Spring was in the air, and sunlight was peeking through the windows, illuminating the dust bunnies surrounding the mountains of toys and clothing that didn't fit my kids anymore. I've always been torn on whether to toss things out when the kids aren't around or to wait and go through them with them so they have some say and autonomy in the matter. The only problem with the latter option is how tightly they seem to hold onto things they no longer use or enjoy. My own emotions also get into the mix as I struggle to let go of their first set of blocks that are eight years old now and rarely ever touched, or that fleece-lined sweatshirt that my son never really liked, but I loved. To solve my clutter problem, I decided to ask them what they wanted to do.
"We have so much stuff in this house, and I think it's time to send some of it on to new homes. Would you like to clean out your toys and closets with me, or would you like me to do it?" They both quickly insisted on helping. Our first attempt was mostly reminiscing about certain items that had stories attached to them. Some things were easier to let go of than others — little trinkets and plastic party favors that littered the bottoms of toy bins. Clothes that were too small were easier to add to the donate pile as well, but not before they tried them on and laughed about how snug they were.
We've attempted this purging process together many times over the past couple of years, and I've found some ways to make the process a little easier for everyone. To make the purging process most effective, I do a quick run through of all items first, without my kids, and usually without their knowledge. The important thing here is that if I add something of theirs to the donate pile, it has to be something that I know they don't value and won't ask about.
This can be tough. For example, my daughter asked for a fart gun for Christmas last year. It is the most obnoxious toy that has ever entered my house, but she asked for it specifically, and she loves it. Honestly, I've had it hidden for awhile, and she hasn't asked for it, but I still won't take it out of the house without her consent because it's not my property, it's hers. It would be very easy to remove it without her knowledge, but it would be hard for me to explain what happened to it when she inevitably asked where it was.
I feel like taking something they value without their consent or knowledge would send the message that what I value matters more than what they value. What I do throw out are things like too-small clothing and shoes that I know there isn't an attachment to, fast food toys, broken toys, and toys that are from years past that I know they don't care much about.
After my initial solo cleanse, I brief them on what's about to go down. Each person has a space where they can set treasured items, a maybe pile, and a donate pile. The maybe pile is where we get into deeper questions for a 4- and 8-year-old: does this item make you happy? Do you think you will play with it or wear it? Do you think another child might enjoy this more than you?
Sometimes throwing out an item feels painful because of who gave it to us. So we acknowledge that we still love this person and that passing the item on doesn't mean that we don't appreciate what they have given us.
When we talk about donating things and letting go of stuff, we always acknowledge both sides of the experience. Sometimes, throwing out an item we don't love feels painful because of who gave it to us. So we acknowledge that we still love this person, and that passing the item on doesn't mean we no longer care for the person or that we don't appreciate what they have given us. Sharing is also a harder concept for my youngest."Everything is mine!" was her common refrain for a year or so. She's getting better at letting go, but explaining what happens to it makes it easier. She enjoys giving gifts, so now she views the purging process as giving a gift to someone else to enjoy.
The one other thing I make sure has happened before we sit down to clean: everyone is happy and fed, including me. I know when I'm in a purging mood, I want to dismantle the entire house in one go. I usually end up with piles of stuff everywhere, then hang my head in shame as I put it all back because it is just too much. Starting with one room or category is the most manageable, especially with kids involved. This allows everyone time to talk about everything, laugh, stick too-small underwear on their head, and actually accomplish something.
We might start with just clothing, or even more specifically, just pants, or one drawer. We're aiming for baby steps here. If you finish it and everyone is still in happy spirits, call it a win! Clearing out the stagnant energy of cluttered spaces is refreshing and can even be a fun bonding experience for you and your children. Just continually ask yourself: does this item spark joy, and does this experience spark joy? If it doesn't, throw it out, or do it at another time.