In our book, “Plant a Garden of Kindness, A Child’s Guide to Filling a Year with Weekly Acts of Kindness”, we have a number of acts of kindness that include donating or passing on clothes that our children have outgrown, or toys that they don’t play with anymore. As a result, my children are familiar with this idea, and have given away some of their things a number of times. However, I had started to notice that as they are getting older, they seem to be getting worse at this. They seem to be less willing to part with any of their things. So, I decided to undertake a little experiment that I am calling “Moderate Minimalism for Kids”. For this, my children are going to select one thing a day to give away.
We started in October – we collected 31 items to give away. OK, at first I did the collecting. I went through their bedrooms and the basement playroom. I picked 31 items and laid them out on my bed. I then asked the kids to come in to take a look. I told them that if there was anything in this collection that they desperately wanted to keep, they could take it out, but they had to find something else to replace it with. The photo above is the final collection that we gave away.
I noticed a few interesting things while doing this experiment. First, it was easier to tell the kids that we were going to give away half of something. For example, we had 30 Playmobil pirates and Vikings that I had bought at a second hand store, thinking it was a good idea. I have picked these toys up and put them back in their bin more times than I could count. And I don’t even feel that these get played with for very long amounts of time. This was a great lesson in the fact that more does not equal better. The kids did not need 30 to play with. I would actually say that 8 – 10 is a great number. So I asked the kids to split the characters into two piles – one to keep and one to give away. They were OK with this. These are the ones that we gave away.
Also on the idea of giving half away, we had two blankets that were given to us as hand-me-downs from our cousins – one was blue and had the face of a dog on it, and one was orange with the face of a tiger. Because they were passed down to us, I felt bad giving them away. However, I also noticed that these blankets were rarely used as blankets to sit under, but were just thrown around and then left on the floor. Again, I have picked these up, folded them nicely and placed them on the back of the couch more times than I could count. So I originally had both of these blankets on the bed to be given away. My daughter was not happy about this.
I explained to her that there might be some child who has recently come to Canada with nothing, who had to leave her home country because of war. Maybe this child is a little bit scared as she tries to fall asleep in her new bedroom. Maybe having a nice cozy blanket will make her feel safer. My daughter thought about that, and agreed that we could give away one of the blankets – the blue one, but she wanted to keep the orange one.
I suggested she pick one of our many other blankets to give away then. She selected a pink and purple one that actually used to be mine when I was little. Now there is only one blanket folded up on the back of the couch in the playroom. And for the odd time that they want to build a blanket fort in the basement, I will bring some extra sheets and blankets from the linen closet, which we will then put away when we are done with the fort building.
It was also interesting to note that out of these 31 items, I had only purchased two of them new. This Superman lunch box and this dinosaur matching game.
The lunch box is actually not useful for taking your lunch to school in. It is not big enough and it is really heavy. So, it was only used to store things in … which just allows a child to have more stuff collecting in their room. We already had a Dora lunch box that was holding Pokemon cards, and a beautiful wooden box that has some sort of collection my daughter has put together. Having a third lunch box was just too much. Hopefully the Superman lunch box finds a child who does not already have too many collections in their room.
And the dinosaur matching game is evidence of one of my weaknesses. I keep thinking that educational games are a good thing to purchase and have in our playroom. I have a whole cupboard of puzzles and board games and matching games. And they are good, but again, more does not mean better. This matching game was played with for maybe five minutes at a time, and then you had 72 cards to pick up off the floor and put away. The kids were upset that I was giving this away, but I pointed out that we have other matching games, and they never wanted to spend the time to clean up the game after playing.
This caterpillar puzzle is more evidence of that same weakness – thinking that puzzles are good so you should have lots of them. It is true that they are good, but I find that once the kids have done a puzzle once or twice, they don’t really use it again. So these are things that should be passed around your community.
And this was interesting … my son did not want to give up these five army guys. The purple and orange ones had been purchased with tokens at one of those indoor play places, and one was missing a foot. The guy with “CITY” on his chest was found outside on the street one day. And I don’t know where the other one came from. This group represents five guys out of a bin of probably 50 of these types of characters. Yet my son was adamant that he could not give these up. So, we picked five other items to replace them with – that included a heart necklace, a blue car, a dinosaur, a ball and a Perry the Platypus stuffed animal.
This Perry the Platypus was hard for me to allow in there, as it was purchased for them from a friend as a souvenir from a trip not that long ago. However, they had really never played with it and my son was not into Phineas and Ferb anymore. And if I am trying to teach them to let things go, then I have to also work through my beliefs about what should be kept. I have apologized to my friend for giving this away, and she was OK with it.
And this leads us to the last photo from October. This is the basement playroom after a week of children playing in it. I provide after school child care during the week, and can sometimes have up to 7 children playing in our house. Every weekend, I try to bring my children down to put the basement back in order. It takes us a good hour, with me trying to direct the children rather than just doing it on my own. I have to admit that it doesn’t happen every weekend, sometimes the basement looks like this for two weeks.
And I have learned from the many hours of child care that I have done that the kids don’t play as well when the basement is this much of a mess. I learned this summer that when the kids started fighting and not getting along, it helped if I went down and assisted them with a quick clean up and set up a new game for them.
One of my hopes with this “Moderate Minimalism for Kids” experiment is that if we have less stuff, my children will appreciate the toys they do have more and they will not spend their days dumping out every single toy into the middle of the floor. They will actually pick something and spend a significant amount of time playing with it, then they will put it away.
I also hope that they learn that with less stuff, they spend less time cleaning up.
I don’t really know how long I will do this for, but I am planning another collection for November. I think that I will keep doing it until we really find it hard to select items, until we really notice the absence of some toys. My son complained that if we keep going at this rate, he will have no toys by the time he is ten (he is eight now). I actually think we would run out of toys to give away before then – because that would be 730 items to give away. But the thing that frightens me is that it might just be possible to clean out 730 items and not really even notice it – especially when you take a look at how many things come into the house each month – from presents received by the kids for birthdays and special occasions, from items received in loot bags, from hand-me-downs given to us by other friends and family. It is madness.
I am interested to see how long we do this for and how it goes. And I would love to hear from any other World-Changing Kids who want to try this experiment out. Feel free to leave us a comment or send us a note if you decide to try it.