There’s something about the New Year that makes me want to get rid of everything I own.
Immediately on the heels of Christmas, New Year’s Day generally finds me knee-deep in holiday decor, toys and more toys. Also, a lot of toys. I start getting twitchy, and then claustrophobia sets in, and I have to get it out ALL OF IT NOW.
Living with four kids in less than 1600 square feet will do that to you. Imagine a box of wiggly puppies, throw in an enormous pile of toys, and that is what my home feels like in the days following Christmas. There’s just so. Much. Stuff.
And the kids, they don’t know what to do with it. They wander aimlessly from one toy to another, dropping things on the floor, then begging for TV.
“What is wrong with you kids?” I ask them. “You just got a bazillion toys for Christmas, and you want to watch TV? Go play!”
This is often met with more whining, which is when I say something like, “I guess I’m just going to have to let Santa know that y’all don’t like playing with toys, and the only thing you want to do is watch TV.”
“We like our toys, we just want to play with them LATER!”
“Lukey ruins all our games, and we can’t do anything!”
Which is true. Luke, the almost-2-year-old Giant Man Baby, does ruin most all of the games. He is also skilled at ruining telephone conversations and family dinnertime. The youngest of my four, he pretty much emerged from the womb wrestling and knocking things down. In this house, it feels like there are a lot of things to knock down. I’m about to change that.
First, the toys. I always start with the toys, and usually when the kids are out of the house. In the past I’ve tried involving them in toy purges–big mistake. Everything, it turns out, is a treasured item. Broken Happy Meal toys, trinkets from Mardi Gras parades past, cheap birthday party favors–once uncovered, all are met with joyful reunions. I now save myself a lot of grief by getting rid of toys when the kids are out of the house, and I find it very telling that nobody has ever noticed. Ever. Not once.
When an item disappears and is never missed, it means we have too much. It’s kind of appalling, really. I think about all the stuff in this house–the duplicates, the unnecessary luxuries, the unappreciated and forgotten items crammed in the backs of closets, and I’m ashamed. There are children who have nothing, who go hungry, who would consider my “small” home a palace; and my kids have so much they don’t even notice when it’s gone.
And it’s not just the kids–it’s me, too. I’ll pick up a new tube of lip gloss, just because. A new top because there’s nothing to wear, even though my closet is overcrowded with clothing and shoes and giant storage bins.
January reminds me to simplify and let go of the things I don’t need. Heck, to let go of the things I think I need.
The truth is, I don’t need much at all. When I start letting go of the physical things that bog me down and suck my time, I make room for the things I truly value. For me, less stuff = easier home maintenance = less time cleaning = less stress = better mom/happier family.
Not that it’s easy. I took down my December calendar, and my mother asked off-hand, “Are you going to save that? It’s like a diary of your past year.” I flipped through the pages and smiled at the quick-jotted notes and scheduled appointments and school activities. The calendar felt so heavy and burdensome, and I wondered, how can I get rid of these memories? How can I just throw away the past year?
I’ll tell you how, and it wasn’t that hard. I took the calendar and put it in the garbage. I didn’t worry about where to store it or how to organize it. I just let it go.
This 2015, I don’t want to stuff my year full of stuff. Here’s to letting go.
(Betsy Swenson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)