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Simplicity at Home- Simplifying Children’s Things; Part 3

In part one of this series we went over beginning to pare down children’s things, not involving them at first to make some tough decisions about what stays and what goes. We brought the children in in part 2, starting at the beginning with things coming in in the first place, and talked about how to involve  them in the simplifying process. Lastly I’d like to talk a little about setting up a child’s space to make what things we do decide to keep orderly and inviting for play.

A child’s play is his work. I feel it’s very important to take my children’s play very seriously as this is where they follow my example and mimic the adult world.  The play space is where they work out things they’ve seen and taken in, where they bring life to new thoughts and ideas. I can see their growth ‘played out’ in their play, as they take on and delegate roles. Instead of keeping their things ‘out of the way’ in their bedroom or a separate play room, I’ve given them a key room in the house that is very nearly the central room. It’s a little room just between the living room and kitchen and open to both of these rooms. While I make breakfast I can see them in their own kitchen and they bring me bowls full of ‘cookies’ and mugs full of ‘coffee’. As I work in the living room they play happily with their animals or their dollhouse, and can see me all the while.

Now, just up front, before you say that that’s all fine and dandy if you’ve got the room, you should know that we have  a very, very, very small house. We have a living room, kitchen with a tiny dining area, bathroom, two bedrooms, and this room in the middle of everything that is probably the biggest room in our small house (and it’s not a very big room). So, if we’re so hard-pressed for space why did we give our girls the central room? Sure, I could have  used that room for my business space or an extra bedroom. But, like I said,I take my children’s play very seriously and my observation has been that their play is more plentiful, more peaceful, and more focused when it is close by the adults. Previously all of their things were kept in their room. They made huge messes, they fought incessantly, they scattered their things about the house in an attempt to bring their play to where everyone else was and many, many things were played with very little. Now, the bulk of their toys are in this main room. In their bedroom are just some of their personal toys they prefer not to share and the box I spoke in the last part of part 2.

In this main room we’ve set up a little round table and chairs that’s just their size, the kitchen set up you see in the top photo, the shelves seen here with the bulk of their little toys on it, topped with our nature table, and their dollhouse (also seen here). Just a little about each of those things;

•The table and chairs we purchased at the beginning of this year and it was one of the best purchases I’ve ever made for them. Before, they would bring their coloring to our big table, just a few feet away and play food, as well. But now they do these things so much more. Now that they have their own sized table it feels like part of their kitchen, just like mama’s, and they just love it. They’re constantly setting up meals for their dollies and each other. Just beside the table we keep coloring books, paper, crayons and pencils on a shelf shorter than them, so they can sit and draw when they want and put things away on their own.

•My husband turned a bedside table into a kitchen for the girls and we found a weird little chest that works perfectly as a refrigerator. Everything in their kitchen is real (other than the food, of course), either cast offs from my own kitchen or purchased in thrift shops. I looked for things that were on the smallish size and natural, yet sturdy materials. The whole thing was put together very inexpensively. We decided not to paint it (though, will paint over  that ugly green on the chest) . My feeling is that there is no need to over saturate a child in garish colors, but begin early to highlight subtle beauty. This is only my own opinion…

•The shelving holds many baskets full of small toys. All peg people in one basket, animals in another, scenery in this one, a large basket of silks underneath. Everything has a place and once you set that place, they will remember and they will want to put things back just where they belong. Sometimes my girls let me know if I’ve misplaced something  when I help them clean up. The shelves are open and within easy reach, inviting the child into play.

•The dollhouse is quite large, open, and super simple. My parents made it for my girls Christmas before last, to my specifications. I desired a dollhouse that was open on all sides so that all three of my children could put their hands and heads into it without getting into one another’s way. Plenty of space for everyone. I kept it unpainted and unadorned so that the space could become anything they need it to become. I keep the furniture set up all the time, once again, to invite them to play.

•In the photo above you can see a few things set out. A toadstool house and gnome (purchased from Natural Kids own Rjabinnik) a basket of shells, one full of pine cones, a treehouse and empty basket. I rotate these things out with various toys every now and again, perhaps adding a little tree and a fairy. Again, I set these things out to invite the children into play.

