Teaching children nonattachment applied to "stuff"
January 2, 2017 9:54 AM   Subscribe

I really want to start from an early age teaching my child that stuff is just stuff. I also want to be realistic about development and temperament. I have heard others speak of terrible emotional struggles getting kids to let go of excess, and it does not help that the primary caregiver for my child likes stuff and clutter. What do you suggest for raising a child to have a healthy (moderate) attachment to things, assuming this isn't a harmful goal?

I love the feeling of a minimalist home where each item has a purpose and there is less visual overwhelm. I have no problem throwing out boxes and bags full of things that mattered once but don't now. Anything of sentimental value fits in a small box and eventually I would like to scan those things to throw out the hard copies. I do not get any identIty from stuff. Most of my furniture and clothing is second hand and gets tossed or recycled without much thought when it no longer "feels resonant" or is irreparably broken.

The father of my child who is also currently the main caregiver loves to keep things just in case, has big plans to repurpose or fix items that do not get fixed. He has an attachment to stuff and things which I do not understand as I prefer the lightness of owning less. He also takes up way more than 50% of the storage space with items of "maybe one day" purpose. His clutter really stresses me out and over time we have made a little progress but it is still a struggle.

I would like to have a strong impact on the child's relationship to stuff but am not sure where to start.
posted by crunchy potato to Society & Culture (47 answers total) 26 users marked this as a favorite
 
You want your child to not turn out like their dad (in re this thing)? They won't, necessarily. I sort of think the less you let your kid have, or the more consciously you draw their attention to "things" (e.g. if you make them choose just one special toy a month, instead of letting them play with whatever they feel like, so they can move on to the next thing without fearing loss or having to prioritize), the more they'll care and worry about it, though. (So the suggestion is, let them play with/have whatever they want to play with or have.)

(Source: have a parent who cares a lot about stuff. None of us kids do. I think because the other parent was pretty lax about it. Everyone shared stuff (socks, whatever), but we also all had our particular toys [or dresses in my case] that we especially liked, as well. I am a ruthless closet editor today.)
posted by cotton dress sock at 10:05 AM on January 2, 2017 [13 favorites]


I think the only easy way to do this is to model the behavior with absolutely zero expectations of the child. I come from a long line of hoarders/clutter-enthusiasts, and my aunt and I are the only ones to reject that lifestyle. However, as a child, I definitely had strong attachments to stuff, and if a parent had tried to make me pare down, it would have made me panic. Kids have so few things of their own and so little power to acquire more things.

Talk through your thought process about buying or giving or throwing things away, gently and without being overbearing. Show them what it means to donate things. But do this only with your own possessions, none of their own. Plant the seeds to give them the choice.
posted by umwhat at 10:18 AM on January 2, 2017 [62 favorites]


I'm not a parent, so take my thoughts with a grain of salt, but here they are: I think you want to avoid putting the kid in the position of choosing between you and his father with his relationship to stuff as the proxy.

It's clear this is important to you and without even trying you will model your values in this area for him. He's going to see that and it will influence him. You can talk to him about your decisions and thinking around stuff in a way that's I-centered and not critical of his father. "I've decided to give these clothes to the thrift store so someone else can use them. It's nice to think that someone else will be able to make use of something I don't really need anymore, and I'll have so much extra space."

The thing I see some parents around me doing to address discrepancies in values between themselves and others or society at large, is something like: "Some people feel that X is really important, because X1, and that's their right. I feel that Y is important, because Y1. And then there are other people who feel that A, B or C are important."

My mom loves stuff - I do not. Partly because I see where intense attachment to stuff gets a person.

(Basically what umwhat said.)
posted by bunderful at 10:24 AM on January 2, 2017 [19 favorites]


Just to quickly clarify then disappear again. I want to influence the child at least as much as my husband even though my husband spends more time with him. So I am trying to compensate for the child having less opportunity to be exposed to my values in this area. If kid turns out like Mr. Potato so be it, but I want him to have an equal chance to be influenced by me as I think this mindset makes a lot of things easier for the individual who embodies it.

I also want strategies for less clutter for kids' things without hurting them emotionally or having a power struggle, because I have visceral difficulty with one person's clutter and would prefer to not drown in more of it from another person.
posted by crunchy potato at 10:34 AM on January 2, 2017


Hmm, good call to recognize that individual temperament is largely out of your hands and that this kid has another parent who will be sharing his own values with the kid. Being attached to stuff is not necessarily a bad thing: holding on to useful things, repairing instead of replacing, these can be positive values - even if they differ from yours.

What if you focused on conveying to your kid that they don't need to keep getting new things all the time instead? You can do this by buying few things for the kid, telling birthday party guests that no gifts are necessary, buying second hand instead of the very latest toy or game or whatnot. My kid has gotten one birthday gift from me each year. It's something she's been wanting for a long time, or something useful (like one year it was a [secondhand] desk). She doesn't expect to get stuff and so she really appreciates when she does get stuff. She knows how to have fun without 'things'.

To loop back to your question: it seems important that you work out your conflict with the kid's father, instead of trying to make the kid more like you.
posted by latkes at 10:35 AM on January 2, 2017 [9 favorites]


In addition to modeling, I sat my kid down and watched an episode of Hoarders with her so she could see what happens down that road.

And it did help, as did gentle reminding and explaining about the issues more obviously relevant to our own lives. Eg does she like having friends and guests over? Yes? Would she be proud having people over if the house was in a mess? No? What's more important - having a clean house that we can live and host in comfortably, or keeping Stuff that we don't use? Does she notice how much easier it is to clean her room when there isn't a lot of stuff around? Does she notice how much harder it is to find something she wants when it's hidden behind mountains of other crap? Etc.

And I'm honest. I admit, sometimes it's hard to part with stuff and some stuff ought to be kept. But each thing we keep, we need to make sure is worth the tradeoff -- i.e. keeping unused stuff is the exception, not the default.
posted by fingersandtoes at 10:47 AM on January 2, 2017 [3 favorites]


My son is 3 and doesn't go to daycare and doesn't watch any children's television that has commercials (we rent DVDs from the library or watch PBS/amazon/netflix stuff). That definitely helps a lot. Whenever he spies a Toys 'R Us ad he turns into a greedy monster of "i want that! and that! ooh! and that!" - so I definitely recommend sheltering them from advertisements as much as is feasible. He's otherwise perfectly happy playing with his blocks, puzzles, etc.
posted by gatorae at 10:50 AM on January 2, 2017 [4 favorites]


I think you figure this out best by doing it first with the father. If you can't have a conversation with the father resulting in a strategy that more or less works for both of you, then it'll be even harder to have that happen between you and your kid. It sounds like you're hoping to do this secretly? without the cooperation of the father? and it would be so much easier to have him on board and present a united front. I understand that can be so hard, though.

Some ideas:

Limit the amount of space that each person's things can take up, and where they go -- decide how the living room looks, for example, and how much space can be used by each of you; and then work together to enforce it. You'll likely wind up with a living room that to you feels too cluttered and to him feels restrictive. It's a compromise, though, and you can work from that. The kid then has a system they can step into, where maybe they have a space or time when they can do whatever they want with their stuff, and they also recognize some boundaries.

It might be easier if there is a hard and fast line where you each get space to use as you want to. Have a space where he can be as messy as he wants to, and where the only consequences are natural consequences (i.e., not you nagging him, but maybe he can't find things quickly). Decide on a schedule or steps that result in you moving his stuff to that space. For example, each week you have a cleaning night and things that belong to the father are placed in his office or garage or bucket under the coffee table. If his space starts to impact the rest of the house (eg smells bad or has bugs that infest other rooms) then you get to act, but otherwise you stay out of it.

My parent did this for me when I was growing up. I got a big room but had to keep my stuff out of the rest of the house. She'd just dump stuff in my room and I was annoyed, but I worked with it because we had agreed on the system. She modeled generosity and gave me opportunities to add donations to her Goodwill pile. I'm now a minimalist, like you, and, importantly, have a healthy relationship with stuff. I learned the skill of maintaining a space (i.e., the rest of the house) and also had the freedom to figure out my own relationship with it.

