The Worst Parent in the World

Toys aargh!

Recently, we ran a competition, which featured the question “What causes the most clutter in your home?” The overwhelming majority of answers featured some variation on “kids’ toys”—“the kids” came a close second.

I promised a post in response, and here it is. When I was planning it, I imagined covering all the reasons why children have, and generate, so much stuff. I thought about delving into our emotional ties to mementoes of people we love, and the guilt that motivates parents to ensure their children never go without.

Then I thought: nah.

It’s just stuff.

There is nothing special about children’s toys and possessions. They are just things. It’s perfectly fine to see them as clutter, and to do something about it. If the kids’ stuff is driving you crazy, you’re allowed to set some boundaries and even (gasp!) get rid of some of it.

I don’t want to stray into parenting advice. You probably get enough of it, and I’m not here to judge the way you raise your kids. Instead, I want to encourage you to think of your children’s stuff in exactly the same way as you think about the junk in the garage, your overstuffed wardrobe, your collection of shot glasses from your crazy 20s, or the magazines that are breeding in the living room. If it makes you unhappy, uncomfortable, or unhinged, you need to do something about it.

The only thing that makes kids’ stuff different is the fact that, even if you bought it, they own it. Nobody likes their stuff being taken away, or feeling powerless. So it’s important to explain why the clutter has to go, and what the new rules are. Then encourage the children to do as much of their own decluttering as their age allows. Even more importantly, lead by example and deal with your own clutter first.

Yes, it’s hard to look into their adorable googly eyes and say No to a new game. Yes, it feels like a waste getting rid of toys you only just bought at Christmas. And yes, it’s a wrench to admit that there just isn’t room in the house to preserve all their crafts and creations. Well, welcome to clutter. It’s all like that. It resists logic, and works on your emotions instead. Kind of like children do.

You have to work pretty hard to be The Worst Parent in the World. Throwing out loom bands is not likely to get you the title. Feel the unreasonable guilt, and do it anyway.