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We’ve had our regular council clean-up this week.

I love council cleanup. I love seeing the detritus of people’s lives hoisted out on the street. I love that for a few days, outside those perfectly manicured lawns, there are half-rotten pieces of outdoor furniture, mildewy mattresses, discarded prams and broken clamshell paddling pools. It reminds me that even the lives of those who appear to have everything under control still contain a bit of mess and clutter.

There are two basic types of people in this world, chuckers and hoarders.  Chuckers enjoy council cleanup because it’s a chance to clean out some mess; hoarders love it even more because they can drive around the streets looking for freebies to collect, just in case they need them for a rainy day.

In my heart, I’m more of a chucker.

I love to de-clutter. I love to give stuff away. But I’m also a big believer in recycling and not wasting things, so I must confess that our backyard is full of other people’s discarded treasure – climbing frames, outdoor furniture, baby swings, even some of our kids bikes have been salvaged from council cleanup.

But all this chucking and salvaging and de-cluttering has raised a much bigger question for me, a question I’ve wrestled with ever since having kids: when is it OK to throw out or give away your kids’ belongings?

Especially without telling them, let alone asking their permission?

I found this especially hard when my daughter was at pre-school. She would bring home piles of craft that she’d made and all of it was really special to her and had to be kept forever. Thankfully home-made stuff usually falls apart and you can eventually convince your child that the egg-carton dinosaur really doesn’t bear much resemblance to a dinosaur now that its ears and tail have fallen off and the words ‘free-range’ appear to be tattooed down its back where the green paint has scratched off. But it’s not just art and craft that clutters up the house, it’s also stuff like those stupid little kinder surprise toys, party bags full of junk from the $2 shop, colouring books that are ¾ finished or that favourite top they always want to wear but that is now so stained and full of holes that you’re worried they’ll be mistaken for a homeless street urchin if they go out in public.

How long do you keep that stuff? And is it okay to just throw it away after they’ve gone to bed?

I have a strong memory from childhood of the moment I discovered that my mum had thrown out my absolute favourite pair of shoes. The soles were falling off, and I was seriously in danger of causing myself a permanent disability if I kept wearing them, but I was absolutely devastated that my Mum had thrown them away without telling me. And because I remember that feeling, I always have this lingering sense of guilt when I throw something of Birdy’s away without asking her.

I also know that if I  throw something away without asking, I have to be prepared to face that terrible moment when she says, “Mum, have you seen that little parachute man I got at Luke’s party!”, or ‘Where’s my favourite orange T-shirt?”  In that moment, will I be brave enough to say, “Honey, I’m really sorry, but I threw it away,” or will I find yourself umm-ing and aaaring and muttering, ‘Gosh, I just can’t remember exactly where I last saw that… Maybe it’s in the wash!’

Do you throw away your kids stuff without asking them, or do you consult them before you heave things out? How do you stay on top of the clutter?

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