Alternately or additionally, create for yourself a space of zen where clutter cannot be. You set the rules. This is similar to his space--but you will likely choose to use your space differently.

Just because you don't fill your space up doesn't mean you have no right to it. Together, set boundaries about storage so that he isn't taking up more than 50% (not because everything has to be 50/50, but more since it sounds like that isn't working for you).

Consider creative ways to store the clutter. I lived with a clutterbug for a year and hated it. It would have helped to have some more storage, perhaps pretty cabinets, that she could own and take over but that I wouldn't have to look into and be annoyed by. Possibly relevant: I get the impression she had a restrictive upbringing with a parent who micromanaged the space. There is no way to know for sure but my guess is her cluttering was partly a way to rebel and literally take up her own space in the world.

Accept that you won't be able to influence your child as much as it seems you'd like to; the most you can do is offer options and be a model and work toward the larger goal of your kid not attaching self-worth and acceptance with stuff (either having or not having it!). And get on the same page with their father, whatever that page is, so this doesn't become a wedge between you.
posted by ramenopres at 10:58 AM on January 2, 2017 [10 favorites]


Minimalist philosophies, like hoarding, are ways of obsessing about stuff. Maybe the child's father and you are not as far apart as you think. If you want child to not care about stuff as much, offer alternatives - at an early age, mainly, attention from caregivers. If you want your child to care about stuff but in a specific, minimalist way...I got nuthin'. That usually backfires.
posted by The Toad at 11:04 AM on January 2, 2017 [69 favorites]


Maybe be more 'experience' based. Focus on being out in nature, learning to do cool things, go volunteering together. Just take 'stuff' completely out of the equation when you are together.
posted by Vaike at 11:07 AM on January 2, 2017 [3 favorites]


To fill out a bit with regard to latkes ideas: I'm a great believer in giving time, memory, and events as opposed to things. Explore together. For a birthday, don't give a toy, but go for a walk to a special place. The gift is your uninterrupted time and a novel experience shared. Later on there will be a memory to revisit and share. A special event will mean more than a dozen plastic toys. Get up in the middle of the night to go out and watch for a comet. Hike up to the tallest hill you can find, and sing your favorite song 5 times. Do things with ceremony and build importance into what you do together. Tell stories. Make wishes. Play music. Sing. Read out loud together.
Make a full life without having a life full of things.
posted by BlueHorse at 11:08 AM on January 2, 2017 [5 favorites]


I don't know - a lot of this seems like it's expecting more of a kid than a kid can do mentally and emotionally. Showing the kid "Hoarders" to warn them off having too much stuff? That seems likely either to be confusing (what do these old people with stacks of newspaper have to do with me?) or, in a conscientious child, anxiety-provoking ("Am I a bad person because I like my dolls?")

Modeling the life you want your kid to have seems far more appropriate than anything else.

First off, kids don't actually have that much control over stuff, and stuff is consequently more precious to them - they don't have a lot of disposable income, they can't buy things without parental intercession a lot of the time and they don't have the resources to replace what gets lost or broken. Also, they're plunged into little-kid material culture where toys, etc are a really big deal with peers. All this means that in their social world, stuff is rarer and more important than it is for adults. (Like, if I wanted a hundred toy unicorns right now I could buy them; as a kid, my two toy unicorns were a huge deal.)

Second, adult moral frameworks can be overwhelming to kids if they're presented in a really judgmental way or in a way that is developmentally inappropriate. Kids have a difficult enough time with "remember not to say the first thing that comes into your head"; graduating to "your peers get to have toys and birthday presents; you get to go on a hike because memories are more important and you ought to be detached from possessions" is...well, it creates a sense of "why can't I be like others" and "am I bad if I like 'normal people' things'" and also a sense of "we are superior to the normals and their bad values" - all of which can coexist at the same time. (Ask me how I know!)

Honestly, I think that modeling the life you enjoy, giving the kid some autonomy about how she handles her possessions in her space and having good everyday practices about stuff in the house are approaches that will help your child feel comfortable emulating you rather than pressured into making a big moral choice.

Also...if you may be making morality around stuff into a proxy conflict with your ex ("Ex is bad, you can see this by how sloppy and materialistic he is!", etc) get that under control first. Also, also - don't throw away your child's stuff without warning just because you think that being attached to a particular toy or shirt is materialistic.
posted by Frowner at 11:16 AM on January 2, 2017 [89 favorites]


I also want strategies for less clutter for kids' things without hurting them emotionally or having a power struggle, because I have visceral difficulty with one person's clutter and would prefer to not drown in more of it from another person.

Hmm, so I'm not a parent but I don't think I actually know any parents whose places aren't somewhat cluttered with kids' things. (That includes previously minimalist types.) I think you can do your best, e.g. give him a storage space, and try to teach him to put things away after use, and that might work. But I don't know if it's completely possible to avoid stepping on the odd Lego piece or truck. (Also, he might appear to be incorrigibly messy now, but end up learning to tidy later on. Like after he moves out. That happened with me. At some point in my teens, my mom resolved to just ask me to shut the bedroom door so she wouldn't have to look at the mess. But as an adult, I'm much more like her in the tidying realm than anyone ever would have predicted, based on my previous laundry piling practices.)

I think that if you're bothered by the overall clutter, the person to mostly focus on is your husband.
posted by cotton dress sock at 11:16 AM on January 2, 2017 [13 favorites]


Two ideas, one from something a parent did for me, and another from watching a friend raise a teen.

So when I was a child, one of my parents would watch commercials with me and would make comments about them (i.e. notice that the doll comes with music and friends, etc.). But it went beyond that - my parent waited until I begged and pleaded for a particular doll that I saw advertised. Besides discussing the commercial, I eventually received that toy as my yearly gift (birthday, Xmas, whatever). It was the type of toy that I had never expressed interest in before - and so of course, once I received it, I abandoned it. My parent brought it back to me afterward and reminded me how much I had asked for it, and about the commercial. To this day, I still remember that incident and how embarrassed I was. But for me, it also changed how I viewed objects. There is a lot of pressure to accumulate things, whether it be an industry that wants your dollar or society (because hey if we all buy it, chase it, talk about it, it acquires value).

This is from watching a friend - a friend of mine has many interesting and different values, but I've noticed with her son, she makes a point of doing the activity as a fun thing and exhibiting the behavior. For example, if she wanted to do something like you are suggesting - it might work by suggesting an activity (i.e. lets fix up or build YYYY), now lets donate YYYY, and hey - person who received YYYY was happy and gave us cookies - or whatever - but if it is a fun activity, with a community around it along with talking about your particular reason - it might stick (or not), but at least your child has seen or experienced it.

Also, nthing the suggestion above about how this might be a disagreement with your partner. One part to focus on instead is that everyone in the household has their own space (i.e. a room), and the other places are shared - toys and collectibles and whatnot should go back to your own room. So maybe it is about boundaries and respect instead of how to think about things.

Good luck.
posted by Wolfster at 11:18 AM on January 2, 2017


Part of this is also recognizing that most kids' obsession with stuff is likely because that they have very little control of anything else in their life. All of their clothes, books, and toys are are things that other people have chosen and given to them. It isn't surprising that children are usually very possessive of their stuff - what else can they say is theirs? And then some adult wants to come and take it away! With that in mind, I try hard to respect my son's (limited) autonomy when it comes to his things. I talk to him about why we need to get rid of old things rather than just purging things in front of him with a "it's just a bunch of junk you don't even play with anymore, get over it!" attitude. (not that i'm suggesting this is you, but hell even I feel like this sometimes!) This is why open-ended toys like blocks, puzzles, Magformers, art supplies, and Lego are so great, since they grow with your child as they develop so there isn't a need for a constant influx of new plastic electronic junk.
posted by gatorae at 11:25 AM on January 2, 2017 [22 favorites]


This sounds like you trying to drag your kid into something that isn't about them but rather about your relationship with your husband. I wouldn't. Especially as, as folks above have mentioned, your kid has basically no control over the amount of stuff they own, so why do you need to change their psychology in order to reduce the clutter in the house? It's not like they're stealing your credit card and going on shopping sprees.

