I used to dread when it was time to clean the house with my kids at the end of a long day. Overwhelmed, my children would look at the toys scattered all across the floor, and they just refused to do it. Tantrums ensued. But we had a dilemma: The floors needed to be clean. For the sake of my sanity, I wanted the toys back where they belonged if only for a few hours every day, after the kids went to bed. And there was also a point to be made about teaching children to clean up after themselves. I refused to do it for them, and besides, as a mother who works from home, didn't I have enough to do?
Mostly, though, my problem was that I am lazy when it comes to cleaning. I can work for hours and invest a lot of time in things that interest me. My brain is always a whirling with activity. But there is one thing I detest, and that is cleaning. As a mother, I spend a lot of time doing just that, and it feels like such a waste of time. Cleaning provokes a rage in me that I didn't know I was capable of. So when it comes to chores, I am lazy.
And it was this laziness that finally led me to my brilliant solution: Whatever toy didn't spark joy in me or my children was out. We didn't try the popular to follow a trend or even because it fit our lifestyle. I like having stuff, and so do the kids. We all just hate cleaning it up.
And so, we went from tons of toys to just one box. (My husband and I also asked our families to stop buying toys, that way the piles didn't just rack up again.) It's incredible how much stuff accumulates when you become a parent. It's also amazing how easy it is to get rid of stuff. Pack it in garbage bags and throw away if broken. If it's not broken, give it to another kid or donate it to charity. It results in more space, yes, but it also feels incredible. Finally, you can see your floors. And there is no risk of stepping on a LEGO. At least for a few hours, the living room is safe for walking.
This isn't to say that our children have nothing to play with. We'll always have a place for books, because a house without books is not a house at all. And we have enough toys left to keep them entertained. But cleaning up is much easier when there is less to clean up. It really is that simple.
As for how I broke this news to the children, I was prepared to deal with countless tantrums, especially because I got rid of the toys while they were at school. I was afraid that they'd start screaming for their new favorite toy even though they hadn't played with it for years — or that I'd somehow betrayed their trust by going behind their backs.
So when I heard them come home from school that day, I was prepared with a speech about the importance of keeping the room tidy — and that I got rid of the toys for them, not just for myself.
But when they came back, the speech was forgotten.
"Our shelves look so much nicer now," they told me before I'd even uttered a word. I was shocked, but they actually reveled in having less clean-up work, and I got to enjoy having a clean space.
I wish I could say that we've been keeping up with our newly found, laziness-induced simpler lifestyle, but this is not the case. Our kids celebrate their birthdays sometimes, and even if they don't get toys from their grandparents, they are given toys by other kids. Before we know it, their boxes are overflowing and cleaning up becomes an issue again. Toys are magical in that they multiply when you're not looking. Moreover, with time, some of them get used up, while others break. And the children just lose interest in certain things as they get bigger. And that is okay — such is life.
For now, I sit back and watch the mountain of toys continuously grow. Right now, I feel too lazy to bother. But when I get overwhelmed, I'll know what to do.