Thursday, March 12, 2009

Sign of Maturing: Letting Go of Stuff

The main thing on Joel's List from Dad on Saturday was to clean up his toy corner. That's what we affectionately named the growing pile of stuff he plays with in the family room, a corner that threatened to become the family room. Legos, Clone helmet, action figures, stuffed animals, and nearly 100 matchbox cars, plus some toddler toys still there from the last time we had wee ones visit us.

A few weeks ago, when Joel got straight A's for the second time in a row, I bought him a 5-drawer organizer on wheels (thanks, Laurie, for the suggestion you posted). This organizes all 22,489 legos by color, with the deeper drawers also holding finished or nearly-finished productions that he doesn't want to dismantle yet.

Saturday morning we brought the toybox out of Sarah's closet (it was holding blankets--okay, fine--and unused pillows--why??--). The heirloom Jenny Lind toybox got vacuumed out by Yours Truly, and hauled into the family room by Mine Truly. I learned long ago not to just let kids throw anything and everything into a big toy box , the Great Abyss of Junk. So I insisted that Joel keep stuff inside containers inside the toybox:

-large red plastic bin for big vehicles
-metal lunchbox for little cars
-cardboard bootbox for stuffed animals
-plastic lidless box for action figures

Toddler toys and board games headed back to the basement. Trash? Obvious. Clone Helmet sits next to the toybox, out of sight, but within easy reach.

I prayed for grace; I had to. I am not one to stay on task when it comes to organizing. Forty-five minutes is my decision-making limit, and then my patience wears down with my energy. God honored my prayer, and the result amazed me.

The most incredible thing was that when I told Joel he had to get rid of 27 things--trash, toys, or a combo thereof--he said cheerfully, "27? Okay." No whining, no complaining. I was there to help him, that's all he'd asked for.And he started with his cars.

He came up with two criteria on his own for keeping a car:

1. It had to look cool.
2 .It had to be able to run from one end of the toybox to the other.

I was impressed with the simplicity of his downsizing strategy--and his perseverance. One by one he tested each car. If it faltered, he threw it into the Goodwill bag. If it was broken, it went into the trash. Well, 27 came and went and he was still chucking cars that didn't pass inspection. All in all, my boy got rid of 38 cars and kept 45.

I started to say, "I'm so proud of you," but he gasped. He reminds us not to be proud, so according to him, we should say, "I am so pleased with you," :)

He also put a Leap Pad into the giveaway bag. Does anyone want it? Second grade level, I think. Needs battery. Speak now or watch it peace-out.

I kept thinking, and finally told him, "Oh, Joel, you are growing up. I remember the days I had to do this all by myself. Otherwise you would cling to everything I tried to toss out or give away. You would say, "No, I like that!" Or "I have to keep this one. He's my friend."

Fifty minutes later, my energy was nearly spent, and my patience had been well exercised. But we still had stuff to deal with. A prayer of repentence and a deep breath, we kept at it. I have to say, I was the one who had to pray. Joel was doing great! Still cheerful, only slower. We finished in 70 minutes. What a great feeling! What a sight to see!

So, gals, if you are up to your ribcage in uncaged toys, take heart. A day will come when your kids, with your help, will learn to let go of treasures. Work at it in stages. Set the timer for 15 or 20 minutes, or --like I did--give him X number of toys to get rid of, then he can quit. My magic number is 27 when I set out to declutter.

Remind them that there are children in the world who would love to have just one of the toys they have 100 of. Remind them that it's easier to take care of stuff when there's less of it. Remind them how grown-up they will feel to make grown-up decisions like what to keep and what to give away. And reward them generously for their efforts. A trip to Rita's, an hour at the playground, a shiny quarter, whatever puts winds in their sails.

And don't forget to pray for grace, and thank God for it when the task is over.