That said, there are a few things you can do. One is telling relatives that you'd prefer college savings donations or charitable donations instead of most gifts, and have no-gift birthday parties; limit gifts to a certain number per holiday. If you do charitable donations, once the kid is old enough you can get them involved in choosing charities. My mom did that this year to good effect. Another might be to make sure to enforce age-appropriate rules about cleaning up + putting away -- if your kid understands that ownership of stuff involves responsibility, it might help them have a better relationship to owning stuff.
posted by phoenixy at 11:54 AM on January 2, 2017 [10 favorites]


I want to influence the child at least as much as my husband even though my husband spends more time with him.

The way to do this is to find ways to spend more time with your child.

Beyond that - don't have this be the locus around which your relationship with your kid revolves. Definitely don't criticize or fight with kid's Father (KF) regarding stuff and non-attachment, definitely don't take away toys or tell kid that they have to choose what toys they are getting rid of prior to getting more toys. Focus on the positive aspects of living lightly with stuff, and find ways to create opportunities for you and your kid to experience the positives of getting rid of stuff. A couple of ideas:

-a dedicated goodwill box in your house, and every time you fill it up and take it to goodwill you go out for ice cream afterwards?
-every christmas you give Kid a certain amount of money to buy a gift for a needy child about your kid's age (mefi can help you with that). You go shopping together but kid pulls the $20 out of his wallet - and then also packages up and mails the gift to the recipient. Great way to give a gift and feel good about it.
posted by arnicae at 12:35 PM on January 2, 2017 [4 favorites]


Purely anecdotally, my father moved several times as a child and in each move (and in between) his mother would get rid of stuff he "didn't need" any more. As a man in his 70's I have heard him still somewhat wistfully recollect some comics his mother threw out when he was a young teen. And, he and my mother both keep far too much stuff.

So, the number one thing I would do is not make decisions about stuff for your child - and let them keep stuff they want to keep. I kept everything (everything!) until I was college aged. Now my mother still turns up boxes full of old stuff that she or I saved and invariably I place 95% of them directly into the trash or recycling after one last glance through.

But, also recognize that the comfort you find from minimalism is for you, and by the time adulthood comes your child may feel differently. So, part of this process will be exploring how you can both appreciate each other as who you are. And if you do that - it won't be about stuff, after all.
posted by meinvt at 12:38 PM on January 2, 2017 [10 favorites]


I love the feeling of a minimalist home where each item has a purpose and there is less visual overwhelm.

as you say here, minimalism is half ethics and half aesthetic, and usually a very particular adult kind of Dwell-magazine-aesthetic that is only coincidentally associated with the ethical and practical considerations of waste-less living. You can have a nearly-empty home with garish clown murals on all the walls and fluorescent rugs on all the floors, and have no clutter but plenty of visual overwhelm.

So since child aesthetics are only rarely in line with adult ones, it might help to detach your feelings about values and materialism from your visceral reactions to visual elements that remind you of whatever they remind you of. & to remember that what they find irresistibly attractive in an environment now is not likely to reflect their permanent character or values.

I love the feeling of a minimalist home where each item has a purpose...
I do not get any identIty from stuff.


If your kid is or starts to be at all artsy, there will be conflict. What if they value things that are beautiful (or disgusting or fascinating, whatever) but useless -- can there not be room for stuff with no purpose or function but being looked at and thought about? I would have loved a more tidy home than the one I had but a child can use their physical space as a visual representation of their imaginative landscape, it is very stifling to feel that everything you claim as yours must have a use in order to be justified. in a metaphorical sense, but some kids are more metaphorically inclined than others.
posted by queenofbithynia at 12:43 PM on January 2, 2017 [16 favorites]


I want him to have an equal chance to be influenced by me as I think this mindset makes a lot of things easier for the individual who embodies it.

I also want strategies for less clutter for kids' things without hurting them emotionally or having a power struggle, because I have visceral difficulty with one person's clutter and would prefer to not drown in more of it from another person.


Dear OP:
You seem to want two different but related things. As a mom, I completely understand your desires. But at least one of them is likely to be thwarted. Your kid will not have an equal chance to be influenced by you, not at a young age at least (how young?), because your child spends more time with Dad.

It sounds as though you may want to counteract the quantity of time by addressing stuff with your kid in an explicit way. I'm going to nth all the folks who pointed out how that can backfire.

The second issue, not wanting to drown in your kid's clutter as well as Dad's, is perfectly reasonable. But you're not going to be able to fix that by changing Dad. You can only fix that by coming to an agreement with Dad about where and how he keeps his stuff and where and how your kid keep's kid's stuff.

I've studied hoarders and interviewed them for articles and have one in my family. I am not a hoarder but I care too much about stuff and I'm aware of that. People like me and more extreme folks, who are actual hoarders, have all kinds of feels about our stuff.

(Keep in mind the fact that you aren't attached to stuff the way Dad is and that your feels are different than his feels does not make you a better or more moral or more enlightened person. You may be all of those things, but being less attached to stuff is not necessarily what makes you those things. If I sound defensive it's because I am; I've spent a lifetime of being judged and argued at about my stuff and it's the least-effective way of helping me and anyone like me. Like, there's science about that.)

Hoarders and people like me who love stuff cannot be argued out of our feels, however irrational they may be. But we can make choices. When one of my romantic partners indicated that being at my place stressed him out because of all the stuff, I worked on decluttering until my place no longer stressed him out. I was powerfully motivated to do that because I wanted him to stay with me on occasion and he wasn't coming back until and unless there was less clutter. (Just my experience; am not suggesting in any way you should break up over this. I didn't, I just saw my partner at his place until mine was decluttered.)

If you are cohabitating, it's a lot harder to set those kind of limits. But you need to take care of your self. By all means talk to Dad and work out something that functions better for you: Your own, pristine, minimalist space; less clutter in the common areas; whatever will save your sanity. But for the love of your kid, do not make kid the battleground over your resentment about Dad's annoying shit that's cluttering up the place. The winning strategy is to explain the thinking behind your regular behaviour without lecturing, making it a big deal, or showing kid After School Specials on clutter. (What upthread commenters suggested.)

Finally and most importantly, if your happiness and satisfaction as a mom or human or whatever is based on expectations about how your child will develop, you are in for a world of hurt. It's not at all wrong for you to want good things for your child, especially things that will make child's life easier. But I can say from bitter experience that your child will notice and read that as "I am wrong" and "I'm only lovable if I please Mom by being the person she wants me to be."

That's not your intention but kids don't pick up on the stuff we want them to pick up on as easily as they internalise and pick up on the stuff we'd prefer they didn't notice. Like how much we wish they were X instead of Y. So more than anything, I'd recommend that you use your limited time with your kid to practice loving acceptance of everything about your kid, including the annoying shit, while also taking care of yourself by explaining that you need some areas to be clutter free and then establishing and maintaining those areas for your own health.

That makes the situation about this specific need you have ("Clutter is distracting and makes it hard for me to feel good") and you modelling a successful strategy to get that need met--rather than about your kid's failure to have the exact same need. It's really important work to model that everyone has needs, that sometimes family members have differing needs, and that then they get to be creative and resourceful in developing strategies that allow everyone to get their needs met, not just the loudest person or the quietest person, or the whatever person.

Living with other people's clutter is a nightmare, OP. I totally get that and wish you all the best in resolving this issue.
posted by Bella Donna at 12:45 PM on January 2, 2017 [30 favorites]


My creds - parent of 3.

... but I want him to have an equal chance to be influenced by me as I think this mindset makes a lot of things easier for the individual who embodies it.


One thing nobody's mentioned is that despite or in spite of our very best parenting, our kids end up becoming their own people. So do what feels right but know it may have little effect on your kid, only because that's not who they are.
posted by yes I said yes I will Yes at 12:48 PM on January 2, 2017 [16 favorites]


Yeah, I think you should tread lightly here. One person's "soothing minimalism" is another's "unsettling scarcity." And that's not just an Adult vs. Kid thing -- fully-grown adults have radically different views about what personal possessions mean to them and how they fit into their lives, as you have seen with the kid's father. Minimalism isn't a morally superior stance; it's an aesthetic preference and personal mileage varies.

