Discover more from Tea Notes
encouraging kids to reckon with their belongings, especially ahead of the holidays.
A few weeks ago, I mentioned that most every Sunday morning, my kids are tasked with cleaning their room. These Sunday morning cleans are necessary for maintaining a modicum of cleanliness in our apartment and for assuring we don’t choke on floating dust bunnies, but they’re also a time for my kids to reckon with their belongings. If you’re worrying that this is a sign that I’ve made tidyness a religion in my household, well, fair. Still, as we dive headlong into the holiday season and I’m confronted with my children’s written and verbal expressions of desire in the form of wish lists, along with endless suggestions from retailers and media in the form of gift guides, it occurs to me that these weekly cleans do more than keep our apartment tidy. They help form the foundation for conversations with my kids about stuff.
To begin their weekly clean, my kids sort through any of the various trinkets that have filtered their way onto their desk over the course of the week. They determine which pieces from the pile of artwork generated since last Sunday are worthy of keeping, which have a blank back page that could still be used, and which have became the final resting spot of a piece of spit-out Halloween candy. (Yes, even generally tidy kids are disgusting.) They return any errant dolls or stuffies to the basket where they’re kept, any loose blocks go back to their respective bins, beads to their case, socks to their mates, and so on. These are tasks they do throughout the week as well, but Sunday is the time to really account for the things that don’t exactly belong anywhere—snap bracelets, rapidly multiplying gooey, fuzzy, decaying mochi fidget toys, or a momentarily coveted novelty card from inside of someone else’s fruit snack. This stuff, they need to figure out what to do with and whatever that is, it can’t be shoving it under the metaphorical or literal rug.
Written down, this reads as a more protracted or fussy experience than it actually is. It’s Tidying 101 with an emphasis on decision-making. What to keep? What to pass along? What to trash completely? As I mentioned in my previous piece, the pause for consideration in and of itself is usually enough inspiration for the kids to pass along the truly extraneous.
When the cursory tidying is done, the kids are typically given a more specific task. One of them might organize the unruly bookshelf. Another might be handed a spray bottle and an old cloth diaper for wiping fingerprints and unknown substances off surfaces. Another might be asked to change pillow cases or straighten the boxes of puzzles in the cabinet. Regularly, though not weekly, we do a more thorough accounting of what we have. In the weeks leading up to birthdays and holidays, these inventories feel particularly helpful. We pull out the three wine crates that serve as under-bed drawers and sort them. We peer more closely into the play kitchen and rehouse anything that may or may not have been stashed there surreptitiously. Kids are given the chance not only to discard or pass along what’s no longer serving them, but more importantly, to remember and acknowledge everything they already have. With my help, the kids have developed language for this process. As we sort through boxes of card games kept in a box, one might say, “I’m ready to let that go.” As books on the shelf gets straightened, without my urging a pile usually appears, stacked with books the kids have decided they’re ready to “pass along.”
Inevitably, after these clean-outs they begin to play anew with toys they’d previously neglected. The small collection of matchbox cars they’ve collected gets pulled out later in the afternoon for a race, a forgotten puzzle is brought to the dining table, a doll gets dressed in a new outfit. Rest assured, neither the Sunday morning clean nor the less frequent deeper Sunday inventory, always has perfect results. No doubt, there are unused puzzles that remain in the cabinet. There are books that never get read yet have still never made it to the book bodega across the street. There’s currently a foot-long plastic spaceship at the foot of my child’s bed because even though he only rarely plays with it, he rescued it from a stoop and lovingly cleaned it and is not at all ready to pass it along.
More than aiming for a perfectly tidy space, the goal in establishing this regular clean-up and accounting of belongings is to invite kids to have some control over their own stuff. For kids like mine, living with considerable privilege in a country consuming an entirely disproportionate number of toys, stuff is, frankly, foisted upon them at alarming rate. In a given week, even with nary a holiday in sight, I’m astounded by the sheer volume of items that filter into our apartment via my kids. During the holidays, the number of items quadruples. Sure, many of these things are small and insignificant—the stuff of party bags and schoolyard trades—but each of them still requires financial and planetary resources to produce, most of them are exceedingly hard to responsibly dispose of, and all of it needs somewhere to go. For my three kids sharing one room, and for families everywhere, there are real constraints of space and storage and breathing room to consider. For me, and I think for my kids, dealing with this stuff feels better than drowning under it.
Later this week, I’ll be sharing the five gifts for my kids that have been most used, best loved, and have lasted the longest. That list will be for paid subscribers, only, so if you haven’t subscribed yet, here’s some encouragement to give it a try.
Tea Notes is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.