I’m a minimalist mom, and my daughter is a hoarder.
To be fair, she’s only six. Still, she’s never met a toy she didn’t HAVE TO HAVE. She’s never met a rock that wasn’t SO PRETTY. She’s never drawn a picture that wasn’t a work of art.
Here’s the problem: Until two months ago, we lived in an 800-square-foot house. I was a single mom, I worked full-time, and I never use a cleaning company.
Here’s the other problem: I like open space. White is my favorite color. And my Swiffer is my most-used household item.
Ironically, my daughter’s favorite phrase is, “People are more important than things.” She likes to tell me this when I’m checking my email on my phone for the tenth time in an hour. Or when she drops my library book in the bathtub. Or when she’s telling her four-year-old sister to give her the pink marker because, well, they’re sisters and love is more important than anything.
I’ve been purging their toys about once a month since they were babies, and it was never an issue. When my daughters turned 3 and 2, we invited 60 kids to their birthday party, and I donated half of their 60 gifts to Toys for Tots and neither noticed a single one was missing. Later that year, our house flooded and we moved into a 250-square-foot hotel room for six months. At the end of it, I couldn’t remember what was in all the boxes in our garage. I realized that we didn’t need even a quarter of what we had been living with before.
But now my six-year-old is catching on. She’s starting to ask me what happened to those ripped butterfly wings she hasn’t used in three months, or that LOL doll’s coffee cup that somehow is noticeably missing from the box that still holds nearly a hundred LOL dolls and accessories.
Sometimes I’ll lie. “That’s strange,” I say. “I can’t imagine where it went.” Or I’ll try to distract her. “Did you see I bought ice pops at the store this week?” Once in a while, I’ll tell her the truth and admit I threw out that coffee cup, and I really just didn’t think she’d notice.
Sometimes there are tears. I feel like a terrible mom and try to explain that we only have so much space in the house, and we just can’t keep everything, especially the things she never plays with. I remind her that people are more important than things. I try to explain to her that studies have shown that it’s better for kids to have fewer toys. It will make her more creative and improve her quality of play. With fewer toys, she’ll play for longer periods in more varied ways.
Mainly, I worry that as a society, we’ve gotten too used to distraction. We’ve become overwhelmed by choice. Our anxiety is higher than ever, and our attention spans are shorter than ever. I know I won’t be able to shield her from these things in the long run, but I want to protect her for just a little while longer. I want her to have the kind of childhood kids had when a trip to the toy store was something to look forward to, when a doll could be so loved that its stitches started to come out, and when neighborhood kids could play for hours with a box of chalk and a ball.
So, during the rare times when I’m alone in the house without my kids, I throw things out. I fill a box with toys for Goodwill and another to send to my niece in New Jersey, who is allowed to have as many toys as she wants. I fill a trash bag with broken things and yes, even with my kids’ artwork (they bring home, on average, eleven pieces of art a day).
But all this decluttering has an important effect: It makes what we do keep so much more special. I have a box in my closet where I put all of my kids’ most meaningful artwork, signed and dated. Every month I print a few of our favorite photos from my phone and put them in a leather album. In my nightstand drawer, I have two lavender sachets my daughters made when we visited a lavender farm last year; they love to smell them before they go to bed. In their dresser, they have beautiful cloth books my sister sewed for them by hand. These are things that we will cherish forever.
And yes, my kids still have plenty of toys. They have a box of Legos and a box of blocks and a box of farm animals. They have dress-up costumes and a dollhouse my father made for me when I was seven that I have now passed down to them. They have teddy bears I made for them before they were born, with the heartbeats from their ultrasounds inside. They have books and iPads and art supplies and a trampoline in our backyard.
What they also have is a lot of room to play and be kids. We make a lot of memories in our little house. I hope that when they grow up, they don’t remember all the things I threw out, or even the things we kept. I hope they remember instead the things we did together, and how so, so loved they were.