To avoid pathologizing stuff in an unhealthy way for your kid, I would define it in terms of space. Everyone should have room for their stuff in a way that seems equitable, and how they manage their stuff within those parameters is up to them.
posted by delight at 12:48 PM on January 2, 2017 [5 favorites]


I lot of the difference in people's attitude to stuff is down to innate wiring, I think. Visual clutter impinges on me so that it makes me tired. I find that I cannot focus to think what I want to cook and eat if there are dirty dishes in the kitchen. Part of this is because I have to keep paying attention to the dishes as our kitchen is small, doing workarounds due to the limited space, and part of this is because the dirty dishes are anxiety provoking, because I have to stay alert to avoid knocking them over, or getting them muddled with clean dishes. This is probably a symptom of ADD, and the result is that I tend to have a rather clean kitchen.

Meanwhile, I live with someone who is not in the least bit bothered by sticky heaps of dirty dishes - they might pile them haphazardly if they needed the space, and when the resulting tower collapsed they would blink and concluded "the dishes fell over" rather than connecting it to their own behaviour "_I _ knocked the dishes over." Without the sense of ownership they are much less anxious about that kind of mishap. It doesn't really enter on their radar. But at the same time it goes with a degree of helplessness. If the dishes mess in the kitchen gets bad enough they don't appear to have the ability to figure out how to clean them and sort them and put them away. If I get sick or go on a trip the mess increases until a point where the kitchen is basically unusable, and they end up living on crackers out of the box and milk out of the same un-rinsed mug.

So it seems to me that if you want your kid to become minimalist one of the things you need to do is ensure that they learn how to control their stuff. This starts with some basic rules, such as that everything they own has a place to put it away that does not require them to process other items to get it in. They should be able to put all their shirts away without having to fold and flatten other shirts to wedge them into the dresser. They should be able to put all the Lego away without having to dismantle half assembled constructions.

You can also work on teaching them to have habits that help them control their stuff. Toys get put to bed when the child gets put to bed, first thing in the morning they put dirty laundry in their hamper, Saturday morning they carry their hamper down to the laundry room and empty it into the big hamper. If you can get the kid into routines like this that will make it easier for them to transition into the sorting and tidying and maintenance routines that are necessary. You can help them by setting guidelines: You got the material for this project over a year ago. If you haven't worked on it in a year it's time to gather it up and pass it on to someone who will work on the project. Giving the kid clear specifics helps them to sort, as in setting a date of 365 days before getting rid of un-done projects, or defining a location as where they keep things that they want to keep for sentimental value but no longer use. If items kept for sentimental value are never used they need a specific location that defines them as precious, not to be just left gathering dust on the mantlepiece. This is defined as "putting them away safely" and then instead of them being forgotten out of sight, periodically the kids is encouraged to bring out the old precious items in order to enjoy a nostalgia trip. This will help the kid un-attach. At the point when your offspring realized they don't want to read Goodnight Moon again because they are twelve years old, they will be prepared to pass the book along, or you and they will both know that they still have a strong and genuine attachment to the object because they enjoy bringing it out and reading it every four months.

But at the same time the result is likely to be entirely dictated by genetics - how much of each parents ability to care for stuff they inherited, and by their level of anxiety. If you periodically purge, your child will go strongly in either, or both directions, either desperately hoarding stuff to compensate for feeling that they will lose their possessions or giving up on them because they aren't allowed to keep stuff anyway. The worst case scenario is if they go both ways, so that they accumulate heaps of things and then abandon them without disposing of them. This is what will probably happen if your kid is subjected to too many traumatic purges.
posted by Jane the Brown at 12:51 PM on January 2, 2017 [10 favorites]


Learn to accept and understand your husband's approach to stuff first. If you will genuinely be disappointed in your child were they to follow more in their father's footsteps, that says a lot of negative things about your relationship with your husband. You would do well to address those issues right away before embarking on this phase of parenting so that you don't inadvertently instill a sense of disdain, judgement, or disgust towards others in your child in your efforts to sway them towards minimalism.
posted by Hermione Granger at 1:22 PM on January 2, 2017 [9 favorites]


I also want strategies for less clutter for kids' things without hurting them emotionally or having a power struggle, because I have visceral difficulty with one person's clutter and would prefer to not drown in more of it from another person.

This is something to work through with a therapist, not through parenting your child.
posted by Hermione Granger at 1:27 PM on January 2, 2017 [16 favorites]


My toddler attends a Montessori school, and I really believe it helps and will continue to help in this regard. For one thing, we don't really feel compelled to have a bunch of toys in our space because it's clear she gets enough time to work with what she needs to at school. At home, we have a slide, blocks, books, a board with latches, a ball, crayons, and some stuffed animals. We've given away her baby toys, and will give these away in turn. If/when I nevertheless start feeling like we have too many toys (this week for example, thanks to doting grandparents), I put however many away, then rotate them back out in a couple of weeks for a different set. I don't take anything the little one is especially fond of, and she has yet to object. I don't know what all of this will ultimately yield in terms of attachment to objects, but at least it shouldn't be that weird guilt of "I'm sorry, broken plate I never liked in the first place! I'd better put your incomplete pieces in the box with the other broken things so I can make something with you all some day!" unless that's just an intrinsic quality.
posted by teremala at 1:29 PM on January 2, 2017 [1 favorite]


Hermione Granger thank you, half my effort around this is understanding people who have feels about stuff, because I don't understand it. Some of this is sentimentality, some is mild hoarding tendencies, some reaction to how cleaning was done in the family of origin and some due to ADHD issues. I do not assign a value judgment to the behavior of creating clutter but at the same time it is viscerally painful and overwhelming to be around. My negativity is about my personal reaction to the environment rather than some sense that my way is better, except insofar as my way is not causing me mental pain and exhaustion from being constantly overstimulated by stuff around me.

So yes please, if I am allowed to expand my question in a comment, I would love help understanding why adults relate to their stuff in this way. It feels like a giant tangible adult version of a security blanket. That's not to say that it is a childish behavior because I don't believe that to be true, but it feels borne of safety-making impulses. Mr. Potato doesn't know the why of his behavior when asked and I don't want to create defensiveness.
posted by crunchy potato at 1:32 PM on January 2, 2017


Wait, are you talking about the kid you were pregnant with in July of 2016? And the father is the person you've asked several other questions about?

Because if so, then I can't help but think this is all far more about conflicts with the father, your child is way too young to be able to process any of this, and you should address your feelings on the topic with your therapist in order to come up with ideas about how to proceed.
posted by soundguy99 at 1:42 PM on January 2, 2017 [11 favorites]


to the question of why: He also takes up way more than 50% of the storage space with items of "maybe one day" purpose.

Throwing them away means acknowledging that one day is never. Maybe is never. His plans are fake, his future is imaginary, his imagined self that finishes what he starts is not real.

And I say "acknowledge" because that's the convention, that people who act like this will never ever do, only dream. but I really mean that throwing them away causes these things to become true. Because let's say he really does follow through and one day he learns to darn all the elbow holes in the sweater his dad knitted for him. That could happen! If that happens, there is total continuity running through from the day he was given the sweater (or whatever) to the day he fulfilled his potential and learned to repair it and the day he actually did repair it and brought it back to its old self, good as new. All those years of storage were worth something; his faith in the item and his faith in himself were justified all along and the past and the present are a seamless garment. But if he throws it away, he discards the future in which he is successful at fixing it, that self is gone forever. and he also makes all those years of hoarding it retroactively worthless. sunk cost fallacy, et cetera.

god knows this isn't the only story that could explain it, it's just one. And I think that it becomes an intolerable problem in need of fixing when one of two things happen: he can't/won't respect your equal right to maintain an equal amount of space in your own preferred style (or cannot/will not clean), or keeping these things is making him feel as bad and guilty as throwing them away would. If those things aren't happening or can be fixed, it's only a little sad, not tragic.

