We were back from our latest Campsgiving trip and I had a looming pile of schoolwork that needed to be completed before I headed back to school. I looked at my counter and the massive pile on the kitchen table and something inside me snapped. If I had any hope of getting any work done I needed to take care of the junk on the table. I needed to sort, shred, and file the paper and then I needed to just deal with all the little things that were buried under the ridiculous piles of paper that I had allowed to accumulate.
I am far from a perfect housekeeper. I’m lucky if I get to the end of a weekend and I have laundry finished, a loaded dishwasher, and all of the beds have been remade with clean sheets. That’s not to say that I don’t want a clean house. I do. I really do. But as a full-time working mom trying to increase quality time with my family while also working on my own writing, I really don’t have much time for keeping my house spotless, or even remotely neat.
I also admittedly have a problem with paper. I always have. I blame my father for my inability to throw away paper and my tendency to resort to an inefficient pile system, but that probably isn’t fair. Like many teachers, I just have a hard time throwing away anything that might eventually be useful. I realize that most of the stuff I hold onto can be filed in many creative and space-saving ways, but often my head and my heart have a hard time working together to make the necessary decisions concerning what stays and what goes.
Maybe it’s hyper-awareness of my own weaknesses and maybe it’s my need for control in my house when everything else is spiraling, but one of the things that I have become increasingly intolerant of is clutter.
And when you have kids, clutter appears to be a fact of life.
I’m pretty sure this point of irritation has many causes, starting with my own pile system. Then there are the times that I’ve stepped on a junky toy and both hurt myself and irreparably broken the toy, resulting in the need to throw it away. The dogs have eaten favorite trinkets that have been left on the floor. There have been fights over toys that have been broken by one child while the other one took good care of a similar object. I’ve seen too many tears over the “fairness” of one getting a prize while the other comes home empty-handed. I’ve filled trash bags with items that have been cleared out of bedrooms and off of counters and the stuff that hasn’t ended up in the trash has been donated to someone else to figure out what to do.
And then there are the little trinkets that just never get upstairs to the kids’ bedrooms, leaving me to make decisions about their fate.
These trinkets come from so many places. We’ve brought home more paper and crafts and prizes from church events than I care to count. They pick items from a treasure chest every time they go to the dentist. They get something in kids meals when that appears to be their best option during busy weeks when I just can’t find it in me to cook. They’ve collected various items from parties at school and with friends. Jeff and I have both brought home loot from venders when we’ve gone to conferences.
And if our kids are lucky, those items find their way into their bedrooms before they are broken or thrown into the trash in a moment of parental cleaning frustration.
Now we’re in the month of December, just weeks away from Christmas and the filling of stockings. They will get goody bags from school and church parties and we will be tempted by aisles of stocking stuffers to give them on Christmas morning, last-minute expenditures that could throw our carefully discussed Christmas budget completely out the window. Where will those items most likely end up within a week of us getting them home? In the trash.
What if we parents agreed that enough was enough? What if we stopped buying the grocery store cupcakes with rings or toys on top? What if we were more intentional with our stocking stuffers and got our kids things they could just eat or use for longer than a couple days? What if we decided that we wanted our kids to have fewer, higher-quality items as opposed to junky stuff that breaks immediately? What if we determined to teach our kids the value of experiences over things that are easily tossed in the trash?
What if we all supported each other as we made those decisions?
I realize I may be proposing an impossibility. After all, I’ve been promising my husband of nearly 18 years that I’m going to do better about the paper piles and well, here we are. But at some point can’t we just agree to do better by our budgets and our planet and teach our kids to be more intentional with everything we bring home? Can’t we encourage this in our schools and churches? Can we support each other in our desire to do better?
I plan to at least try. Our kids deserve better. We deserve better. And our planet deserves better.
Isn’t that enough of a reason to do our best during this holiday season?