Decluttering: Choose Smiles Over Boxes

From time to time I mention a decluttering project. I say I want to get rid of a large percentage of what we own. I say visual clutter makes me anxious and stressed.

All true.

But there are a few things I have a hard time giving away.

1.| Things that were painfully expensive for us to buy and required sacrifice.

2.| Things that have deep sentimental value.

3.| Things that recall a sweet era of our life as a family.

I’m pushing myself to let go of homeschooling tools and children’s books. This is hard because these things fit in all three of the categories above. But I have boxes of books and cabinets full of supplies and tools (have I mentioned my love for math manipulatives?); I need to let most of it go.

Yesterday I dropped off a bag of homeschooling items to a young family, and before I was even home, the children were playing with them. The mom sent me this picture the next day.

Homeschooling represents a big part of my life as a mother. Until we adopted, we exclusively homeschooled. It became apparent that it wasn’t the best educational method for our new children and we took our first steps into school.

I’ll be honest, I grieved. Homeschooling was a key part of our family culture and it deeply pained me to let it go.

Since then we’ve done homeschool, private school, charter school, and public school; usually a combination. Currently, my youngest five all attend public school.

What about my grandchildren? This question trips me up.

First of all, I don’t have any yet. Secondly, if my grandchildren need something I’ve given away, I can probably buy a replacement.

Which takes me back to what I wrote above, “…before I was even home, the children were playing with them.”

I can save things for the future, or children can enjoy them today. I choose smiles over boxes in my garage.

Saving things without a solid plan for when they’ll be used is rooted in fear – fear that there won’t be enough, fear I’ll never have this item again, fear that God won’t provide.

As I write, I see how ridiculous this is. Do I really need to worry about whether God will provide American Girl books for my granddaughters to enjoy when those granddaughters don’t exist yet?

I’ve been checking in with my adult kids as I declutter. For instance, I asked my older girls if they were okay with me giving away their collection of American Girl books. One of them said, “Be free. Let them go.” Another said, “I might like a couple of special ones.”

We settled on saving the dolls and letting go of all books except a few special ones. Perhaps I should let go of the dolls, but they fit in one box and maybe I’ll have granddaughters who think it’s really special to play with them at my house. I may revisit that, but for now, I’m content with the decision.

Tell me, what do you have stored in boxes that a child could enjoy today? Can you choose smiles over boxes?

Lisa

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Let me introduce myself. Russ and I are the parents of twelve children by birth and adoption, and sometimes more through foster care. I'm the creator of One Thankful Mom which has been as much of a gift to me as to my readers. In 2011 I became a TBRI® Pracitioner* and have lived and breathed connected parenting ever since. I'm deeply honored to be the co-author, together with the late Dr. Karyn Purvis, of The Connected Parent; it is her final written work. I love speaking at events for adoptive and foster parents. I'm also the co-founder of The Adoption Connection, a podcast and resource site for adoptive moms. I mentor and encourage adoptive moms so you can find courage and hope in your journeys of loving your children well.

16 Comments

  1. Vivienne
    April 4, 2018

    I grieved a lot over school issues. I didn’t realize that i had expectations that homeschooling would remain the same after adopting. And it definitely did not! I found great encouragement on your blog.
    I go through seasons of decluttering and must say homeschooling things are difficult for me to part with as well. Part of it is that it still seems like the death of a dream. Thanks for sharing your life with all of us! Praying for you.

    Reply
    1. Lisa Qualls
      April 4, 2018

      I’m glad to know I’m not the only one, Vivienne. Thanks for commenting.

      Reply
  2. Melody
    April 4, 2018

    Oh boy…you touched a nerve with this one. With me that is! I have been staring at five BIG boxes of my kids stuff…you know, the Little People they got at 1, the stuffed animals from all kinds of trips, the Thomas the Train sets and Build a Bears….and I KNOW I should get rid of them but I’m caught in all the memories and the “But it cost us so much money” deal. I needed to read this post today. I need to let go of a few things in my life!

    Reply
    1. Lisa Qualls
      April 4, 2018

      Maybe set a goal of getting rid of two boxes, or three. Alternately, limit yourself to what you can fit in two boxes. It’s so hard for me too! I have a garage full of stuff.

      Reply
  3. Marlene
    April 4, 2018

    I need to declutter too and it’s such a struggle. I also have a grandchild now and it is special to share some of those carefully chosen and classic favorites I saved, with him. The hardest part is always choosing. I kept a few favorite/classic books and toys (like Dr. Seuss and building blocks hand made by my father). Clothes will never be worn again, except maybe a special dress that was hand made. I also kept and have used baby blankets that I saved that belonged to my older kids.

