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I feed my toddler giant bowls of ice cream and then expect her to settle down. I take my 6-year-old to church and ask her to sit perfectly quiet and still for over an hour. I order my young son spaghetti and expect no red splatters on his brand-new white shirt.
These are examples of setting my kids up to fail. Placing them in near impossible scenarios and then expecting perfection — it’s unrealistic — yet, I do this often.
I do the same thing with “stuff.”
Last night we came home from a very long 2 days of travel. I told my kids that we were going to clean up the house before we brought in the van-full of gifts they had just received. My son immediately began to complain and asked why he always has to take care of his things.
He then, without my prodding, told me that he was “overwhelmed by the amount of things in his life.”
It’s not his fault.
You can’t blame a little kid for asking for things. You can’t blame an 8-year-old for graciously accepting as many gifts as are handed to him. How could you?
But, we set our kids up to fail with stuff.
We give them too many things to care for and then get frustrated when their things aren’t cared for.
We have little problem telling them they’ve had too much screen-time, too much candy, too much sleep, but why is it so hard to tell a kid they have too much stuff?
We get upset at them for not putting away their things when they are done playing . For not caring for them properly. For losing them. For leaving them in the rain. For becoming disinterested in an expensive toy.
But really, all of these things are to be expected. We overwhelm our kids with hundreds and hundreds of items to store properly in their rooms — but feel discouraged when they fail to keep their areas tidy.
Here is what I know.
- My son plays with less then 5 percent of his things on a daily basis.
- My son has repeatedly told me he gets overwhelmed by the amount of things he has.
- My son has told me he feels much calmer when his room is at its barest and tidiest.
Just like it’s unwise to give the person in white gloves a cherry popsicle on a hot day, it is unwise to cram a kid’s life with more stuff than he is able to care for.
So, this is something that I am going to take head-on in 2017. I am going to listen to my kid’s needs and try to work with them, creating a life that is manageable for them while keeping my expectations reasonable.
No white shirts in Italian restaurants. No ice cream then quiet time for my 2-year-old. Experiences over things.
Here’s to simplifying in 2017.
Jon Schneck is a musician in transition working in digital marketing. Married with 3 children, he writes about his journey to live simply at Minimalist Today, where he’s on a mission to align short-term actions with long-term vision. Follow him @ jonschneck .