didn't really feel up to arguing and battling over which toys to keep and to donate.
But then I realized what a valuable learning opportunity that had just presented itself. I struggle every day with keeping our house clean and neat and as clutter free as possible - not just of the boys' stuff, but of my stuff as well. I work hard at constantly re-evaluating my things, making sure that anything I'm not using - actually, truly using - is immediately given away to charity so someone WILL use it. I can't stand the thought of keeping an item just for the sake of keeping it. Something that I was storing in a box in the garage, taking up space, could be actually USED in someone else's home. I wanted to TEACH Cole to give and de-clutter, not just do it for him (even though that would be the easy route).
I really want Cole and Chase to have an understanding of the unselfish act it is to give unused items to others. So that morning, during Chase's nap, I sat down and explained to Cole what we were going to do and why.
"Cole, I've noticed lately that there are an awful lot of toys around here. A lot of them haven't been played with in a long time because we have so many. I have a bag here, and any toys you haven't played with in a long time or things you don't want anymore, we are going to put in the bag and give them to another little boy who will play with them."
And people - I was AMAZED. We went through, slowly and methodically, every single toy in our house. I gave Cole my full attention and allowed him to make the decision on every toy we donated. "MOM, I DO HAVE A LOT OF THESE MATCHBOX CARS. I DON'T THINK I'LL PLAY WITH ALL OF THEM. I LIKE THIS RED ONE A LOT, I'LL KEEP THAT ONE. WE CAN GIVE THIS WHITE ONE TO ANOTHER LITTLE BOY WHO WILL PLAY WITH IT, OK?" For two hours, Cole and I filled up the bag with all the "stuff" he chose to give to someone else. And then we filled up two more bags with my "stuff" - clothes that didn't fit, books I haven't read in a while (that's what libraries are for, anyway), and kitchen equipment I didn't need. I walked through the house with Cole and thought aloud about what was useful and beautiful to me, and if it wasn't either one, into the bag it went.
The best part? When we drove to St. Vincent de Paul to drop off our donations. Cole carried his large paper bag with all his unwanted things and proudly handed it to the volunteer. I handed over my bags. And as we walked back to the car, Cole told me how he thought another little boy was going to be so excited to have some "new" toys to play with.
I was so proud. I want so much to teach my boys to be happy with experiences, not stuff. To be content and creative with simple and minimal playthings. To know that more is not always better. And of course, to give to others.
It was so worth the extra effort.