Or if he keeps things just because he loves them and loves making imaginary plans over them, it's not even sad. I keep beautiful things because looking at them with my eyes is superior to remembering what they used to look like, same as I keep on listening to music I've already heard once. Remembering things isn't the same as experiencing them.
posted by queenofbithynia at 1:48 PM on January 2, 2017 [12 favorites]


Hermione Granger thank you, half my effort around this is understanding people who have feels about stuff, because I don't understand it. Some of this is sentimentality, some is mild hoarding tendencies, some reaction to how cleaning was done in the family of origin and some due to ADHD issues.

What you're saying is very moralistic and judge-y - you're basically saying "people's feelings about stuff are about security, being raised wrong, hoarding and ADHD" for one thing, and also you're strongly implying that you "can't understand" because there's nothing worthwhile to understand.

Some reasons people (meaning me!) might like stuff:

1. It has been in the family for a while and it give a sense of place and connection- I love sitting in my grandfather's chair and would be gutted to lose it; I love my great aunt's paintings and my grandmother's best friend's vase from her trip to Japan in the early fifties.
2. It's visually interesting - I like letting my eye idle along the lines of my weird forties lamp while I think about stuff.
3. It's satisfying to handle - I like the feeling of holding the heavy glasses I've collected over the years.
4. It's something that I don't need now but am fairly confident I'll need in the future - rare small press and reference books, for instance, that are very handy to have when working on stuf
5. A trove of stuff is a great source of gifts. You can't just run out and buy someone a vintage cashmere coat, usually, but if you have one sitting around you can give it to them.
6. Sensory stuff - wool makes me itch, for instance, so warm non-wool blankets and sweaters are important and when I find suitable ones I like to keep them.
7. Ability to host people. If you visit me, you sleep on a bed rather than the floor, you get nice towels and sheets, and I've got extra toothbrushes.
8. Ritual. We give a particular party every year and we keep the fancy plates and cups and stuff because we re-use them.
9. Pretties. I like having art on the walls and rugs on the floor.

The thing is, you don't seem to grasp that people can take real, genuine visual or sensual pleasure in objects. A random thrift store chair isn't the same as my really nice thrift store chair, never mind my grandfather's wing chair. A random chair isn't as comfortable, it isn't as pretty and it doesn't have the associations with my past or my family.

Also, some people think "I'm not going to get a random item that's cheap and half-broken already then throw it away because I'm not attached to stuff and find another one, and then another"; some people think, "I'm going to get a nice item that's to my taste, keep it for always and fix it when it starts to get worn".
posted by Frowner at 1:57 PM on January 2, 2017 [31 favorites]


Years ago my sister & I -- me in my late teens and her in her early teens -- passed a Barbie doll on the street, naked, run over, destroyed. We both winced, made exclamations, looked away -- as though we had seen a once-living creature instead of some mass-produced plastic.

One thing my siblings and I were taught to cherish was, well, stuff with faces on it. These are things one nurtures and cares for.

We all got this to a much, much greater extent than others I've known, and anthropomorphized maybe a little too much -- but ultimately ended up with dollies and teddies that were so well cared for that they could be passed down to the next generation. Meanwhile, our friends were -- THE HORROR -- doing things like cutting their dolls' hair and leaving them strewn on the floor (how uncomfortable for poor teddy!).

It might seem a bit tangential to your question, but I just wanted to share that good things can come out of cherishing "stuff." My daughter and I are often amazed at how brutally some kids treat their toys. Hers get taken care of -- back in "My Little Pony" days they were sent to the "salon" where they were neatened up (they were often thrifted) with soap and a Magic Eraser, carefully untangled, spritzed with Armor All on manes and tails, and left to dry in curlers. (I paid my mortgage one month solely with the eBay proceeds of mostly-thrifted ponies when she had outgrown them to the point where it was okay for them to "go to another child who will love them, instead of them sitting alone in a box" -- this in no small part thanks to their condition.)

I got quality toys and loved them and never drew on them with marker or cut hair or fur or anything; same with my siblings, and now, same deal with my daughter. It means you can buy quality -- pass-down-to-your-kids quality -- toys and have them treated carefully, and this of course means teaching a couple of valuable lessons: nurturing, and, caring for "stuff," so that it does not turn into useless junk.

We spent a bit of time volunteering to mend snowsuits for a snowsuit charity, and what with a lot of thrift shopping have learned a lot of neat skills together about how to mend, clean, repair, and generally spiff up things. So there can be a lot of value in stuff, if you are taught to care for stuff and keep it as stuff, nice stuff, and not let it slide -- like the poor hit-and-run Barbie -- into junk.

> I would love help understanding why adults relate to their stuff in this way

-- it's frugal
-- it's fun learning to repair and mend things
-- it's environmentally sound
-- it's non-consumer -- I keep all hardware doohickeys from old projects so I can re-use them and not have to make a new trip to the hardware store
-- you can be more generous if you have more stuff. Your friend needs an X? You probably have one in the basement that you can give or at least lend out
-- it passes down things through generations, which is interesting, on both personal and historical levels

(Re. "Ability to host people. If you visit me, you sleep on a bed rather than the floor, you get nice towels and sheets, and I've got extra toothbrushes" -- yes! Funny enough I have a person staying here, a houseguest en route, and a visitor expected later on. I have the spare toothbrushes, I have enough everything, I have the extra blankets. An expansion on the "you can be more generous," really. If you truly have too many blankets, and somebody happens to like their borrowed blanket a lot, you can send it home with them!)
posted by kmennie at 2:06 PM on January 2, 2017 [14 favorites]


Not all objects are of equal neutral value when it comes to "stuff." A massive library crammed wall-to-wall with books will feel like pure bookporn joy to some people and like a massive dusty headache to other people.

Reading your question reminds me of the poem Why I Am Not a Buddhist and various essays about the Little House on the Prairie books, in which the Ingalls parents put a high value on non-materialism as a offshoot of the family's grinding poverty, and which in turn made the daughter narrator Laura more intensely attached to the few precious possessions she had.
posted by nicebookrack at 2:07 PM on January 2, 2017 [4 favorites]


OP, I wrote this feature about hoarding several years ago. It only talks about the extremes. One of the experts I interviewed, Randy Frost, told me about how difficult it is for regular people to understand stuff-loving people who can have literally hundreds of thoughts about objects. He said something like, If you only see a bunch of pens it is easy or sort, discard, and organise your stuff. But if you see tiny divisions in objects, things like colours and shapes and age and provenance, it's a lot harder.

Speaking for myself, it's not just a lot harder. It's overwhelming and incredibly hard. I spent many hours in a workshop devoted to this specific issue to learn how to help myself shed more stuff.

People who like stuff tend to be highly creative, smart, and wired differently. At least at the extremes. Some of us also use objects as a kind of memory palace. There are certain memories I have that are accessible via certain objects but seemingly not otherwise. So people who want me to get rid of any of my stuff seem incredibly insensitive and threatening to me. Buddies who come help me sort, at my request, with no commentary and who exude nothing but sheer love, friendliness, and utter neutrality about my decisions are a godsend, by contrast.

PM me if you'd like a list of books that will tell you more about this topic. I wish I could promise you that learning more about it would give you a perfect understanding that would lead, in turn, to acceptance. I'm not sure life works that way, but I can tell you that I'm a wonderful person who is far more than my attraction to stuff. I hope your kid's dad is as well and has redeeming features that balance the downside of his love of clutter.
posted by Bella Donna at 2:19 PM on January 2, 2017 [11 favorites]


I am a child of hoarders and I married a guy who is not hoarder-level crazy but a bit of a packrat and I have an 11 and 6 year old and have done therapy for other things and talked extensively with my moms group about this, since I had no yardstick for normal.

When I was growing up my mum was stuck in the idea that all the mess in the house was due to us kids and it was only after we left that it became obvious it is her problem. And I think it's important for you also to own that needing to have things minimalist is your problem, as it also is extreme. My relationship to stuff was and has been so f-ed up that I had almost never had a weekend of inner peace in my life until after years of therapy, and my anger at my spouse was so inappropriately expressed that it was bad for our relationship.

So first, I encourage you to put the love and relationship with your child first. Many kids are messy and their stuff multiplies and they are still worthy of a loving and accepting home. My aunt had a messy overrun house but the love there man...saved me.

