Coming from someone who lives a zero-waste lifestyle, it might seem strange that I highly value the process of decluttering and living in a clutter-free home. After all, shouldn’t I be stockpiling random items like yoghurt containers, old clothing and broken toys until they can be reused rather than sent to landfill? And doesn’t decluttering mean throwing stuff out as soon as you’re done with it?
These are common misconceptions, as both zero-waste living and living with less are about avoiding the stuff and therefore the waste in the first place! You do this by carefully assessing your needs so that you don’t end up with a lot of random things to reuse or throw out.
But let’s face it, even low consumers find themselves with things in their home that have become redundant, especially as we enter different stages of life. Perhaps you no longer have babies or your toddler has grown up, meaning you can do without certain items.
If these items stay in our homes they rob us of our time, energy, and money and that leads to stress and anxiety. Even from an environmental perspective, saving things that you aren’t using is a huge waste because when items sit in your home unused for months, years, or even decades, no one else can use them either. What a waste of resources
Unwanted items should leave our homes in mindful and intentional ways. If they don’t, you will have missed valuable opportunities to teach your children important life lessons.
Here are six life lessons children can learn when families mindfully and intentionally declutter their homes together
1. Children learn to think of others.
As you declutter your home, you can talk to your children about how your unwanted items could help someone else or bring them joy. It might be a cousin, friend or someone they don’t know through a charity. Involving them in the giving will let them see for themselves how important sharing and helping others is and how it can make them feel good too.
2. Children learn to shift focus away from things and onto people and experiences.
We live in a consumerist society that bombards us with messaging that we are not good enough unless we have x,y,z. It can be hard to resist, but decluttering the unnecessary can help increase a child’s sense of self-worth and to know that they and others are more than the sum of their material possessions.
Research has found that children who are rewarded with stuff will grow into adults who continue to reward themselves with stuff. Unfortunately for them, research has also found that materialistic people can be profoundly unhappy because they are seeking happiness in things rather than where it truly lies; in our relationships with others and from experiences
3. Children learn to think outside the square.
Fewer belongings encourages children to be more imaginative which leads to creative problem solving. This is a very important skill for future success.
4. Children learn to be environmentally responsible citizens.
Decluttering should not simply involve disposing of items in the bin. There are opportunities to find new homes for items through gifting, donating, swapping, selling, repairing, repurposing, and upcycling!
Reusing items has significant environmental benefits but when an item is truly at the end of its useful life, the different materials making up the item should be recycled. Decluttering also encourages children to think about the environmental impact of excess possessions and become a more conscious consumer.
5. Children learn independence.
Developing independence in kids takes time and effort, and it’s tempting to just do things for them when there isn’t much time or there’s a lot of tidying up to do. But if you do this, you’re robbing them of the ability to grow into independent responsible individuals.
Decluttering means less mess, but more time for you to teach independence skills like cleaning up after yourself and more space for the child to practice without becoming overwhelmed by the size of the task
6. Children learn to appreciate their belongings.
Less belongings means children will value their possessions more and develop a real connection with them, this means they will care for them, and that feeds back into developing independence and being environmentally responsible citizens.
Thanks Tammie! Exactly how I think about it. Beautifully written.
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I agree entirely now I’m where I am in my life, but the funny thing is that I kept a lot of what were ‘good’ toys our kids had when they were little (youngest now 27). Stuff that was for us, who were incredibly broke at the time, was bought with a lot of sacrifice and I just couldn’t bring myself to let them go. I am pleased to say that they have now been bought out again and are getting well used and are like new. This is because I did go the extra mile to buy quality even though we didn’t eat for months after! It’s only the expensive everlasting and hand made wooden toys this apples to everything else has been through your process. PS all the kids love a good op shop now!
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I know what you mean Maree and it is lovely to have things like that passed on to the next generation. I also don’t think everything has to go all the time.
In the past I would have held on to lots of things just in case or to give to my kids kids, but the world seems to be moving quickly now and I fear that anything I hang onto will not have a full life unless it finds a new home now (DVDs come to mind).
Nice perspective on this topic 🙂
I totally agree that many actions that we take towards sustainability / responsibility are also capable of enriching us. I wrote something along those lines about the benefits of practicing ethical consumerism that we often don’t think about. They enrich us an can be almost like a spiritual practice. https://greenstarsproject.org/2016/10/29/a-new-earth-eckhart-tolle-ethical-consumerism/
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