Regarding children's clutter::::::
I had a friend who had three children from pre-teen to 16.
They left their belongings all over the house and had to be repeatedly
reminded to put them away.
The system just wasn't working. Nothing was being put away in a timely
manner. Constantly a soccer ball in the hall, shoes under the kitchen
Finally, wise woman, she cleared out a closet and installed a lock ---- the
real thing, not flimsy. It was only opened with a key, which only she had.
After reminding the kids to pick up their things a reasonable number of
times, those things that were still lying around in the "common areas" of
the house were taken up and locked away in the closet. No arguing. The
things just disappeared.
I don't know how the kids got the errant items back, or how long the items
were to stay in the closet. I just know that her method worked for her
family and changed the landscape of the "common areas" of the house.
That is a beginning---getting kids not to clutter up the den, etc., where
others in the family have to live. Getting them to clean up their rooms is
another topic, and much harder, I'm sure.
I don't remember having a big problem with my boys (who are now in their
30s) with this, but I'm sure it did come up with regularity---I just don't
Today, kids (and adults) have too much stuff. We are good little consumers,
just as Madison Avenue wants.
We have stuff that isn't needed. Loads of stuff--multiples that you could
never get around to using. Toys that they won't ever get around to playing
with because they have so many. Too many toys is a distraction---I firmly
believe. A few high quality toys that they really like and benefit from
makes for better play and less clutter.
I am amazed, for example, at the number of expensive doo-dads that young
parents have been convinced that are necessary for one little baby. Special
this or that---multiple pairs of shoes for an infant who mostly wears sock
booties anyway. Three weeks worth of dress outfits, etc., etc., etc.
Three different kinds of strollers. A jumpy chair that hangs from the
doorway, and also a windup swing that plays music and also a leaning seat
that vibrates and can play music. A dome sort of thing for the infant to
lie under and play with these hanging toys. And a windup thing above the
baby bed that plays music and a box thing at the side of the baby bed to
play with and look at. And not three stuff animals-----but 30. All of
this for one bably.
I am speaking for boys here----I never raised girls, except the
grand-daughters who come to stay for long visits. To me, a boy needs the
following: a tree to climb, a bicycle, a dog, a swing or something of the
sort, a bat, a baseball, a glove, a soccer ball, a basketball, a basketball
net, a football, a few board games. Things like block sets and Lincoln logs
and things to build and imagine. Simple supplies for drawing and coloring.
Books of different types----animals, biographies, good classic children's
fiction, and a few pop culture type books (Star Wars, etc.). And they need
the books and stories that correspond to their family's religion (if that is
appropriate for the particular family). And silly old-fashioned things like
Mother Goose (when they are young) and classic fairy tales. But not so many
books that there is clutter. ***Use the library. It is free. They will
love it.*** That is pretty much it. I am leaving some things out, I'm
sure, but those are the basic kinds of things boys need.
I have come to believe that a good toy is one that doesn't have a battery
and doesn't plug into the wall. Don't sit them in front of the TV to see a
dumbed down kid's movie----read them the original book instead. Read to
them a lot, a lot.
Last year I special ordered an old fashioned kaleidoscope---tin with a thing
to turn to make the patterns. These were great when we were
children--making the patterns and watching how they changed in shape and
color and imagining what the patterns resembled. Then I saw that two of my
grandchildren have a kaleidoscopes that not only turn automatically, but
also play loud peppy music. Isn't silence and thought and imagination and
at least turning the pattern-maker yourself okay?
Kids (and adults) have too many pieces of clothing. Our boys had enough
school clothes for about 7 days, play clothes, and one set of church/dress
clothes (suits with tie and dress shoes). That was it. They shared one
closet. And they were always some of the best dressed, most good looking
kids around. Too many clothes means more storage space, more things to keep
up with. I bought quality, not quantity.
Our boys did not have a TV or a telephone in their room. There weren't
portable phones in those days, but if sneaking a portable telephone is a
problem today, then the adult can take up all the phones at a reasonable
These days kids do need an internet connection and a very few well-screened
and somewhat educational computer games. We had a computer in those days,
but it wasn't the time drain that it is now. But if they were young today
I would do two things::: the computer would be in a common area of the
house (not in their bedrooms) and time on the computer would be limited to
The parent is in fact the head of the household and can regulate time the
children spend watching television and on the computer. After one of my
boys began watching too much television, I set a rule for school
nights:::::after they got home from school, they could watch 30 minutes of
TV as they had their snack. Then they usually went out to play, possibly
for an hour or two and came back for homework and a real meal where we all
four sat down together. That evening, they could choose to watch one hour
of television or, if the choice was a movie, the entire movie.
This worked. I enforced it. We had the weekly TV schedule from the
newspaper, and they would decide ahead of time what the evening program
choice would be. **** Something interesting happened. Eventually they
saw that there wasn't an evening program that was really worth a choice.
So they didn't always watch the evening program or movie.
