A few weeks ago we had a neighborhood yard sale. As my husband helped carry out boxes, he peeked in one and exclaimed, "Hey, those are the shoes you got married in! You're selling them?!"
Yes, dear reader, I sold my wedding shoes in a yard sale.
I had held onto the shoes for five years. I moved them from our apartment to our house. I kept them in case I wore them in a wedding (never). I kept them because they were the shoes I got married in. I packed them up each fall with my summer clothes and pulled them back out in the spring. But you know what? I didn't care about them a whole lot. I felt a sense of duty and obligation to keep them.
Why? Who did I owe that to? I love my husband whether or not I keep the shoes I married him in. I don't think my daughter will want to wear dirty 25+ year old shoes when she gets married someday. Those shoes are now one less thing unnecessarily accumulating in our house.
If you've been in the situation where you had to be in charge of going through your parents' estate after they've passed, you know how physically, mentally, and emotionally exhausting it is. I'm choosing to be mindful early on about the amount of items that I let accumulate, because I don't want to someday put my children in the position of sorting through boxes and boxes of items trying to decide what to keep, donate, and throw away.
Whether your kids are little or teenagers or grown and gone from the house, your clutter is going to have an impact on them. When we consider how the things we accumulate effect our children, we're inspired to make wise choices about what stays in our homes.
1. Clutter impacts your children at home
Clutter is stressful. Even if you think clutter doesn't bother you, there's a good chance it disrupts your brain. Our bodies are all wired to run on very organized systems. Consider your nervous system or circadian rhythm. Your body was created to follow a rhythm, and that includes your mind. Clutter releases the stress hormone cortisol, and that stress can have a negative impact on your health.
Now, think about your little people at home who don't have much control over the items in their home. Sure, they can destroy a room in seconds, but it's a lot easier to clean that room up when there is a limited number of items in the room and a certain spot for each item to go. If they're constantly looking at piles of clutter, their stress levels are going to rise just like an adult's would. They're going to be put into situations where they just can't find something, because it's become lost in the mess. If you create an organized home where belongings have a purpose and a place, you set your children up for success now and in the future when they create their own organizational systems.
Studies have shown that efficiency rises when people work in a tidy area. If your kids are expending mental energy thinking about all the clutter around them, they're going to be less focused on the craft they're making or homework they're trying to complete. You're going to have more time to spend with your kids when you spend less on trying to organize a chaotic home.
This isn't a call to create a sterile, museum-like home, but a gentle reminder that a reasonably tidy home will have a positive impact on the mental health of your children.
2. Clutter impacts your grown children
Unless you're pulling a Tuck Everlasting stunt, there will come a day when your kids have to decide what to do with all of your belongings. A few years ago I attended a two-week summer workshop with a room full of teachers. During lunch one day, one of the women and I started chatting, and it came up that her entire basement was full of furniture that she and her husband had inherited from his parents. There wasn't room for anything else in the basement, and they weren't using any of the furniture that had been passed down.
Your children should choose to keep items from your estate because they want to, not because it feels like they're expected to. Keeping a table because it's been in the family for 4 generations and you want to display it in your living room is one thing. Keeping the same table because you can't break the family chain and it's going to forever live in your attic is an entirely different story.
It's our human nature to hold onto things. We equate memories with specific items, and it can feel like letting an item go is a betrayal of that memory, whether it's a loved one or special event. If we break the stigma that you don't care about someone if you don't keep their belongings, we allow ourselves to live freely in our homes, without collecting items because we feel like we have to.
I love this entire article, especially the thought that comes at the end:
While I once thought of passing down things to my daughter, I realized that all I would be doing at this point is burdening her with a collection of things she will either need to find a home for or bequeath to a thrift store. And I feel no resentment about it whatsoever, because what she values is not the physical things that I possess. She values who I am. And, someday — who I was. So I regularly contribute chapters to my own life memoir (as much of it as I can recall) so that she and any future generations might know something about me they never have been otherwise privy to. It is my gift to her. Somehow, I know that is more valuable than a crystal goblet.
When it comes to generational clutter, you can be the cycle breaker. Let me know what experiences you've had in dealing with family clutter in the comments!