Recently, I've been thinking a lot about the idea of being more considered in what we bring into our home in regards to our daughter and how to minimise ‘kids clutter.’
The first reason this has been on my mind is I was commissioned to write a feature for In The Moment magazine about living minimally with kids, which gave me the chance to think about this idea deeply, as well as speak to some other interior-loving mums who are totally winning at this concept.
Secondly, our living room was featured on houzz.com back in June, where they focussed on the play area I created for Ruby. To my surprise, there were a number of critical comments posted by readers, that Houzz have since deleted (they appreciate constructive criticism but not mean or rude comments), which raised some questions for me. Not so much about how we decorate a child’s space, but how we manage the amassment of toys and games and whether it is really necessary for children to have a ridiculous amount of toys in the first place.
The comments that the Houzz post received didn’t offend me. In fact, I find it kinda laughable that people can make specific judgements about you, your home and life from a series of pictures online, and then pass comment on it. (side note: I plan to write a future post on dealing with the negativity that sharing your home online can sometimes create.) The comments were mainly directed at the fact they thought the space did not look conducive with a child’s development through play and implied that it looked like it was created for the gratification of the adult rather than the child.
The point about judgement is that people seem to assume that the space looks like this 24/7. Of course it doesn’t! But, I’m pretty sure Houzz would not have wanted to feature the space if I’d photographed it scattered with Lego and My Little Ponies! Yet, at the same time, I do try to keep some level of organisation due to the fact that a) it is our living room after all and b) I don’t think it’s conducive with a child’s play to have absolute chaos in their space. One of the values I am trying to instil in Ruby as she grows up is to have respect for our home and for her possessions. I encourage her to tidy things away when she is finished with them and to be considered in how she treats her belongings, as well as our furniture, walls etc.
The remarks that some commenters made were implying that it was unrealistic and we’d clearly hidden our child’s clutter in another room, and that most people who have children accept that their home is taken over by toys once kids come along. These observations got me thinking about why our society feels children in the first world need to possess a gargantuan amount of brightly coloured plastic to be happy and to develop and learn. My experience is that Ruby is just as happy with a cardboard box or a load of ingredients from the kitchen cupboard as she is with Disney Princess dolls. And to be quite honest, what she learns from mixing up herbs and spices at the kitchen table is preferential to the influence of unrealistic female representations.
Unfortunately, even at the age of four she already seems to have the insatiable desire for ‘new’. This is something I touched on in my article for In The Moment (which is in issue 15, currently on sale) and that my current battle is to try and minimise this need and teach her about quality over quantity. I realise that most kids her age probably have this character trait, but I do feel it’s something I want to tackle with her now, as the importance of over-consumption is so high on our priority lists right now. Not only does it put strain on my bank balance, but giving in to your child’s constant demands for new things that will inevitably be forgotten about a day or two later, is not helping them to learn about the value of money or the environmental problems our society is currently facing.
I should probably disclose at this point that I also love to shop. Yes, I know, you’re thinking ‘You're one to talk then’, but again, this is something I have been working on myself, and over the last year or so I have been focussing on only buying things I really need or truly love, and as much as possible are from independent shops and makers. Having beautiful things around me is something that brings me joy, so I don’t believe we need to completely deprive ourselves, but the point is with children, their choices are not thought through, they are simply dazzled by advertising, bright colours and newness.
So, what conclusions have I drawn and what steps do I plan to take moving forward? Here are a few things I hope to maintain which you might also find useful if you are trying to cut back on the kiddie clutter:
- Do regular decluttering sessions and take unwanted items to the charity shop or sell at a car boot. I recently did one of these and even got Ruby involved. I explained how many of the toys she had were for two year olds, and as a ‘big four year old’ she agreed she no longer needed them, and she happily filled up the bag for the charity shop.
- Continue to instil values of environmental respect in our child. We already tell her that plastic hurts the sea creatures which horrifies her (especially as a big fan of Octonauts!) We either try to buy toys & games from charity shops or if we are buying any new items I try to steer her towards non-plastic items and/or things that she will definitely get value out of rather than it ending up at the bottom of the toy basket.
- She loves to read, and has quite the collection of books which is so great, and I must admit I find it hard to hold back on buying her lovely new books. But, as she grows out of certain ones, I will donate these either to younger cousins, charity shops, the local library or her nursery or school.
- promote learning and play through activities such as crafting, baking, activity books and going on regular outings.
One of the anomalies in this approach is Christmas and birthdays. While we aim to be restrained and considered in our gift giving we cannot dictate what other people give her. Luckily our close family and friends generally ask what they should get her, but of course it’s not really accepted to write ‘no plastic crap’ on party invites to her school friends! There’s not really a lot can be done on that front I guess (any suggestions?!) so I guess for now, we only have to deal with that once or twice a year.
I’m not going to lie, this is not an easy task, children are often (always?!) difficult to reason with and bribery is a regularly deployed tactic, but I do feel like this is an important issue not only for my own clutter battles, but for the sake of our planet. I’d love to hear about your experiences and if you are trying to manage the kiddie clutter and over consumption? I’ve only been doing this parenting thing for four years so any other tips you might have would be wholeheartedly welcomed!
To finish, here are a few options for shopping more consciously for kids – independent sellers who sell wooden and handcrafted toys, beautiful books and decorative objects:
Sarah and Bendrix – wooden toys, handmade soft toys, gorgeous books and décor
Olli Ella – creative play and decorative items
Smallable – French brand with huge range of good quality toys, clothes and décor items.
The Modern Nursery – Good range of wooden toys, focus on babies and pre-schoolers.