I grew up in a spotless house, not one with an uncomfortable, museum-like atmosphere, but one with an inviting, organized, now-I-can-relax feeling. My mom, a stay-at-home mother, valued a clean house. I always enjoyed the comforts of our home but never realized how much work it took to maintain that level of organization until I became a mom with a home of my own. I also didn’t realize how much more at peace and relaxed I feel in a well-ordered house until I experienced living in a home that rarely looks organized. I feel lighter and more focused when I do not see “stuff” littered everywhere. As it turns out, this was and is one of my mom’s biggest motivations for keeping the house tidy. She admits, “I just can’t think through all the clutter.”
We live in a small house, and for that reason I feel it is extra important to be on top of everything that comes in. Our house is not dirty, but for some reason, I struggle to keep our house tidy. I have too much stuff everywhere. All day long it seems I am cleaning and putting away this and that. The kitchen will be clean until the next meal, and then it feels like a tornado has passed through. Maybe it is the fact I am trying to feed a toddler while holding an infant. Maybe it is the fact I don’t have the time or hands to clean as I cook. But clutter is everywhere and, unlike my husband whom I honestly believe doesn’t see the mess, it’s all I see.
About a year ago I read a blog written by Allie Casazza of Purposeful Housewife titled, “How Getting Rid of My Stuff Saved my Motherhood.” I remember it so well because I related to her struggle as I was learning the balance of motherhood with Cooper, barely one year old. She discusses how she chose to be a stay-at-home mom but never actually spent quality time with her kids because of the constant cleaning and picking up to keep her house “functioning.” When she asked friends and family how they managed their home and kids, their response was a simple, “You’ll get through it.” What she did next has stuck with me all year as Cooper’s and now Clark’s toys begin to accumulate.
“I went into the playroom – the room that was the bane of my existence. This was a room full of colorful bins, each bin full of toys. There were toys on the floor, in chests, in boxes, toys everywhere. I would send my kids in here to play and they would come out less than ten minutes later complaining of boredom. This room was pointless, and I’d had enough.
I started working through the room, making piles – keep, trash, donate. I got rid of every single toy that I felt wasn’t benefitting my kids. If it didn’t cause them to engage in constructive or imaginary play, it wasn’t staying in this house because it wasn’t worth the work it caused me. If I was going to clean up it was going to be the things that added to our lives; it was going to be only the things we needed and the things we truly loved.
When I was finished, all that remained were trains and tracks, a couple of dress up costumes, books, and blocks. The trunk of my car was overstuffed with toys to take to Goodwill, my playroom was purged, and I immediately felt lighter.
The next day my kids ran downstairs for breakfast, and as usual, I sent them into their playroom to play, curious to see if meltdowns would ensue because of what I’d done with their toys. They walked in, looked around, said something along the lines of “Hey! It’s nice and clean, Mommy! Hey! There’s my trains!” and happily started playing.
I was shocked. I stepped out of the room, poured myself a cup of coffee, and sat on the couch. To my surprise, my kids played in that room that day for three hours. Three hours! It wasn’t just that day either. They continued to want to be in their playroom for long amounts of time from then on. They started going outside more often, making up stories and scenarios together, playing tag, and creating art. It was as if I had unclogged their God-given gift of imagination when I got rid of their toys.
I took my purging into other areas of the house – the dishes, the clothes, the drawers and cupboards – and our whole home-life continued to transform. I was spending much less than half the time managing my house, I was playing with my kids, I took up homeschooling, my marriage even improved because I wasn’t a cranky maniac anymore. My depression lifted and never came back.”
So on that note, I absolutely loved this week’s Be Better challenge. In the spirit of giving, I looked around the house to find five items others would appreciate. I enjoyed the opportunity to think of individuals who would benefit from some of Cooper’s and Clark’s hand-me-down clothes and toys. Mom’s friends have been good examples of letting go when their child grows out of a stage. I was given bags of clothes for Cooper and Clark which I am now passing on to other new moms.
This year I began the giving tradition with my almost-two-year-old daughter, Cooper. We talked about choosing five of her toys to give to Santa so he could share them with other children. Although she wasn’t able to hand select the toys to donate, I spoke to her as if she understood completely. We went through all her toys and found two sets of blocks, a toy car, a pretend purse and one finger puppet to give away. This year I didn’t wait until Christmas Eve for Santa’s pick up, but I gifted the toys to my housekeeper who often goes to Mexico with used-items and hand me downs.
When completing this week’s challenge, I experienced what Allie from Purposeful Housewifes described in her blog. We reduced some of the living room clutter. Cooper played with her toys more and seemed to enjoy the experience. She wasn’t overwhelmed with the bins of toy options because I had condensed her toy selection to one bin. She seemed to feel the same way I do with a clean house, more creative and relaxed.