Second, definitely establish one room like your bedroom that is your minimalist oasis. It will be your refuge and your child will learn from it too.

For managing child things, we do a monthly "fling" where we each find X things to throw out/donate where X is our ages. This makes it a regular, routine event. I give my kids full control -- if this month is 11 pieces of paper, ok. We also do a winter ckearout of outgrown toys/clothes/books and a summer one. This is never a surprise and it is not dependent on my mood or how my husband and I are getting along. I very rarely will toss things at night although this year my parents literally unloaded their hoard of flaking 1976 magazines on my kids for their Xmas presents, so I mercy recycled them.

I also think tidying up nightly is great, although we don't always achieve it. At 11 though, I am starting to give my older son freedom to be messy in his room. I think kids having their own space to experiment in (within reason - no food or dirt, have to be able to vacuum weekly)is respectful and the right thing to do. Kids are not just a series of inputs and outputs. They are people who need some room to be. I never really loved the "but this is my house" rules for kids' private bedrooms and their toys.

My kids have gone through different stages, sometimes super tidy and sometimes messier. I can see their unique personalities at play too. But I think they're doing okay with it. So that's my advice.
posted by warriorqueen at 2:45 PM on January 2, 2017 [5 favorites]


I think this mindset makes a lot of things easier for the individual who embodies it.

Well, of course you do. However (and I am saying this as someone who is LIKE YOU, fyi) you are not right. You are also not wrong. You have an approach which works for you and the way your mind works. Depdning on how your kid's mind works this may or may not work for them AND it may or may not put them into a conflict with their dad which might be suboptimal. So you you there is a "lightness" in owning less but that's not objective reality that is the way fewer things work with your feelings. Which is great, you've found a thing that works for you. But there's also an attachment to this idea of non-attachment which is also tricky. Like to really be free of the way stuff impacts your mind you also have to care less about what other people do with their things because having strong feelings about other people and their things is still letting the idea of stuff colonize your mind. And... this is actually harder.

So I think part of it is having a decent way of working this out with your kid's dad. They take up more than 50% of the storage space? Who cares? You don't need that space, they do, the system works for you as a family. However the fact that you and he have a relationship to stuff (his, yours, everyone's) that stresses you out is the first step of managing this. This isn't some sort of battle to win over your kid to one of your viewpoints, it's to model healthy relationships to stuff by not making the stuff dynamic become a major driving force in your relationship.

And I get you, I like horizontal spaces clear. I think every cluttered space is a project that I will have to get to. It's tiring and I am a lot more relaxed when things are in order. But again, that's my internal world and my external world lining up. You know what else makes me relaxed? Getting along great with my (disorganized, messy, friendly, owns-too-much stuff) partner. And at some point I had to make a choice about whether my attachment to neatness was more important than my relationship to him. Everyone draws this line in a different place.

The most important thing is to model good behaviors in whatever stuff-relationship your kid winds up having. Getting rid of things is part of it. Acquiring good things is part of it. Not freaking out when a thing breaks is part of it. Keeping the things you have in an orderly fashion is part of it. Not owning more things than you have space for is part of it. Work those things out with your partner in mature adult ways that show that you are prioritizing the human aspects of these things, not just the mathematical "I always want 25% less than we have" aspect.
posted by jessamyn at 2:52 PM on January 2, 2017 [13 favorites]


Hoo boy. Yeah, this is not a parenting question. It's extra definitely not a parenting question if you just had your baby. This conflict is between you and your baby's dad. Your kid is going to be how they're going to be (I've actually tried to get my preschooler a little bit more interested in culturally sanctioned stuff-producers because honestly he's impossible to shop for and relatives won't stop asking what to give him for birthday/$holiday until you answer with something they can easily acquire at Toys R Us--no dice, he doesn't care). But please please please do not make them a proxy in your stuff-war with the father.
posted by soren_lorensen at 3:00 PM on January 2, 2017 [11 favorites]


I think the only easy way to do this is to model the behavior with absolutely zero expectations of the child. I come from a long line of hoarders/clutter-enthusiasts, and my aunt and I are the only ones to reject that lifestyle. However, as a child, I definitely had strong attachments to stuff, and if a parent had tried to make me pare down, it would have made me panic. Kids have so few things of their own and so little power to acquire more things.

Total agreement with this.

My kid is eight with (personal opinion alert) clear genetically inherited predisposition to hoarding.

Today is the first time, ever, she has allowed me to get rid of stuff in her room. And I did it very gently, with 'are you tired of this?' 'is this maybe something you're done with that some other kid would enjoy?' etc...(Not that I never took a secret foray with a trash bag into that den of weirdness--but seriously, she used to look through the garbage and if she found a doll head or stale stick of gum she'd be like 'but why would we throw this out????')

Today, I think she found it empowering for the first time, enthusiastic but a little nervous. She was done. she was done with My Little Pony, done with Barbie, done with Hello Kitty, done with wide-eyed turtle stuffies, and ready to move on. But she was ready, it wasn't that I wanted her to be ready. Her closet had started to 'scare her'. She no longer knew what was in any of the boxes. It was just creepy and overwhelming with dolls' legs sticking out of boxes and puzzles for two-year-olds.

Her participation helped--giving her a garbage bag, asking her to get boxes, asking her to label boxes 'Barbie clothes' so when we give it to whoever it's ready to go.

But I think mainly it was that she felt empowered and that it was her choice, and no one was forcing her to move beyond My Little Pony--if she's twenty and hanging on to Ponies, well, that's her right. I am not laying down the laying down the law on Hello Kitty.

Here's a tip I learned the hard way: no matter how amusing you might think it is to give intangible objects 'personalities' ie. 'Oh, poor Mr. Blankie': DON'T. I was told under no uncertain terms, that's not funny, it's not cute, it just makes the whole thing harder. Don't say 'Goodbye, Mr. Turtle.'

I screwed up on that like three times--it's just an ordinary kind of humor we engage in (me and her dad). To someone who has a hard time letting go of objects, that's not funny, it's insensitive.

(I was really proud of her for telling me to pound sand on that line of 'humor' as far as her letting go of possessions goes.)
posted by A Terrible Llama at 3:42 PM on January 2, 2017 [10 favorites]


Oh, I guess to use the Metafilter term: no jokes about Crouton Petters.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 3:44 PM on January 2, 2017 [2 favorites]


Focusing on I have too much stuff is still a focus on the *stuff.* Make every effort to show this lesson by having great experiences together, by noticing that many people lack basic food/ shelter/ water/ housing/ education/ safety, etc., and that it's a basic injustice. Notice and discuss the ways advertising lies and promotes a crummy set of false desires for junk. Be aware of things like using a lot of energy increases reliance on oil, for which we keep going to war. Teach the consequences of consuming. Limit tv as much as possible. Advertising is bad for humans, esp. kids.

I tried this. My kid is fairly materialistic; he grew up in a world with values that I'm at odds with. But he has those values in his makeup, and I believe they affect his way of living in ways I probably can't see. I hope so.

Also, actual hoarding is more likely to be about OCD and mental illness. Keeping stuff that's useful and well-organized is a legit choice. Emphasis on useful and well-organized.
posted by theora55 at 4:45 PM on January 2, 2017


Stuff isn't a bad thing. Stuff is the cornerstone of human civilization. Everyone needs stuff. Minimalism, for most people I've known, involves rapid buy-purge cycles, sometimes going shopping nearly every day to buy a screw, a toothbrush, antacid, electrical tape, or some other thing that people predictably will need some day.

Stuff keeps you safe, secure, nourished, comfortable, enriched, and informed. It's not all superfluous pickle jars, junk gadgets, and social posturing. People need stuff to feel human, and there's nothing wrong with that.

You need stuff. And this sounds like emotional attachment to me:

I do not get any identIty from stuff. Most of my furniture and clothing is second hand and gets tossed or recycled without much thought when it no longer "feels resonant" or is irreparably broken.