The house was our house, but under certain parameters. For example, Farrah
Fawcett's poster came out----you might remember the very popular one where
she was wearing a one-piece bathing suit, but it was very thin, and what she
had under it was very evident. They wanted to get this poster. I said no.
No. It was not suitable to hang in our house. Nor did they display
anything else that didn't match up with our family's values. Their sports
trophies were out, etc.---it was a very boyish room that they liked and that
their friends liked. (Their friends were often at our house.)
One time one of the boys put up the "do not enter" sign. I sat down and
quietly explained that we were the adults, and we wouldn't be told not to go
in the room of a house we owned. Before we opened their door, we
knocked---they had their privacy. And I neither of us ever went through
their belongings snooping. We respected their need for individuality and
They had music. However, one day my younger son---a teenager by then---was
playing some song by AC/DC. Again, that kind of music did not fit with the
values of our household, and I went right in and took the tape out of his
boombox. I said, "We will not have that kind of music in our house." My
son said, "Well, I could just play that in my car." I said fine-----I had
no control over that---but I did have control over what came into our
household. And I took the tape. It was not a loud conversation. Just
matter of fact. In fact, we didn't have much arguing in the house. They
never saw my husband and I in a real arguement, although we had plenty of
disagreements in private.
It is good to have activities and have the children involved with the church
(or community or whatever suits you instead of religion) and with hobbies
like sports, music, art, etc. But they really need time, a lot of time,
for free play. They need to be able to play with others, decide for
themselves what they'll play, how they'll play it, and what the rules will
be. They need to collaborate and structure their own play. They need to
decide for themselves how far apart bases will be, whether it's scrub or
four bases, and who'll play what position. They learn so very much from
this process---good communication, imagination, and a process for planning
their time and decision-making. They need to get dirty, to play in mud
puddles, to jump in piles of leaves.
I talk to parents today that have "play dates" and enroll their children in
"gym classes" just to do ordinary physical play. I don't really understand
that. Why be so structured as to have "play dates"? Whatever happened to
a phone call or a knock on the door and the "Can Johnny play?" In today's
world they would need to play in a fenced back yard or supervised playground
or in the house. But they could play when it suits them rather than when an
appointment book dictates.
We had a TV antenna with an electronic booster, so that we got several
channels and good reception. Cable wasn't available in the area. I found
out one day that cable television was coming to our neighborhood. I looked
into it, found out what would be on the cable, and then I didn't say a word
about it, not even to my husband. I just unilaterally made the decision
that we would not have cable, because it had MTV, which was unsuitable for
our family. That was it. And it was the right decision.
Well, I don't even know why I started writing all this. Occasionally I just
like to remind parents that they are the parents and can set the standards
and guidelines for their home.
Our boys were popular in school, very good students, reasonably good in
sports, and had a balanced life. They both have wonderful wives today, are
deacons in their churches, and have beautiful children. And they set
standards in their own households.
I had a full-time job. And part of the time I was also in college getting
an advanced degree. And for about nine months one time I had a rough
part-time second job, with a flimsy little third job. I really don't know
how we did it. I was lucky to have a good husband. We both had grueling
jobs with lots of reposponsibilty. ...... It takes so much energy to raise
kids ---so much energy to set the tone and then be consistent, consistent in
seeing that they and we follow through.
They have thanked us over and over for the way they were raised. And other
people all these years had asked how we did it---how we got such good boys.
Part of it was luck and part of it was hard work and remembering that **we
were the adults**, not their friends.
We have a group of young mothers (MOPS) who meet weekly in our community.
When they decided to invite in a father who could give them pointers about
good child-rearing, they asked my husband.
Our life was not perfect. We had illnesses and setbacks and disabilities
and pretty much the normal run of things in American life. And we didn't
always make the right choices. If we did something in a wrong way, we said
"I'm sorry" to our children and tried to back up and re-think the situation.
We were not perfect people--me least of all. But we were the parents, and
parenthood was the most important and hardest job either of us ever had.
Even though we all made lots of mistakes, we also told them we loved them a
lot. We always hugged and said "Be careful--I love you" when they went off
to school --- to college -- to marriage. We still do, although my husband
and the boys shake hands instead of kiss.
When my younger son went to first grade, I took him in to his classroom for
the first day of school. I got him settled a bit with his school supplies,
told him bye, said hello to the teacher, and left. As I pulled the car out
of the parking lot and got into the street to go to my own job, I realized
that I had not kissed him. I drove around the block, parked, went to his
classroom. The kids were still coming in, etc., and I went to my little boy
and quietly kissed him, told him I loved him and that I hoped he had a good
day. Then I left, feeling that I had helped get his day off to a good
start, and knowing that I had gotten mine off to a good start.
I'm sure that I have offended just about everyone who reads this. But
maybe a thought or two might be of help to someone. **Like I said, luck
probably played a big part in our lives. I have known very dear and good
parents who did all the right things--- probably more than we did-----but
who still had children that were difficult and even had serious problems as
adults. So I am not patting myself on the back. "I'm not tellin'---I'm
I appreciate your patience if you have stayed this long to read.