    Reply
    1. Lisa Qualls
      April 4, 2018

      It would be interesting to take a survey and find out what most women save and what most adult kids actually want for their kids (the grandchildren). I also saved special blankets and favorite toys (the wooden train set and blocks) for grandchildren. Maybe I should survey my own kids!

      Reply
      1. Marlene
        April 4, 2018

        I think the best survey participants would be parents of 0-5 year olds and ask questions like what do you wish your mom had saved for your kids or what did your mom save that you had no use for. Another item I saved and was glad I did were my daughter’s toddler plate, cup, bowl and silverware, which my grandson has enjoyed. He loves recounting the story that it was his mommy’s when she was a baby. I also saved a couple of art pieces which have a place on his bedroom wall where he sleeps at our house. Now that I think back, my daughter’s special “blankie” was actually one of mine. So history has repeated itself there. 🙂

        Reply
        1. Tamara
          April 6, 2018

          I can answer that! With 3 under 3 my in laws saved some amazing things that we use every day;
          *thomas train set (original wooden) it is so hard/expensive to buy now as most are plastic
          *duplo original duplo is so much better than what is available now. So much more flexibility and again it is super expensive to buy now.

          That’s it for toys. They saved a few others like dolls (which have gone a bit weird with age), soft toys (they haven’t aged well) and a few other things but none of those came to our house. The other advantage of saving those toys is that you really need a significant amount to play with which is hard to buy all at once so helpful to have a set saved.

          The only other thing they kept was an outfit my husband wore all the time. My first son wore it too and it brought us all so much joy to see him in it, unfortunately the fabric hasn’t really lasted well enough for my baby to wear without destroying it.
          I wouldn’t have wanted more clothing than that.

          Hopefully my two cents help some of you declutter a bit. It is tough!!

          Reply
  4. Emiky
    April 4, 2018

    If there’s stuff you don’t want to get rid of forever but want out of your house, and it’s something we can use with Matthew, you are welcome to loan it to us and we can give it back when someone has a baby 🙂

    Reply
    1. Emily
      April 4, 2018

      That would be Emily. Not Emiky. 🙂

      Reply
    2. Lisa Qualls
      April 12, 2018

      I’ll keep that in mind!

      Reply
  5. Brooke
    April 4, 2018

    First, I wanted to tell you how much I have enjoyed reading your blog over the past few years as we have navigated our own adoption journey. Many of the things you have suggested have worked well for our family too. Our son now sleeps in a bed tent, with the white noise machine you have for your kids, a weighted blanket, and lavender oil diffusing in his room. So, you have had a big influence on us. As to your question about clutter, I have been on a minimalizing journey for the past six months or so. I recently parted with over 100 children’s books which I have used with all of our children, and I felt like it was time to give those to others. I now need to work on decluttering small toys and stuffed animals.

    Reply
    1. Lisa Qualls
      April 12, 2018

      Brooke, thank you for sharing how I’ve helped you. I’m very encouraged. I find that our lives have enough stressors that having too much “stuff” increases the stress for me. Way to go on parting with the books. I’m sure you saved the special ones! Press on.

      Reply
  6. Jenny
    April 5, 2018

    It is hard and I do have two grand-children, but I own so, so much that I can’t dump it all on them!
    Jenny

    Reply
  7. Corinne
    April 10, 2018

    I’d love to weigh in here too! A couple really special items my parents saved and I’m glad they did:
    CLOTHES: a baby dress that my great-grandmother gave me as a baby. So my girls wore a gift from their GREAT GREAT GRANDMOTHER! A few of my baby dresses my mom made.
    TOYS: Legos, tupperware Noah’s Ark bath toy, tupperware child dishes, and a handmade doll my mom made me. From my husbands parents: a few really wonderful vintage toys. A wooden car, Fisher Price Husky bulldozer, and Big Loader set. It’s super fun for them to play with these things at the Grandparents but not an excessive amount of things they saved either. We have purchased a few Little People vintage set for our kids and I intend to keep them for the next generation.

    Reply
    1. Lisa Qualls
      April 12, 2018

      Corinne, these are all great things to save. We have an heirloom baptismal gown that is generations old; it’s so fragile we only use it to take photos now. My Mom saved wooden puzzles, games, some dolls, and other special toys. I’ve saved possibly too many things, and there is still so much to let go of! Toys I’ve saved: The wooden train set, wooden blocks, one bin of favorite baby toys, picture books (favorites), two special scooters that the kids loved to ride in a circle around our main floor, a large set of Duplos (we’re still playing with Legos, but I plan to keep those too), American Girl dolls, and lots of other things. I’m very sentimental! Which reminds me of the Bunnykins China dishes. With 11 kids and over 18 years in this house, I’ve got quite an accumulation.

      Reply

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