What do you mean it no longer "feels resonant"? You mean you used to like it and now you don't? Now you want something else instead so you discard the perfectly functional one you already have? That seems like a lot of work, if not a lot of money, to replace something you already had. I am sure I have enough stuff around my house that you'd assume I was horribly materialistic, but one of the main reasons I do is that I don't like having to go shopping all the time, so I try to only buy things that are durable and functional, and that I'll be able to maintain and repair using the yes-I-actually-use-this-stuff in my cluttered work area. I can't imagine going shopping regularly to replace functional things because they stopped being 'resonant.' Sometimes, when I find something like a piece of clothing that works for me perfectly but will inevitably disintegrate, I will buy more than one, just so I don't have to go out shopping for another one again next year. If you're out shopping for the same things over and over, it's taking up mental space for you. I've got that sorted.

That's not to say you're wrong or a bad person for that. It's just that you seem unusually hostile and dismissive of anyone who doesn't share your perspective, and that's probably not the best attitude to approach your child with, particularly since it is the source of contention between his parents. The fact that you can defend your choices doesn't mean that other people can't defend theirs.

It doesn't sound like your partner is actually a hoarder, especially since he's only taking up way more than 50% of your storage space, and not all of it plus your living space. If you have the space to do so, maybe you and your partner could each have your own zones. Maybe you get the main living area that you can keep as uncluttered as you like, and he gets a workshop or office or something where he can store his things and work on his projects without criticism.

I grew up with a mother who was a purger at times, and what my three siblings and I took from that is a kind of anxiety about people touching our stuff. None of us are hoarders, but we all have cluttered workshops that we guard jealously. Our mom wasn't a bad person or anything like that at all, but she had a tendency to assume that everyone shared her aesthetic and aspired to minimalism. I won't speak for anyone else, but I can assure you I do not. I find minimalist environments uncomfortable and unpleasant, and I have no desire at all to have my home like that. She also had a strong tendency to assume that if she didn't know what something was for, or if she didn't like it, it was junk, so she'd either constantly complain about it, or she'd just toss it while you weren't looking. She always seemed kind of surprised when she'd throw away something of mine and I'd notice as soon as I got home. I think my hobbies and preferences were so different from hers that I got the worst of it, but my siblings have horror stories too of her throwing away things they used every day.

I get that seeing clutter stresses you out, but that's stressful too. You guys need a compromise, not a winner takes all conversion.
posted by ernielundquist at 6:04 PM on January 2, 2017 [8 favorites]


I grew up with a mother who was a purger at times, and what my three siblings and I took from that is a kind of anxiety about people touching our stuff.

Oh my word, yes. My mother would toss thing, and then act as if I was being unreasonable for being upset that X item (sometimes a thing I actually needed) was suddenly gone without my knowledge or consent.

I struggle with hoarder tendencies, and there is no one reason why, but I'll list some that come to mind:

-I'm a Crouton Petter. All inanimate objects deserve my respect. I used to collect smooth stones and sing them to sleep when I was a child.
-I have a horror of "doing things wrong". The thought of throwing something in the trash that should be recycled seems like a terrible error to me, but then if the thing is hard to recycle, I get stuck in a loop of "I'll get to this later". I had a plastic gum container sit on my desk at work for months, because there was no place in the office to recycle it, and I forgot every day to take it home to recycle it there. I have little collections of used batteries. I know that batteries DO NOT go in the trash. But do you know how hard it is to find locations that recycle alkaline batteries?
-I attach memories to physical objects.
-Gift Giving and Acts of Service are my two main love languages, and having stuff on hand can be immensely useful for both. If I'm going to see a friend unexpectedly and I realize her birthday was last week, I am guaranteed to have a nice gift on hand. For Acts of Service, being able to say to a friend "oh, I have a seam ripper in my purse" or bring in a citrus reamer for the office party feels nice to me. Someone had a need, and I was able to meet the need because I had the necessary tool, and I was able to remember to bring the tool, and the need was met.
-I get somewhat nervous in uncluttered spaces. When I look at fancy empty bedrooms on tv shows, I think things like, "where are their cotton swabs? What is the point of having a toaster if you keep it in a cabinet? Why don't they have any phone chargers? If I had to blow my nose in that house, would I have to ask the host to bring me a tissue, since none are out in the open? There aren't any trashcans-- where would I put the used tissue?"
-I can remember very clearly where my belongings are when they are in piles or are stored out in the open, but I often forget where they are when I "put them away".
-Light hoarding often pays off. Not the version where everything rots and disintegrates, but where the item that you have saved for eight years is suddenly needed, just like you suspected it someday would be. The sense of payoff and satisfaction can be INTENSE. In 2007, I shoved some sugar packets into a drawer at my office. When I left for a new job in 2014, I emptied everything from those drawers into a box, and I moved across the country. At some point, the sugar packets were moved to my new office. When I used one of those sugar packets in my coffee at my new job, I felt intense pleasure, connectedness, continuity, and gratitude. Being able to say "I think I have a copy of that poem" and immediately put my hands on a book that I bought in 1998 feels amazing.
-I don't like purchasing digital copies of things, if I can avoid it. I like knowing I own a physical copy that cannot be bricked or disabled if a corporation changes its license or goes out of business. That means holding onto objects, for me.
-The fact that I struggle to throw things away can be intensely frustrating. But it can also be really great. After my mother died, I had a lifelong archive of notes and letters that she wrote to me. Letters that annoyed me at the time are really precious to me now.
-I have anxiety about "running out" of things. What if my glasses break and I don't have a backup pair? What if I am in the middle of a recipe and I realize I don't have any vanilla extract? What if I desperately need a flash drive but I left them all at home? I have little caches of "just in case" objects hidden all over-- my office, my car, my dad's house, etc. It only takes a few instances of those "just in case" items coming in handy to reinforce the habit.
-Self-sufficiency, of a sort-- I have weird hangups about borrowing things, and if I already have the thing I end up needing, then I never have to go around and ask.
-Minimalists often depend on cluttered types when they need things. Maybe this isn't you! But I have noticed that the people who often feel the most superior about not being tied down to stuff are also often asking for pens, or a cough drop, or a couple of advil, or or or.
-Sometimes I buy things that end up not being right for what I had planned them for, but that I suspect will be useful later on. I feel like getting rid of something imperfect is a waste, if there is a chance that it will be just right at a later date.
-When I was growing up, my parents had certain "archives" that I loved poring over, again and again. I loved going through my father's record collection-- he almost never played the records themselves, but I would look at the art, read through the lyrics, look at the inserts. My mom had kept her entire collection of Beatles trading cards, and I thought they were funny but also pretty cool. If there is a movie that I want to see but it isn't on Netflix or Prime, I can ask my dad and there is a 95% chance he has a copy. Photo albums, old yearbooks, the leftover products from when my parents ran a silk-screening business in the 80s-- I always found it all fascinating.

So, there's a few reasons why I like things.
posted by a fiendish thingy at 8:13 PM on January 2, 2017 [15 favorites]


And if you're looking for a window into the mind of someone who has a moderate amount of stuff (that I try my darndest to keep organized and under control) here's a peek: I see minimalism as extremely wasteful and the privilege of someone who has the money to buy things to replace the things that they got rid of previously. I have stuff because I might need it and no effing way am I going to pay for something that I could just as easily have from the last time I needed it. I have an entire huge tool box full of assorted nails, screws, and bolts (all sorted and organized) because it causes me physical pain to have to go out to the store and purchase a $4 box of 50 2 1/2" deck screws when I only actually need three. There's a lot of stuff out there that you only need occasionally, but when you need it, you need it. If you get rid of things you haven't used in 6 months, what about that one serving dish you only use once a year when your entire family comes over for Christmas dinner and it's the only thing you have that's big enough for a whole turkey? You'd have to buy a whole new one every year, and eff that. A lot of people who keep stuff around are tinkerers, DIYers, or just generally frugal. For folks like me, throwing or giving away a perfectly good $thing is effectively saying, "I will literally, never again as long as I live, in any circumstance or time of need, need this." If you can't actually say that for certain? That's a good argument for keeping it around.