I can’t stress that last sentence enough. You could say the whole room revolves around that thought. If play is the work of children we must give them an inviting space, close by, where they can carry out this very important work. If you’ve gone through their things and parred down, gotten them to join you and encouraged them to simplify their own things, then all that’s left is to make a space where play can flow easily, where everything has a place, and where large pieces are made to handle lots of play. Keep things simple, your children will add their own color and life to a space. And if their things are kept simple and natural there is no concern about this area ‘clashing’ with your main living space. Children live in your home (I’m assuming, if you’re reading this post) and that is  more than OK. It’s right as rain for their things to be right out where everyone ‘lives’ and shows that they are treasured and respected and their ‘work’ is important to you.

Being so out in the open like this does mean we keep things picked up throughout the day, not a bad thing to teach, though. I sing a song to begin the tidying process and I begin cleaning up. For me, it’s very important to keep my space tidy and I just function best in an clean space. That’s on me and I tidy much of it myself and encourage them to pitch in. You may see things differently or be able to have things lying about much of the day without it bothering you, and that’s OK. This is just how I personally deal with having a child’s space out in the main living area. Do what works for you and your family.

Giving over an entire main room may not work, or be desirable for you. But perhaps you can find a space in your kitchen for their kitchen. or a spot in the living room for a shelf of things and their dollhouse. Wherever you can bring their space into the family space will open up their play and allow them to mimic and play out right by you, which is where young children crave to be.

I do hope that you’ll find something in this three part series to inspire you to bring simplicity into your children’s space and a little more space and harmony into your home. And I invite you to leave any questions or tips you use in your own home in the comments below.

 

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Simplicity at Home- Simplifying Children’s Things; Part 2

In the first part of this post I spoke about beginning to pare down children’s things, starting with making decisions about pretty obvious things without them. We don’t want to overburden our children with having to make a lot of choices, especially not when it come to greatly reducing their personal things. But I feel it is very important to involve them in the process after much has been cleared out.  My own children have learned that it’s OK to keep things for a time, but then we need to let go of things that are perhaps not of great quality, in keeping with our values, are superfluous,  or simply have been played with just about as much as they’re going to be played with. They’ve learned that some things are special to us and worth holding onto but most things can very easily be let go of. In a society that clings to possessions very fiercely and puts an enormous amount of emotion and sentimentality into things, keeping things, acquiring more things,  I feel this is an exceptionally important value to impart to them.
The way I involve my children starts at the very beginning of the process; buying and receiving possessions. I suppose I should start with how we came about replacing plastic toys with natural materials and handmade toys. As I introduced the new pieces in, very slowly,one at a time, I went over these new things with my girls. I told them were each thing came from, from the organic material used to the person who made it (if it was handmade). We talked about how these natural materials are better for our bodies than playing with plastic toys. This really doesn’t have to be an in-depth conversation. On the contrary, your children don’t need a lot of facts and details but can better understand very simple concepts such as healthy for us or not healthy. We did also talk about how things like wood and wool and silk will all go back to the earth after their use is past and plastic will sit in the trash forever. Introducing these concepts will set a foundation for letting go of lesser quality things and being choosy about what we bring in.

So, let’s start with buying. First of all, for my own family, I feel it’s it’s best to stay out of stores as much as possible. To shield not only our children, but ourselves as well, from temptation to buy and want more. Even a trip to the grocery stores is an exercise in marketing to children. From brightly colored, character laden boxes of crackers and cereals, to the clips of small toys randomly hung about. What I’ve observed in my own children is that no matter what it is, when it’s presented in such a way it’s appealing and they want it. This want instills a dissatisfaction and is unsettling for children and frustrating for parents. So we limit our trips to various stores and I try to plan my shopping when my husband can stay home with them or my mom can stay with them. If I do need to take them I make it very clear that  we are there to buy groceries or whatever it may be, and will not be making additional purchases. If there is something that really calls to my children I will allow them to look it over and we can talk about the materials it’s made from, does it perhaps have a place in our home and if it’s something I feel may be worthwhile we keep it in mind for later. It may just be a good opportunity for her to do some odd chores and save up for it herself. Less comes in to the home when a child has to take charge of buying it on their own. For smaller children I find a quick redirection quite effective.

