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Cleaning Out And Letting Go

My daughter Maddie is a bit of a pack rat. She can have a hard time letting go of things – well, ANYTHING, really, and will easily attach sentimental value to the Kleenex she used to mark the spot in her book as she read it for the seventh time. So her room can get a bit cluttered, and let’s face it, so does Cora’s. Cora actually does a pretty good job of keeping things picked up, but neither of them offer to just “get rid of stuff” on a whim.

A few times of year, the gradual creep of junk – small happy meal toys (and I swear, we don’t do happy meals – they win these pieces of crap at school or whatever), a billion pencils, birthday party grab-bag goodies – the detritus gradually seeps into their rooms until I can’t stand it any more and I snap.

I wait until they’re in school, then I go through and “clean up” their rooms for them. And in addition to organizing and vacuuming and such, I get rid of junk. I admit it. I sneak stuff out behind their backs. But just in case they go looking for some plastic necklace I didn’t know had been made by a BFF, I stash all the junk from the most recent clean-out into a box, and it lives in our garage for six months. If, at the end of the six months, they haven’t asked for any of the stuff in the box, I freecycle it.

Yes, this is underhanded. No, they’ve never noticed. And I really need the junk gone.

I was planning to do another round of cleaning after school starts, but something a friend of mine said the other day changed my mind: she told me she’d given her daughter two bags in June and told her she needs to fill them with things to get rid of by the end of the summer. I tried to picture my girls willingly filling two bags of stuff from their rooms, and couldn’t see it. I mean, really couldn’t see it.

It’s not that the girls don’t pass things on: they’re quite good at re-purposing items to someone else. Their little baby cousin is an excellent excuse to move baby toys out, and every year at birthday and Christmas time we go through the toy boxes and sort out toys that they no longer use, to give to other families who will use them. They’ve actually got big hearts, and when we look at a baby doll or play baking set and talk about who might really love it, the girls get quite excited and can’t wait to pass it on.

But they’re not as good about looking at what’s in their rooms – really LOOKING – and seeing all the little filler stuff that’s been in their vision so long they don’t even see it any more. So I’ve always cleaned that stuff out, and I realized I may be doing them a disservice with that.

Which is how we found ourselves, yesterday, with a couple empty bags and a couple apprehensive girls.

I told each girl I only needed to fill one bag from each of their rooms; the toy bins downstairs we’d already done. Cora decided to fill a bag with items to give to her old kindergarten teacher – new treasure chest rewards to give out to the current crop of 5-year-olds. And Maddie elected to fill a bag for the annual 3rd grade “garage sale”, when all of 3rd grade hosts a “recycle sale” and learns about pricing and profits and how to sell, then takes the money on a field trip to buy things for needy kids. Both girls were excited with a clear recipient for their bags in mind.

We started easy, and low-pressure. Looking at Cora’s big stack of stuffed animals, I worried I’d never get her to part with any of them, even though they live in the closet all the time now. So instead of giving her a quota, I asked, “Cora, would you go through your stuffed animals and see if there are any you’re ready to pass on to someone else now?”

Cora got rid of two-thirds of them. With absolutely no urging from me.

We sat and went through all their trinket drawers, plastic bracelet by plastic bracelet, and I saw that the girls were much more ready to get rid of things than I’d given them credit for. At the end of the day, we had five bags of items ranging from rubber lizards to Disney princess collections.

I am thrilled that this is something that happened in front of their faces, with them making the decisions, instead of behind their backs, in secret. The girls have learned that it’s not so bad getting rid of stuff, and I’ve learned that my daughters are more ready to let go than I give them credit for.

In fact, I had to restrain myself a few times while the girls were cleaning out. Cora would say, “I certainly don’t use this any more- I bet there’s some girl out there who would love this!” and I’d have to bite my tongue from yelling, “You’re getting rid of a Corduroy bear? I LOVED Corduroy when I was a kid!”

Maybe I’m the one that has a hard time letting go.


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