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The One Terrible Thing I do That Makes My Life Easier

We are a family of five in a 1600 square foot home. It is not a huge house, but it’s enough for us—three bedrooms, two living spaces, and a play area. My house is usually anything but clean, as there are three little kids that rule the roost. It’s not that I don’t want a clean house: I do, but there’s a lot going on.

However, I do something you may find quite terrible so that I don’t lose my mind.

Stuff = Stress

Arts and crafts projects cover my dining table, oatmeal is cemented on my floors, dress-up clothes are all over the bedroom, nature “treasures” from outside are strewn around the kitchen, mystery puddles are in the bathroom, and a minefield of Mega Blocks and Magnatiles permeates the house. There are always little footprints of dirt, sticky handprints on the wall and chairs, and about a zillion plastic cups out at any given time because my kids have a self-imposed rule that they cannot drink water from the same cup twice in one day. That’s just life with three young kids!

A recent post from The Real Deal of Parenting Facebook page clearly shows if given the option, the vast majority of mothers would choose a cleaned-up house for Mothers Day above other options. Our homes tend to be overwhelmed with stuff, and that manifests into stress.

So, to keep our home cleaner and to commit less of what little free time and energy I have to picking toys up every night (and to be able to unhesitatingly choose “free groceries for a week” instead of “your entire house cleaned,” from such a poll as previously mentioned) I do something people usually think is terrible.

Bye bye toys!

I ruthlessly and relentlessly get rid of almost everything my kids get for their birthdays and for Christmas.

Opened and subsequently neglected toys are put right in the donation bin.

Items with tags or receipts are returned for a gift card to buy something boring, like school supplies or groceries.

Amazon toys are sent back and a basic necessity (usually diapers) is purchased with the credit.

We have mainly done “no-gift” birthday parties for my kids. Nothing against gift-giving at parties; I just did not want that to be the focal point of our gatherings. As an alternative, for some birthdays, I would ask guests to consider bringing a specific donation to a charity to be donated in my kid’s name. One year we did diapers for the pregnancy center. Another time, we requested new packs of underwear for a children’s home. It was a hit!

That unnecessary clutter really doesn’t need to be there

I’ll admit, I have gone the route of having the kids open toys they’ve ended up getting at no-gift occasions anyway… and within days, the kids are back to their favorites, and the new toys get ignored, or simply dumped and left on the floor (or worse, this new toy actually contains dozens to hundreds of small parts and pieces which then end up in the baby’s mouth or firmly lodged up in the sole of my foot).

These toys turn into the unnecessary clutter that is the foundation of stress so many moms feel regarding their homes. If every toy ever received for birthdays and Christmas were kept, we would have overflowing closets, drawers, heaps of toys in corners and a constantly-disheveled home. With ongoing purging and minimizing, the house tends to be just sometimes-disheveled instead of constantly-disheveled, which is the best I can ask for at this point in life.

I don’t hate gifts. Really.

If you’re thinking all this makes me sound thankless, selfish, and entitled, so be it. Or, if you’re thinking my kids must have a sad life for not getting to keep 95% of the random toys they’re given, perhaps you need to re-think what actually matters in a child’s life.

I completely understand that for many people, gift-giving is how they express affection. I actively encourage the gift of experience or something from need-based wish-list, in lieu of the gift of things that will simply get shoved in a closet and forgotten. My kids will remember spending a day with someone at the zoo, or museum, or the park, much more than they remember whatever toy was bought at Walmart.

I actively try to reconcile the need to give gifts for those for whom it is a love language, with my family’s need not to have a ton of clutter, by profusely thanking the gift giver, then utilizing it as I see fit. Donating or returning a store-bought item that someone gave is not a rejection of the person who gave it, but a way of keeping my family’s life less cluttered, therefore less stressed, therefore happier in general, and I recommend it to any mom who would wish for a clean house over anything else.

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