My daughter is finally getting her own room. And she's doing it through osmosis.
We bought this century home in part for its huge attic. What a playroom! In fact, the attic was used as a playroom, but much less so than we had envisaged.
At 14, our older daughter decided it was time for a room of her own. She had been hoping for one at 12, and our promises of "when we get around to it" were getting stale. So she pulled out a spare mattress and camped on the floor of the first room of the attic, the landing at the top of the stairs. She would sleep in the company of all the assembled childhood toys that we had yet to deal with.
If we had lived in an apartment, we would never have accumulated so much stuff in the first place. We couldn't have -- there would just not have been the room. But a three-storey house seems like a magnet for anything that might fall under the heading of "stuff." And with two kids in various activities, a home business and a long commute to the city for one of us, getting rid of the stuff was always something best done at a later date.
The Great Unload
In fairness to us parents, we had unloaded a lot of attic stuff on Kijiji:
• The giant Barbie house and most of the dolls
• The equally giant wooden dollhouse
• The puppet theatre and all the puppets
• The world's largest Littlest Pet Shop collection
• The wooden princess castle
• And many more toys
Despite this house cleaning, we still retained many more toys than two children can play with. If Canadian children are at all like British children, they play with only five percent of their toys.
But it's not just the toys that we collected. To protect our toddlers from wandering head-first down stairs, we had installed battery-operated gates. The gates were long gone, but the posts were still attached to the door frame.
And most of the electrical outlets in the attic were still blocked by those plastic outlet plugs, fending off our 14-year-old from the dangers of being a toddler. I always hated those little plastic plugs. They were so hard to pry out each time we needed to use the vacuum cleaner.
Back then, we didn't have the new childproof outlets that I just found out are now available. These don't require any action to access. Just push a plug in straight, and it goes in. Try to stick a pencil or a spoon into one hole in the outlet, and it won't go in.
With the gate posts and outlet plugs gone, we could paint. And with the paint barely dry, my daughter began moving her stuff into the main attic room.
Out with the old stuff. In with the new stuff.
Even more stuff!
Only her clothes remained. That's because the closet was still full of... stuff!
Yes, more stuff. This stuff included an enviable collection of hanging costumes, including:
• Halloween costumes
• After-Halloween costumes (bought for them on clearance special, just like Mrs. January recommends!)
• Dance competition costumes
• Other costumes
And below all these were drawers of:
• Wigs of every colour -- yes, I mean every colour
• Tiaras and crowns
• Princess wands
• Butterfly wings to go on a child's back
• Costume shoes
• Necklaces and other bead items
• Hats (at least a dozen which hats, as well as a couple dozen others)
In an apartment, you would not end up collecting all this stuff.
I am pleased to say that as of a couple weeks ago, the costumes have been sorted into bins, some of which the girls plan to store for posterity, some of which we are giving away and some of which were so ratty that we had to argue with the garbage man to take them.
What is taking shape is a dream loft any teenager would go gaga over. So we are reinventing the playroom for toddlers as a loft for a teen.
And with one teen out of the joint bedroom, the upcoming teen will now get her own room, all to herself. But first, there's a lot of "stuff" to clear out of that room, too.
Big house. More clutter.
Before kids came along, we were living in an 850-square-foot condo in downtown Toronto. That included my home office. We were not crowded there.
Yet here we are, in a 3,000 square foot house, and it seems that "stuff" collects everywhere. It feels more crowded. It's like we acquire things just because we can. And we store things just because we can't seem to get rid of them. We live in a warehouse.
Which brings me back to my theory that the bigger the home, the more clutter you collect. Is my theory correct? What do you think? What has been your experience? If we all lived in smaller homes would we become more experiential and less materialistic?
Photo credit: Chantalyne Leonhardt
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Are you looking to get rid of years of old family belongings now that you have an empty nest, or is it time to simplify your home (and life) now that you're heading into retirement? Whatever the reason, eliminating clutter can lower your stress levels, save time and help you to appreciate what you have. Consider what you hope to get out of the simplification process and keep that motivation with you as you go along -- especially when you're having trouble parting with personal items. Still unsure? Check out Martha Stewart's list of "100 Reasons to Get Rid of It" for a major dose of de-cluttering inspiration.
When faced with mounting piles of clutter, our first instinct is often to find ways to tame it and hide it away, so we go out and buy boxes and bins and hangers to find a place for it all. But, as "Happier At Home" author Gretchen Rubin advises, "don't get organized" -- the first step should be getting brutally honest about what you need and what you don't. Then, you'll have to go through and get rid of any items that are unused, unwanted, and without enough sentimental value to be kept around. Getting rid of personal belongings can be tough, but once the clutter is gone, you'll be better able to make use of all the stuff you actually do want.
Getting rid of clutter can be an emotional process: It forces to confront our own bad spending habits (an overpriced kitchen product that still has the tags on it from four years ago, or a designer jacket that's never been worn), and to part ways with things that represented who we used to be. Set aside a weekend (or a few) to go through each room of the house methodically, making large piles of things to get rid of, and then subdividing into giveaway, throwaway, and sell piles. The book "Family-Sized Minimalism" may be a helpful guide for those with decades worth of family items to sort through. And if you're going through the belongings of an adult kid who has moved out, try to have them present if possible -- but be firm in your desire to get rid of anything that's no longer meaningful or necessary.
Having a friend or non-immediate family member there when you go through your closet, garage or kids' rooms can help you to be more impartial and break emotional attachments towards your belongings. A 2008 study published in the journal Judgment and Decision Making, found that the longer we physically hold an item, the more we value it -- having a friend hold things up and keep them at both a physical and psychological distance will help you make more objective decisions. This impartial third party can help you to let go of clothing, old toys, books and knick-knacks that may have some memories attached to them, but not necessarily enough sentimental value to be worth keeping.
Once you've removed all throwaway and give-away items from your home, then is the time to get organized. Sort items and store in places where they can be easily accessed, and buy any organization supplies necessary -- but only once you've determined a real need for them. And DON'T try to fill all of the empty space in your house: An important part of the simplification process is to learn to be comfortable with empty spaces that may or may not need to be filled later. Keep a drawer around for future need, rather than using it as an excuse to keep things around that aren't contributing to your life.
Now that you've simplified your home, take an afternoon or two to tackle digital clutter. Unsubscribe from unwanted email newsletters, delete old documents that you no longer need and organize photos and important paperwork into labeled folders. Bloggers "The Minimalists" recommend deleting any files that you haven't used in six months. You can also further reduce physical clutter by digitizing CDs, DVDs, photo collections, important documents and more.
Once you have a clean, well-organized and simplified home, you'll be more likely to keep it that way: Research has found that people are significantly less likely to litter in clean environments than already-littered ones, and the same theory applies to home clutter as well. Your simplified home is a clean slate, and the process of simplifying is an opportunity to reflect on consuming habits that may no longer suit you. As Faith James, author of "Family-Sized Minimalism," writes, "How you look at everything must change. Every item you own, every choice you make in how you spend your time, and every pursuit you have will ultimately take you closer, or further away from your goal of living a more simple life."
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