Last week my mom came in from CA for a fall visit. Whenever we get together you can bet that some sort of project is going down, and this time I needed her help with our worst hoarding offender: the 8 year old.
Mia's room has always been a challenging space. We've made worthy attempts to tackle the form and function of this little collecter's room more times than I can count. We did a big overhaul in NM with a massive purging and organizing effort.
It cleaned up well...
But inevitably, it always returned to its train wreck status.
I had to laugh (after I cried) when I went looking for pics of her room back in Albuquerque...
It's basically the same room 2 years later, the mess just relocated to Ohio...
I know that having a pristine space (with or without kids) is not real life. But this situation was out of control. She really could not pick up her room, because it was so overwhelming, At one point there was literally a path from the door to her bed, and the rest of the floor was covered in STUFF.
I desperately hoped (and genuinely believed) that we could create a fun and functional space for our daughter. One that she could actually maintain, regardless of her personality and hoarding inclinations. And I think we have finally #praiseJesus got there.
I'll share more about how we tackled some of the problem areas in the room's set up when I share her new space next week, but it truly would not have happened if she hadn't surprised us all and donated half of her stuff.
Really. I can't even believe I just typed that sentence and it's actually true.
It took us a long time to get here and I don't have a magical solution for the reluctant giver, but if you're a fellow parent to a mini hoarder, I would offer this from our experience:
-Start young. It obviously took a few years until Mia was ready to do this on her own. Sure she donated a few things here and there before now, but to part ways with the hard things....the things she really liked but didn't need...that took time.
Some kids are much more inclined to giving than others and some attach more value to their things. Either way, I think it helped that we encouraged Mia to go through her room and donate things she no longer played with or needed early on (around age 2 or 3). Even if she only gave away one or two things, it was a start. One more brick towards a good foundation.
-Forcing it can backfire. Some will disagree, but if I force Mia to give her things away (which I have) and she's not ready #cuewaterworks, then she hasn't really given anything away. I took something away from her and gave it to someone else. And resentment can easily follow.
Ultimately, it comes down to what you're trying to accomplish. If I want to nurture a giving heart in my children for the long haul, then they eventually need to give willingly from a place of gratitude (for what they have) and compassion (for those who don't). Yet they may never give anything away if we don't hold them to a certain standard. It's a tough balance to strike.
We never removed the expectation of giving to those in need and not allowing our lives to be consumed by stuff, but we gave Mia time to come to a place where she was ready to let go of some favorites of her own accord....hopefully paving the way for easier giving in the future.
-Don't dismiss their feelings. I'm embarrassed to admit the number of "friendsies" we allowed Mia to have. It was something that happened very slowly over the past few years, but she had accumulated quite the stuffed legion.
We had many talks about how blessed we are and our responsibility to give to others in need....how good it feels to give, to bless another child with less, or who has nothing at all. But Mia had developed an emotional attachment to these friends.
A lot of changes happened throughout her younger years, including growing our family and 6 different homes before she had even turned 4 years old. So, we understood that her things (especially her stuffed animals) were constants for her.
While it was tempting to just rip off the bandaid so to speak, we knew that in her tender heart, this was difficult and she needed our help working through it. For these particular toys, it was about breaking the attachment.
We sat down with every single one of her "friendsies" (not hard because they were already all over the floor) and went through them one by one. We put the ones she wanted to keep directly on her bed, and ones for donation went into a black bag. If there was something she wasn't sure about I gave her a minute to think about it, and if she still wasn't sure we put it in a separate pile that we revisited at the end.
How could I tell she was ready this time? No tears and good judgement. She was able to distinguish between toys that either had special meaning or she loved playing with, and those that did not hold as much meaning for her. When we've tried this in the past she was just overcome with emotion, not able to make any decisions.
I honestly can't tell you what finally flipped the switch, but we prepped the kids that we would be cleaning out our rooms that weekend and when the time came she was ready. I think she also realized that at some point she would have to do it. We had talked many times about needing to address her room and about working on it when my mom came to visit. She was excited for that - good motivation perhaps.
-Deal directly with regret. The first night after clearing out Mia's room (a total of two big donation bags and two bags of trash), she came down and said she couldn't sleep because she felt lonely and that her room felt different.
Well, it was different. She hadn't seen the floor in weeks. We moved out a few big pieces of furniture, so the room felt much more open - in her mind "big and empty". Even though it was clearly a change for the better, it felt very unfamiliar and lots of her familiar things were gone.
We tucked her back in and focused on the things she did keep....the ones that are the most special. We laughed about how her room did look different and talked about how much fun we would have making it feel more like her own space with all the projects we still had planned. She was able to sleep and the next day she had a ball spreading out with her toys on the open floor. Toys she was easily able to clean up when she was done.
I think a few tears are OK in learning to purge. Change can be hard and kids have a tough time seeing the big picture. They may regret giving something away, but it's important to resist the urge to replace it and focus instead on helping them move forward.
