Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Oh, the Clutter!

I was not a tidy child. In fact, my older sister got so frustrated with my messes that she would clean up after me! But then I grew up. I went to boarding school where our drawers were inspected every Saturday morning and if our underwear was not neatly folded, we were not allowed to leave for the two hours of freedom given us each week. And then I was on my own and had no one to clean up after me. Maybe I had become accustomed to having clean spaces, having never known anything else. Whatever the reason, I became a tidy adult. I often recall Jeremy’s uncle Doug laughing at my organization of my junk drawer (I still reorganize it sometimes, thinking of him laughing from heaven).
So it bothers me that childhood involves so much clutter. And I don’t mean the toys. I love the toys, sometimes more than the kids do. What I am talking about is the unnecessary STUFF. The birthday party favors that are bought because ‘you HAVE to have favors’; the endless papers that come home from school; the weekly deluge of stuff made in Sunday School. THEY DON’T NEED IT!!! Any kids would be happy enough to just be at a party and walk away with happy memories, a belly full of cake and an awesome sugar high. There are favors that are not just junk - my sister just gave the kids at her son’s party a little canvas bag full of up-cycled crayons and notepads with an applesauce crusher - she’s a genius  (and a pediatric nurse practitioner). One party my son went to, all the kids got one of those cool bubble wands. Loved it! But the plastic made-in-china garbage stuff has got to end. It makes me nuts!
Then there is all the school clutter. The endless papers and crafts. I want the to keep some memories of their childhood but when they can make a foot-high pile of paper at the end of each week, it is out of control!!! Thankfully Hannah and Eli have become pretty good at pitching papers into recycling (often times now without me even seeing it, so hopefully I don’t miss something important). That is just the worksheets. Then there is the stuff that is supposed to be meaningful, the craft projects, the Sunday School projects. I know that learning requires some hands-on activity but when I have every surface of my house covered in ‘meaningful’ crafts, something has got to go! I don’t think it is enough to say that parents ought to just make up their own minds about what to keep and what to pitch. That is not fair. I worry that someone will come to me with a crumpled piece of art one day and tears in their eyes because their work was not valued. Can’t we please find other ways to make meaning? I mean think about it - someone, some organization spent their money buying the supplies to make whatever this is. Often times, someone has put in hours of work cutting out pieces of the finished article for each child in the class. Then the kids spend ten minutes throwing it together and they bring it home. It may sit on a counter for a few days but eventually someone has to ask, ‘is it okay to throw this out now?’. And that person feels like a jerk, knowing how much time and effort (and a bit of money too) went into making it.
So please, please, can we stop this ridiculous trend? Can we let kids have lessons that don’t involve making STUFF? I think they’d learn every bit as much and even more.


  1. See? You and I are twins -- separated at birth (by several years, I''m guessing).

    LOVE. and LOVE!!!

  2. You make me think of a Bruce Eric Kaplan cartoon in the New Yorker, January 16, 2012. Caption under a picture of a preschooler presenting her mother with an project: "Here's this dumb crafts thing I made in two seconds. If you don't keep it forever, I'll come to resent you." I agree with you. Question: How many, and which, pieces of paper do we want the next generation to have, to represent our time here?

  3. That is too funny! http://www.condenaststore.com/-sp/Here-s-this-dumb-crafts-thing-I-made-in-two-seconds-If-you-don-t-keep-it-New-Yorker-Cartoon-Prints_i8672938_.htm