But now what about what’s already in the home, things you didn’t give away or toss? In our home we pretty regularly go through different areas and reevaluate the things that are there.Without judgment I hold up a toy, yes or no, keep or toss. I try to make few additional comments and allow the children to make decisions about their own things without pressure from me. I will occasionally change up the wording.. “Are you ready to let go of this?”, “Are you finished playing with this one?”, “Oh, look, this one is getting worn or has this been played with at all lately?”. If they decide to keep it, even if I’d rather they didn’t, it’s fine. I put it back where it goes and move on to the next thing. But we revisit it again over time and, when the opportunity is presented, they frequently let go of things you never thought they would.

My nephew lives next door and, though  my 4 year old daughter had never seen nor heard about Batman previously, him simply talking about and playing Batman produced such an obsession in her. For months all I ever heard about was Batman, still only fueled through what she learned from her cousin. She played Batman, drew Batman and talked about him incessantly. Eventually my husband (without my consent) bought her a Batman figure. She played with it all day every day and even slept with the hard, plastic figure. Then she learned about his car and my husband once again indulged her and bought the car which came with another Batman. As you can imagine these toys became her favorite and she clung to them, not letting anyone else play with them. I fretted about the Batman obsession and,when we went through the toys, always asked was it time to let them go yet? Eventually she replied that she was ready to let go of the first Batman, since she already had the other. And after a few more months passed she let go of the second, saying she just didn’t play with it much anymore. Finally she decided a Batman car wasn’t much use without a batman and thus ended the Batman obsession and their space was cleared of all traces of him.

 

My girls always know that when I ask if something is ready to go that it’s their choice. Frequently they tell me no, they’d like to keep it a bit longer. But eventually every little novelty reaches it’s expiration date and they are ready to let it go. But we must present them with the opportunity! They must know that it’s quite alright to keep things awhile and let them go when we’re finished with them. We take a moment to step back and say “Doesn’t that space look so much cleaner now and can’t we get to our things so much better and look how this isn’t overflowing anymore”. The same principle works for unwanted gifts from friends and family. Many of us fret about what our children are given… too much or things we’d rather they not have. Some things simply will not work for our family or are inappropriate and they must go at once. But I find that most things can be enjoyed for a time, but I rest easy knowing that if it’s not something of quality that fits in well with our other things than my children will enjoy it for awhile and let it go when they’re ready. I just don’t worry about it anymore! A word of caution when sorting through their things with them. Be careful not to place your own sentimentality onto their things. If they’re ready to let it go, I feel it’s best to get my own self to the point that I am emotionally ready to let go of those things, too. Things they had had since they were very small, things I made, things that were gifts… If you truly feel it’s worth keeping then skip asking them about it, put it away where it won’t be gone through during this process till you can either let it go if they want to or put it away as a keepsake. I’ve made this mistake and found myself telling my children that I couldn’t let go of something when they were good and ready to. I had to realize it was my own attachment and inappropriate to put that on them. It is exactly what I am trying to move them away from.

OK, this is a topic I probably have much more to say on but I think I will leave it today with just one more tip. My children are 7, 5 and 2. The older two girls each have a box, about a foot squared, that they keep ‘junk’ in. I’m talking about little plastic novelty toys they pick up randomly (just a few), notebooks, wax crayons, oodles of papers, found items… etc. They are not allowed to let them get to the overflowing point and we do go through these regularly just like the rest of their toys (Batman lived in this box). They cannot keep dirty things in there and if it doesn’t fit and has no other place in the home, it’s gone. Knowing they have this box to keep their what-nots in is a sanity saver for me and it gives them control over their own things. They can decide to get rid of other things in the box to make something fit or not. It’s up to them and it’s never a battle. For my 2 year old, there is no box. I still make the decisions about her things, based on my observations of her playing.

Now my children occasionally ask for a small bag to put some things in they want to get rid of. Things they already know they are finished with, with no prompting or direction from me.

 

I will be back with more on this next week as we go through the things that are keepers and begin to organize the child’s space and make it accessible to them. Any questions feel free to ask in the comments!

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Simplicity at Home- Simplifying Children’s Things; Part 1

I’ve heard many parents say that it’s one thing to overcome the clutter in every room of their homes but their children’s bedroom is another struggle altogether. What is it about children’s spaces that feel so overwhelming and out of control? Too much stuff? Inadequate storage? The children themselves not wanting to take responsibility for their own things and own messes? Perhaps it’s a bit of all of those things, maybe more. But today I’m going to share with you how I’ve handled this in my own home and, in the process, taught my children to pare down  weed out when necessary. 

