I love Christmas! Every year since I can remember Christmas has been a magical time of year. I love the movies, the carols, the tree, the decorations, the baking, the parties, the shopping, the gift wrapping, the spirit of giving and love that is in the air. Even in my adult years, prior to children, I found the season to be magical. But the first year that I celebrated Christmas as a mother was the dawn of a new era. I would spend those lonely days at home with my three month old, online shopping and wrapping gifts, singing carols to my sweet Adeline. Her little face would light up with wonder as she saw her exhausted mother filled with the Christmas spirit. I am now about to celebrate my 8th Christmas as a mother. Through the last 7+ years my girls and I have developed some pretty great traditions: a piece of chocolate every morning in December from the advent calendar, assembling the store-bought gingerbread house, cutting out, baking, and decorating sugar cookies, decorating the Christmas tree to the sound of Christmas music, caroling at the traffic circle with all of our neighbors. All of these traditions fill my heart with joy. Truth be told, though, my favorite part of all is selecting, wrapping, and watching Adeline and Lila open their gifts on Christmas morning. I like to think that my husband and I practice moderation throughout the year and that our children are not in any way spoiled. Aside from their birthdays and Christmas, my children don’t get much excess stuff. But, as my mother before me, I think that maybe I spoil my kids rotten at Christmas. At this point we are still in that glorious sweet spot where my children firmly believe that the majority of these gifts are from Santa and his merry band of toy making elves. So it’s not necessarily me that is spoiling them. Right?
As a Professional Organizer, though, I have created yet another, lesser known, holiday tradition. Toy clutter clearing! My children are no strangers to the concept of organizing. They know that this is my job. They often see me performing organizing related activities around the house in a frenzy. And, truthfully, a fair amount of the time they likely pay it no mind. There goes mommy again! But in preparation for the holidays, now that my children are 4 and 7, I bring them in on the project of de-cluttering their toys. I won’t lie, Adeline, the big one, is very into it, and Lila, the little one, is very not. But regardless of the excitement level, this is a lesson that I firmly believe they need to learn early and often. We spend an afternoon going through each and every bin of toys, every bookshelf, and all of their arts and crafts. We decide if things are broken or otherwise no longer working. We discuss whether they are “done” with certain toys and if perhaps another child could get more use out of them. Together we bag up toys for donation. I stress to them the rewarding feeling that sharing with those less fortunate brings. We look forward to the excitement ahead of their new toys finding a home in their now more spacious toy bins. My 4 year-old is a tad on the dramatic side and she will often develop instant, almost desperate, attachments to items she has perhaps never noticed before. So I let her play with those items for a bit and see what happens. This year we found an alphabet train puzzle, an item of Adeline’s long forgotten, that we decided to hold on to because it was age-appropriate and basically new to Lila. But the used stuffed cow that she picked up at last summer’s school fair that NEVER gets played with went in the donation bag, along with several other toys that had passed their prime. We cleared out the board books to make way for more chapter books. The list goes on. And during this organizing and de-cluttering party, my children have the rare treat of my undivided attention. I hear the pride in their voices when they make the decision to let go of something, and the joy on their faces when their newly organized bedroom features the best of the best of the things they still love. This project is just as much for them as it is for me.
Needless to say, I know that my children may be more accustomed to this type of activity than most, but I do truly believe that this is a gift to them. De-cluttering and letting go of stuff are necessarily life skills. Teaching them to develop a healthy relationship to the stuff around them is an invaluable gift. Knowing where their toys “live” so that they can be part of the clean-up process on a daily basis is crucial. I see many adults in my work, who were not given this gift by their parents. The energy, time, and motivation organizing requires can be daunting for many. With all that the holiday season brings, perhaps organizing your home seems like something better left for New Year’s resolutions. But while you are filling your Amazon cart and your Toys r Us cart with toys this Christmas, perhaps you can squeeze in one more gift for your kids: the gift of personal responsibility, of organizing skills, and the gift of giving to others. These life-long lessons for your children are priceless. Who knows, maybe they will appreciate those new gifts from Santa a little more knowing that they helped make room for them. Maybe their abandon when letting go will be a lesson to you. One thing is certain, putting away toys after Christmas morning will be far less overwhelming.
May your Christmas be filled with joy (instead of toy clutter)!