-Clear it out when they're gone. I think it's wonderful and necessary to include our kids in the purging process, but when they're young I fully support swooping in with a bag to clear stuff out when they're away from the house. It's easy to identify the toys our kids regularly play with and enjoy the most...and the stuff that just sits at the bottom of a basket. Now there may be other toys our kids would enjoy but just can't access or even see because they're lost in the abyss. Fine.
But we all know the crap. The cheap stuff that breaks or doesn't really do much of anything (hey there, Happy Meal toys)....the things that don't spark creativity....the paper "treasures" that breed in the back of desk drawers. Toss it all in a bag (one you can't see through!) and get rid of it quick. If you want to be on the safe side, keep it in the garage for a week or two, and if the kids haven't asked for the items, then go ahead and donate. Chances are they won't even notice it's gone.
-Lead the way. Purge and donate often. Let them see you do it. Talk out loud about why you are giving something away. "You know, I have two black shirts that look a lot alike. I really only need one and I know someone else could use this" "These pants don't really fit me anymore" "This vase is really pretty, but I never use it". Believe me, they are watching. Your example is one of the strongest influences on their young hearts. Our attitude towards our possessions will affect how our children view their own things. So, keep it up!
-Make it a regular thing. It's important that our children learn that going through our stuff is not just a one time occassion. Gifts and new items are always coming into the home, so we have to make purging an ongoing habit. A seasonal purge seems to work best for us, particularly when we're swapping out clothes for the warm/cool season. We also do a mini-purge before birthdays and holidays, knowing that new things will be coming in. If you find a regular time that works best with your family's rhythm, your children will come to expect it.
-Give lots of praise. Looking back I cringe at the times I put guilt on our kids for not being willing to give to someone else in need...that they couldn't just ditch the dumb dinosaur they bought at the garage sale next door. I shamed them - if not in my words, certainly in my visible frustration that they could not let go. And that's never yielded great results.
However, they feel proud and accomplished when we praise their efforts and generosity...when we talk about how God will bless even their smallest act of giving. Since this purge, Mia has picked up her room and made her bed every day. We're probably riding a bit of that "new room high" but it's also a hundred times easier for her to clean up now. There's a place for everything and everything has a place. And "everything" is drastically less than it was before.
We've made a point to praise her for keeping her space nice, even if it's not perfectly tidy. This really is new territory for her and we want her to be motivated to keep at it.
-Help them connect. We've found it also helps to find a way for them to connect the act of giving to a real need. We've talked about the poor and those struggling, but it can feel far removed from our kids' lives. So, recently we've started using the baby (who they all adore) to put things into context.
"Think about Livy - what if we didn't have enough clothes or blankets to keep her warm? We would be so thankful for anyone who was willing to help us. There are a lot of babies (and their brothers and sisters) that don't have enough clothes or blankets to stay warm...and the weather is getting cold. We can help! They don't have toys to play with either and we have a lot we can share."
When we lived in Albuquerque there was a homeless man who we passed on our daily drive to school. The kids saw me give him some money one day and asked about him. We talked about what his sign said and why he was there. They wanted to make him some food and that afternoon they baked him scones. The next day, we parked the car and I walked over to deliver them to him. We spent a few minutes talking as Steve told me more of his story. After that day he was no longer that guy with the sign.
The kids often asked to bake things for Mr. Steve and they wanted to give him our home since he didn't have his own. They prayed for him to find shelter when the weather was bad and they wanted to help him in whatever way they could. It was easy for them to give when they knew about the person who had the need.
Use caution and good judgement, but helping your kids connect in a real way with the people we're called to serve and why we're giving, will sow that seed of compassion deeper into their hearts. Find something that clicks and help them make the personal connection. Even knowing their hand-me-down clothes were going to their cousins helped.
-Don't give up and pray. Keep talking about it, keep encouraging, keep trying. The more they do it, the easier it will be. If regular purging is part of your routine, then eventually it will be less of a struggle and more of a familiar practice.
And thankfully we're not in this alone. Growth in giving comes from a combination of consistent efforts in the parental realm.....those same values being reinforced by our community (in places like school, church, and friends' homes)....and the Holy Spirit working in their young hearts. We've got backup, and that's comforting.
Having my mom here was pivotal in getting through this major purging task with Mia. She was able to work with her in chunks throughout the day so that it didn't become overwhelming. My mom even joked, "I'm glad I've watched those hoarding shows so I knew how to deal with her!". One small decision at a time. Mia needed a loving and patient adult to help walk her through that process and I'm SO proud of her! I'll be chatting about the second part of addressing this room bomb next week - how we put it back together in a way our daughter could maintain. Until then, let's hear from you!
Does anyone else have a mini hoarder on their hands? What ways have you found to help your kids give and not become so attached to their things? I think it's time to bring back the one-in-one-out rule over here!
Thanks so much for reading! We would love to hang out!