A couple of years ago my girls’ room was cluttered and frequently messy and just full of too much stuff! They could never find what they were looking for, they made huge messes which basically involved pulling out everything just to pull it out and cleaning up was a constant battle. It was also full of things that just didn’t fit our values, ie, plastic and character toys, many things gifts from family. I had begun paring down and simplifying in the rest of the house but their space just seemed like a nightmare. Things came to a head right around the winter holidays and, in a moment of desperation, I took everything out of their rooms. Everything!. I was so stressed out with broken toys and piles of junk that no one wanted to clean up that a clean slate seemed to be the only way to deal with things. It was not a shining moment of motherhood for me. But it did turn out to be a blessing. As I gradually introduced just a few toys back in at a time I was able to sort through the things that I knew we needed to let go of and the girls were learning to be happy with fewer things and were able to finally play fully with their toys. There was no longer all of this stuff vying for their attention, getting in the way, and with fewer choices they were able to just get down and play!

Now, I am certainly not advocating that you take all of your child’s toys away, by any means! I hope that anyone dealing with such a mess will be able to get a handle on it before being driven to desperation such as that. But subsequently I learned that clearing out and simplifying in their space was necessary, not only for my own own mental health but for their well being also. I observed that my children were not happy having lots and lots. On the contrary, it was stressful for them, too. I don’t think we had a huge excess of things, no more than most children’s bed or play rooms throughout the United States (which probably is indeed an excess, but relatively speaking) but children need so very little to spark imaginative play and to, better yet, encourage them to make use of found things and stretch that creative muscle.

So since then, here’s what I’ve found to help us to not only keep things simple and clutter free in the children’s space but to also instill this habit of paring down and letting go of things in them. Teaching them to respect what they do have and yet not to form unhealthy attachments to ‘things’.

1)Less is more. Pare down and keep (or replace with) things that are of good quality.

2)Involve them.

3)Make their things and space accessible.

Before you can bring your children in to help you go through things I believe that it’s best to go in alone, perhaps when your children are with a friend or their father can take them out to the park. Go in with a giveaway box, a box to put away, and a trash box. It’s too much to expect them to be able to make decisions about a large quantity of things. It is indeed a hard process and you need to be able to make those decisions for them. Keeping in mind that, broken or not, you do not want to trash or giveaway anything that you think they may truly miss, begin by throwing away anything that is broken and overly worn. If it’s not broken but you know that it’s never played with and are certain it’s not going to be missed then go ahead and put it in the giveaway box. Get this box out of the house before they come back! Even if they haven’t played with it in over a year and, otherwise, wouldn’t have played with it ever again, seeing something in a box about to be given away seems to make just about anything that much more appealing.

Now what’s left? Things you know they will want to keep, things you’re not sure about, things you’d just like to see go? If it’s in the latter two categories go ahead and put those things in the put away box(es).  Stick it (or them) in the basement or attic or spare room and wait and see what gets asked for. By the way, if you’re wanting to go plastic free or something of the like, now’s the time to put those things away. When I was going through this process I took quite a bit, more than I was expecting them to be able to let go of, initially. A semi-clean slate really is a good way to start. You can always bring things back in later, but if they’re not missed, then great! Decide how long to wait (a month or so?) and then send that box on to the charity shop. If they ask about something, of course, bring it back out. If you think it really needs to go you can always work on this later.

 

Next I’m going to talk about involving your children in the process. I feel it’s really important for my children to learn to make decisions about their toys and letting go of things. It’s a tool I wish I’d had instilled in myself at an earlier age, so that I had been able to deal with things all along rather than having to deal with build up later. But that is a topic for another day, next week. Just remember to take it easy on yourself during this process, as it really can be emotionally draining, but well worth it!

 

Julie Hunter is a wife and mama, raising 3 spirited girls, two babydoll sheep, angora rabbits and a gaggle of chickens and ducks in the North Carolina Foothills. She spends her days at home, crafting with her children, homeschooling, taking long gathering walks in the woods and knitting Waldorf-inspired toys. You can find her blogging and keeping shop at This Cosy Life.