As soon as we have children we are inundated with stuff! Not just the practical, everyday stuff that is part and parcel of being a parent, but all the sentimental stuff too (birth announcements, new baby cards, baby books, first Babygro, teddies, money boxes, photographs …. the list is endless!). Then as our children grow we acquire more new things. Some things are easy to clear out once our children have outgrown them in order to make space for more age appropriate items; baby toys, clothes, books, etc. … However some things just seem too precious to let go of. That first pair of shoes, the first teddy bear, what about the first piece of artwork that your child brought home from playgroup or nursery? That is when the deluge really begins. Once children start proudly producing pictures, paintings and drawings we lovingly display them round our houses, frequently replacing them with new creations and carefully storing the old ones safely away. Like most people, I mindlessly engaged in this routine of replacing and storing my children’s work for years. Once they started school they then brought home bigger art creations, school books and project work, which I lovingly stored away for posterity, gradually filling more bags, boxes and storage containers.
I have always been good at tidying up and clearing things out, but I hadn’t really realised how much stuff I was just mindlessly storing until I actively began decluttering my home in 2015. Never before had I questioned why I was hanging on to all these things. Once I was able to ask myself these questions (and answer honestly) I was able to let go of so much stuff. I started in the kitchen as it is so much easier to let go of the non-sentimental stuff – goodbye cheese knife, so long egg yolk separator, auf wiedersehen apple corer! The children’s stuff however was an entirely different matter. When I pulled everything out of the cupboard to start sorting though I realised that I had amassed a phenomenal amount of child-related stuff over the years. Every piece of artwork, every school book, every Christmas play programme, every award, certificate, newspaper cutting, photograph … We didn’t actually keep all of the huge art projects that came home over the years, but I reckon if we’d had enough space at the time I probably would have!
One of the core ideas that struck a chord with me when I first discovered the concept of decluttering and Minimalism, was that it is all just ‘stuff’ and that one day, when we’re gone, or unable to look after ourselves, it will be our children or loved ones who are left to sort through everything, trying to decide what is worth keeping. I certainly don’t want my children to ever have to sort through years’ worth of my stuff, and that has inspired to me to declutter and reduce my possessions to only those things that I truly need or love. While Minimalism is a journey and I know my ideas about what is meaningful to me will change and develop, I also know that I am no longer hoarding ‘just in case’ items or making mindless purchases. With this in mind, I realised that it is my children who will ultimately end up with whatever items from their childhood I decide to keep, and therefore they needed to be part of the process of decluttering their stuff.
So I enlisted their help in sorting through all their old art work, school books and projects. I asked them both to go through everything and pick out the things they would really want to keep. I have to say that they did an excellent job! We spent a really lovely few hours reading, reminiscing and laughing, and by the end both of them had selected a few key pieces from over the years that held special memories for them. I have to admit that I did add a few extra pieces that meant something to me too, but for the most part they both picked out the same things that I would have chosen if I had done it on my own. By the end we had two small piles of memories that can easily be stored in 1 small container, and there is still has plenty of room for any items that may come in the next few years (they are currently 14 & 11).
For anyone with children of a similar age I highly recommend this way of dealing with the deluge of school-related paraphernalia that makes its way into your house. For people with younger children I have read about other useful strategies to minimise clutter. For example, chose a number of items or drawings that you will keep, and when your child presents you with something new ask them if they want to keep it. If they do, ask them which of the other pieces they would like to get rid of to make room for that item. Not only does this keep clutter to a minimum but it also encourages the child to think critically about how much they want to keep their latest creation. If they have to remove another piece to do so they will evaluate how important it is to them (I personally use this ‘one in one out’ strategy for clothes & it works a treat!)
Sentimental items are always going to be the most difficult to look at objectively and declutter, but by asking my children to choose what to keep and having their permission to throw everything else away, I know that they will always be able to access the key items from their childhood. By reducing their artwork, school books and projects to just a few key items, these pieces now represent the essence of their childhood and are therefore both more accessible and more precious.