Continuing with the topic of “Simplify”, I want to tell you the story of how we got my 11 year old son in on the act. Justin’s picture from many years ago is the header picture for this blog. I put it there as a reminder to myself to remember the “Why” behind most everything I do. As a proud Pop, I have to show him off, so here are a couple more pics of the young man.
This is Justin at 13, taken recently at his Christmas Concert for his Middle School Band. He is a Trumpet player and loves to spend time with friends, Any of you who know him can vouch for the fact he has a heart of gold and more compassion for his fellow man than many people. I don’t think I’m exaggerating this either and in a bit I think you may agree. And because I can, here he is after receiving his Duke TIP Program Medal at Vanderbilt University this past April.
My wife and I understood why we were in the process of reducing and eliminating our excess “stuff”, but getting Justin, who was 11 at the time, to understand and take part was a bit more of a challenge, at first anyway. To help you understand how we got to the point of needing to remove some of his things, let me give you some background. Justin was the first grandchild on my side of the family. Since I am the oldest, he got a little more attention and he remained the ONLY grandchild for several years. His Uncle and Aunt and Grandparents loved him a great deal and showed in at Christmas and on his birthdays by getting him everything from Lego sets to Hot Wheels® cars, en mass. He loved Winnie the Pooh and Tigger and had every stuffed animal version of the whole Hundred Acre Woods gang the Disney Store carried. He loved and ball he could get and if it was football or NASCAR© related, he got it. Now before you start to think he’s spoiled rotten, I have to tell you what my mother said, “True love doesn’t spoil.” In other words, real love disciplines as well as gives rewards, but that is a different topic for a different time.
Except for the first few years of is life, we’ve always been blessed to live in a home with an extra room we could use for gathering his toys and keep his bedroom “toy free.” Over time, the total amount of stuff in his game room exceeded the storage capacity. Justin had things he hadn’t played with in years or in some cases, even remembered having. Until he was 10, his mother and I would do the purges ourselves when he was sleeping over with friends or family, or at camp for a few days in the summer. When he turned 10, we decided it was time to include him in the process.
We sat him down and explained what we were going to do and why we thought it was important. At first he was VERY resistant because he didn’t want to “throw away” things that he felt were “valuable” to him. We explained the only things that would be thrown away were broken things or games with missing items. Everything else would be donated to charity, either directly to kids who could use it, or to a group like Goodwill who would sell it at a low price and use the funds appropriately. Once he heard that, my wife and I were surprised by the reaction. He said that was “different” and he was happy to share.
We gave him the same ground rules we had been using, simplified a bit, and started the process. We discovered quickly we were going to have to do the purging in stages, doing one cabinet and then taking a break or the closet and then getting a snack. Justin started out very well, but over time, I think he started noticing just how much was going and starting resisting. To counteract that we came up with this process which I think you can use to help your child reduce their things.
- Explain what you are doing at the level the child will understand.
- If you have a lot of stuff to work through, plan it in stages, over several days if possible
- Once you fill a box or bag, remove it from the area as quickly as possible to keep the focus on purging, not retaining.
- Make sure you continuously reinforce why you are doing the purge. (making room to play, giving things so others can benfit, etc.)
- Once complete, tell the child how proud you are and spend time talking about their feelings during and after the purge.
After the initial purge was complete, Justin said it made him happy to know others would benefit from his giving. Over the years since then, we have gone through this process over and over again with each time getting easier for all of us. Justin has also started looking at the things he buys with a critical eye and doesn’t ask for as much as much for Christmas as one would expect. He is starting to make habits now which, hopefully, will keep him from gathering and hoarding too much stuff as an adult.
One final note which should round out Justin in your mind. Recently, my wife’s mother who lived in Florida was diagnosed with lung cancer. She went through her treatments there, but after several health issues, decided it would be better to move in with us here in Tennessee. That entire process is a story for another time and I only mention it to show how far Justin has come. We explained to Justin, who is now 13, his Grannie was moving in with us and we would have to move him out of his room with the queen size bed into his game room on a twin or futon. We also told him this meant purging quite a bit of stuff to make room for his clothes and such. We braced for the expected teen angst about giving up too much, but Justin surprised us again by saying, and I quote, “Cool, that means we need to add her to our Christmas shopping list.” and with that, he and I went through his things.
During that weekend I saw a young man emerge as he donated all of his Hot Wheels® track sets, all of his Legos® and stacks of books and magazines. The youngster was still there though because he didn’t get rid of everything that tied him to his childhood. He went through and kept about 1/3rd of his Hot Wheels® cars and he still has some of his other things. I snagged a few things he was getting rid of to keep for myself, one of his first cars, among other things. I may not be a perfect father, but I think I may have gotten enough right to make sure this young man continues to grow and mature into a wonderful caring adult. Needless to say I couldn’t be prouder.
How about you? Do you think you can help the child in your life learn to live with less?