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Published October 29 2011

Schmalenberger: De-cluttering for the good of your kids

So often when I work with clients, they are terrified to throw* (see footnote) anything of their child’s away. I am not sure where this fear comes from, but parents everywhere, I give you permission to start throwing your kids’ stuff away.

I am talking about gum wrappers, broken bracelets, one earring without a mate, torn books, pieces of half-scribbled-on paper and toys they no longer play with. I am not telling you to get rid of their prized possessions, simply the junk and clutter in their rooms that surrounds them.

This is my concern, if you don’t teach children now while you are living with them what is of value and what is not of value, when will they learn it? Will you be visiting their first apartment and have to move the pile of clothes that they don’t wear off of the couch before you can sit down? Will you go into a bathroom filled with beauty products of which only a handful are used?

Interestingly enough, when I have the children working with me, guess who is okay with getting rid of the stuff? It is true; it is the child. What I often hear is a mom saying, “But that is the stuffed animal that Uncle Alan got you on your first birthday.”

I hear the parent trying to talk the child into keeping the object. Who has the problem with clutter, I wonder; the pack rat kids or the sentimental parent?

This lesson became laser-focused on me when my husband and I were watching a YouTube video from one of my boys’ favorite videos when they were young. My husband and I were laughing and saying how we couldn’t believe how much our boys loved that video. Both of our older boys looked at us and said they didn’t remember it at all. Then it dawned on me: it was my memory of the video and the good times we had while watching it; it was not their memory.

So ask yourself when helping your children declutter: “Whose memory is it anyway?” Learn how to give with purpose and show your children that when they drop off a load of clothes and toys to a battered women’s shelter it is going to have a direct impact on a child. Chances are your kids will step up and do the right thing. Will you?

* Note: I use the term “throw” loosely here. Please know that I encourage recycling in every form, and I encourage my clients to do so as well.

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Melissa Schmalenberger is a professional organizer. She blogs at mssimplicity.areavoices.com.