I watch as my little girl’s eyes well up with tears for no apparent reason. “What’s wrong?” I ask sympathetically.
“I’m so sad about my paper princess doll,” she sobs. “I miss her! Why did you throw her away? In those stinky fish? I should have written my name on her!”
I heave an exasperated sigh. Again? I thought we were over this months ago.
Yes, I committed the ultimate crime of motherhood. I threw away a half-finished mangled paper princess craft. It had been neglected in our group camping picnic spot for hours. I was cleaning up and had no idea which of the half-dozen girls it belonged to, or if they were even still at the camp.
It got covered by fish guts as others cleaned their catch of the day. And THEN 4yo Esmé realized it was missing. And sobbed most of the 1.5-hour drive home.
Every so often, the memory comes back to haunt her.
Even though she’s currently in love with her Caddie Woodlawn paper doll.
If your house is at all like mine, toys multiply while I sleep. Toys that were nicely contained yesterday suddenly overflow their container today.
So, how do you purge, declutter, achieve sanity in a teeny house, when you have a kiddo who is sentimentally attached to every single toy in her arsenal?
I can’t tell you how to do that. I’ve tried to sneak stuff out of the house, only to deal with drama months later when daughter suddenly notices the missing items. We’ve talked about blessing others with our excess, and that sometimes works. We’ve made new toys conditional on giving up old ones, but that doesn’t help with gifts from others.
Here’s one spring cleaning event we are making a tradition, though:
We’re creating a memory box together.
It’s something to celebrate each year of change and growth.
We pull out the box, discarding items that no longer have poignant memories.
Together, we decide which current toys she’s outgrown but want to keep for memory’s sake.
We spend quality time discussing memories that I have, that she has, where the toys came from, the relationships they represent.
Not just toys, the box includes baby blankets, favorite dresses, awards, chewed-up toddler books, lullaby CDs.
The box itself doesn’t have to be perfect. My personal memory box is a cardboard citrus fruit box – which has memories in itself. As a kid, I remember gorging myself on the whole big box of Florida oranges we bought every winter.
It’s HER box. Sometimes I want her to keep something that holds no significance to her, even after I share my memories. I may choose to keep that for my own, or more often, take a digital photo and pass it on.
I’m still tempted to toss out toys behind her back when the clutter threatens to overtake us. But thanks to my sentimental daughter, I’m learning toys are not just about excess, about materiality. Toys are about childhood.
And childhood is too short to discard at a whim.
Don’t just purge stuff this spring. Celebrate growth. Enjoy your child. And treasure each moment, each memory, together.