I'm still a little in shock at how this played out.
Let me begin by saying that I have been concerned for some time about the volume of crap in my kid's room. I tried talking them into donating some of the toys they don't play with to kids who don't have as much. No. Not interested. Then my oldest was on a big kick about earning money, so we had a great talk about selling some of her older stuff at a garage sale. She was only willing to part with one pink fuzzy dice, and strongly felt that $14 was a reasonable asking price for it. So, umm. . . that didn't go well.
I despaired that one day their belongings would crush them as they slept. Almost literally. There were so many stuffed animals on the top bunk that I didn't see how my daughter could get in there to go to sleep. "Don't worry," she assured me, and burrowed into the pile, her face eventually popping out like in that scene from E.T.
I hadn't given up, but I was at a loss of how to get them to give up some of these old toys that they hadn't played with in months, to years. If I pointed out that they had never actually played with a particular item, they would tell me how much they loved it. They remembered who had given it to them, and on what occasion. They seemed to have photographic memories suddenly.
Yet, they almost never wanted to play in their room. They didn't have a lot of play space, for one. Also, I can only imagine how hard it must have been to find anything particular they may have wanted to play with. The little toy house, for example, was so full from being used as a storage spot, it would have taken awhile to clear out to be able to be used for an actual play session. Something had to give.
I am reading a book right now called "Simplicity Parenting". It gave me the courage to do what I was too afraid to do on my own. So when the kids were recently having a sleep over with Grandma, my husband and I raided their room. We filled up garbage bags, and give-away boxes, and a pile of baby things for their soon-to-be new cousin, and several large boxes to go into storage. Storage because some things we just weren't sure how attached they really were to them, but the room was still too full. If we'd made a horrible blunder and taken something that would break their tender little hearts, we wanted to be able to undo it.
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I was so full of guilt. So, so full. When they came home, they would hate me. They would never want another sleep over ever again. They would cry. But I would be strong. They needed some space to play. They needed to be able to see and get to their toys, not have mountains of mysterious piles. I was so afraid of their reaction. As an example of what we removed, the basket in the picture was their bat-tub toys. Before, it was brimming full. So overfilled that you had to pick it up carefully or toys would topple off the heap. Now it's a little less than half full. Their room was similar in percentages. We took that much away.
One thing I did, to hopefully soften the blow, was get a few new things. Simple things. The book recommended this. We had strongly targeted all those movie and TV character toys in "The Great Purge" as I have come to think of it. The book talked about the virtues of more simple playthings that left more up to the imagination. So I got a small tub of pop-beads and I filled one of their now empty bins with fabric pieces and clothes pins to make forts or whatever. I also got them each a new book and a little bag of cookies (the guilt made me do that - they can't hate me if I give them cookies, right?)
So the next day we were out until evening. I was so worried about the fallout that was coming when we got home; I was upset and distracted a lot of the day. They didn't go up to their room right away. I watched them from the corner of my eye. Bracing myself for when they might head for the stairs.
At last it was time for pajamas and they went up to their room. I held my breath. And. . .
They didn't notice.
The book said they wouldn't, but I hadn't believed it. They didn't know my kids.
Actually, that's not quite true. They noticed the new things. They saw the beads right away. Then the fabric. They were delighted and began building right then. They gave me hugs. They saw the books on their pillows (the pillows that were now uncovered and could be seen) More hugs for me. Then they looked at their storage bins. "Okay, here it comes," I thought, "They'll see now everything that's missing."
No. They saw toys they hadn't seen in forever. They were even more thrilled. "Hey! Here's my airplane! Thanks Mama for finding it!" They ran around the room, noticing all the things that had been buried and invisible before. They thanked their father and me over and over again for organizing their room. They saw books on their shelves that they'd been looking for but couldn't find. Another hug.
Why didn't I do this before?
Because it felt mean. But it wasn't. They were overwhelmed. There was just too much there. They are so beloved by so many people who love to give them things, it had smothered them. I am sure eventually - probably tomorrow - they will notice something is missing. Then I'll tell them about the storage. Maybe we'll rotate some storage items back and some of what they have now away from time to time. Maybe we won't. But one thing is sure - my room is next and I only hope I can be as brutal with my own belonging, because I'm feeling a little smothered too.