That is added to my general anxiety about landfills and waste. I'm not much of a consumer (I prefer experiences, not things, when it comes to treats), and I'm really hyperaware of the fact that we mostly just toss shit that will exist forever into an oubliette and call it "waste management." So when I have actually determined that I really really really am okay with getting rid of a thing, it takes me a while to figure out what to do with it because I very much try to avoid just throwing stuff away. So again with the minimalism I do have to wonder, "But when you blithely decide to get rid of your stuff, what do you do with it???" My husband had to literally hold my hand when I threw away all my old cassette tapes from the 80s because the thought of all that plastic going to a landfill was giving me the screaming fantods.

There. Does that give you something to chew on when considering the perspectives of those who "are attached to things"? The emotional energy you are spending on the questions in your Ask may be better spent in contemplation of what (non-things) you are attached to and whether these attachments are indeed qualitatively different from a comic book collection.
posted by soren_lorensen at 8:28 PM on January 2, 2017 [8 favorites]


My mother was like you: a very well-ordered house that edged toward minimalism. We weren't allowed to have our items out in the living spaces except in a narrow window when they were being used and even really beloved things that were stored in our rooms often went missing because "we weren't using them" or "you outgrew that" or "I was cleaning and I guess I threw it out." She would also coerce us into donating things when we didn't want to. I sold instruments at garage sales and my Lego collection and instantly regretted both (and still do).

One thing that is important to me is ensuring that my home isn't just my home but is my child's home as well. And children need play implements to grow and learn. My daughter loves her toys, her Lego, her bead collection, her play-doh. Yes, most of the toys get put away at the end of the day but they're stored in our living room, not out of sight, so she can use them easily and make the most of them. Reading about the Summerhill school was helpful to understand how children play and think of clutter. They're really too occupied to notice mess because they're busy creating and using and imagining. Toys and supplies that are on-hand are the ones that are used.

I mean, there's a happy medium (my husband is carting around boxes of stuff that were his grandfather's because his mother, and now he, can't bear to give them away) but it is really important to me that my house is not just MY house, but my child's house, too.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 10:31 PM on January 2, 2017 [6 favorites]


A mantra from childhood that my 20-something kids still use: don't cry over things that can't cry over you.
posted by she's not there at 2:28 AM on January 3, 2017 [1 favorite]


A mantra from childhood that my 20-something kids still use: don't cry over things that can't cry over you.

As a child, the message I would have heard in that phrase would have been "my feelings don't matter, and my parents think I am stupid for loving my stuffed animals. I should not tell my parents how I really feel, or they will mock me."

But, you know, YMMV. (Also, should I not cry over natural resources being destroyed, because they can't weep for me? I just don't understand the logic.)

OP, another recommendation-- read The Velveteen Rabbit. It is like a crouton petter indoctrination pamphlet.
posted by a fiendish thingy at 5:41 AM on January 3, 2017 [8 favorites]


My husband is a minimalist and I'm much more attached to stuff. My parents are hoarders and, while I'm not that level, I do tend to hold onto things and acquire things more than my husband likes. We have twins who are now 4, but we've come to a good agreement with the concept of Montessori and toy rotations. Basically, the toys are sorted by type/use and only 1/3 are readily available at a time. My boys are free to request toys from the currently unavailable ones, and we switch out similarly sized groups of toys. Every month or so, I bring out one of our storage bins and we switch out the toys.

Since my boys decide which toys are placed out each month and always have access to any toy with a simple switch, they feel in control of their possessions. If a toy isn't requested from the bin for several months, then I will put it in through shelf myself. If it is never taken off the shelf during the play period, I donate or sell it.

Along with this, we also have set places where messy toys are played with. We have a rug and a folding table. I've never stepped on a random Lego/toy outside of one I've missed during cleanup in the playroom.
posted by PrimateFan at 6:11 AM on January 3, 2017 [1 favorite]


OP, how old is your child? And do you live together with the primary caregiver/dad?

If your child is a baby and you live together - my heart goes out to your husband. My husband and I moved in together when our child was about 7 months, and I was a stay at home mom for 3 years. My husband is a minimalist and hates any form of clutter, he hates art on teh walls, and perfers naked designer lightbulbs literally. Everthing in white and gray. I on the other hand love pretty knick knack, colour, pictures on the wall, and just in general do not feel at home in minimalist home educed to only useful things in their designated place. before we had the child we lived in separate apartments because of this issue. I disliked his home which was bare to me and cold, and he mine which to him felt cluttered and messy but to me was comfortable and cosy.

I love the feeling of a minimalist home where each item has a purpose and there is less visual overwhelm. I have no problem throwing out boxes and bags full of things that mattered once but don't now. Anything of sentimental value fits in a small box and eventually I would like to scan those things to throw out the hard copies. I do not get any identIty from stuff. Most of my furniture and clothing is second hand and gets tossed or recycled without much thought when it no longer "feels resonant" or is irreparably broken.

When we moved together, he had 65 boxes of stuff, and I had 64 (which included the baby's stuff). ┬┤But because mine was stuff he judged unnecessay, he wanted me to toss it all rather than "sully" the new place with it. He sounded in fact jsut like you come across here: judgemental and selfrighteous. His was the only way, it seemed, because clutter (by his definiton - which included owng more than 2 cups, having lampshades, pillows on teh couch and a blanket to cuddle in) made him upset. But you know what? living in a stark, minimalist place makes me depressed. I need some colour and pretty stuff that has no use to feel at home.

The stress this topic created, trying to keep a clutter free home that feels also comforable to me while spending my entire days in this place - first with a baby and then a toddler who had toys (but not a huge amount , just some duplo really) came extremely close to killing our relationsship. He would literally lose it if he found a clean cloth diaper lying somewhere or a stuffed animal under the table. It was a bad time and please don't do this to your husband an child.
In order to feel at home I need pictures on the wall, and def. more than a cup for him and a cup for me (for a while he demanded I box up every item besides the two of each we use daily, so when we had a sponatenous guest eg some mom from the playground coming over on the way home I had to eitehr use our son's sippy cup or unpack a third cup - it made me feel embarrased as well as the guest, who felt unwanted (she told me later).

Please resolve this with him. Don't put this on your child, whtver age. There are people out there who are not hoarders ( my mother is but I am not) who need some pretty stuff and even some clutter to be comfortable, and I am one of them, it is my personality. Being reduced to stark minimalism makes me depressed.

We were able to find a compromise that works for us (eg separate bed rooms so we can each have one room we keep as we like to withdraw in, and in the living room i live with a lot less than I might want but still enough warm colour and texture so I feel at home in our home.


The father of my child who is also currently the main caregiver loves to keep things just in case, has big plans to repurpose or fix items that do not get fixed. He has an attachment to stuff and things which I do not understand as I prefer the lightness of owning less. He also takes up way more than 50% of the storage space with items of "maybe one day" purpose. His clutter really stresses me out and over time we have made a little progress but it is still a struggle.

Anything of sentimental value fits in a small box and eventually I would like to scan those things to throw out the hard copies. I do not get any identIty from stuff.

So this is fine for you, and why not. But you do know there are people who are more touch-oriented, and small oriented? Please dont make your husband throw out his keepsakes and digitalise them. I have lots of photos from my childhood, adn family fotos going back to over 100 years. I like those curly old photos. I don't need or want them in digital.

I would like to have a strong impact on the child's relationship to stuff but am not sure where to start.


A child is not clay or a blank slate to be be formed and molded. They each have a perosnality that will come through regardless. Tbh your statement sounds scary to me.

We mostly found a way to deal with it, but still my son who is now 8, is often under pressure from his dad to give or toss away stuff. I hate it when he does that - it does not at all teach our son that minimalist is best but makes him deeply resent his dad regardless of the outcome. Even when I interfere and stop the tossing, he will still bear the grudge against dad for trying to make him throw stuff away.

Our compromise also includes me being much tidier than I would be on my own. And I keep the clutter to my room. I don't want my husband to feel uncomfortable either in our home.

Practically, we have toys in our living room, and while when he was younger my husband enforced to clear everythign away each night, as he got older this simply does not work anymore because if he built an elaborate landscape and buildings from Lego all afternoon and planned to use it next day it was cruel to insist it could not remain over night.
posted by 15L06 at 9:05 AM on January 3, 2017 [8 favorites]


« Older Washington DC - Womens March Weekend   |   Participant Disclosure Document (Return of the Job... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.