Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Becoming More Minimalist

One day we'd like to move into a bus and travel the country. Hopefully that day is coming soon. Living in an RV provides plenty of space for adventure, but not much space for material things. 
In order to make the transition from1600 sq ft house to 320 sq ft bus a little less painful, I'm starting to scale back on our things now, so we can learn to live with less. That includes the kids' things. I want to be especially mindful of how this eventual life change will effect them, and I don't think having to leave all their toys at once while also dealing with the idea of living on the road is going to be a positive thing. 
To make matters more interesting, you may remember that the kids have full authority over their things. So me sweeping in during the night and simply taking things is out of the question. I have to have their permission first. Also, you may remember that Josh's room looks something like this....
Actually this is an older, tamer picture. It had progressed to the point that you could hardly see any carpet. But like I said, they are his things and they stay in his space. It is his choice what he does with them. Side note- his bed is in the family bedroom, he doesn't sleep in his room.
So I want him to get rid of most of his things. I need to find a way to get him to agree to do this voluntarily. The whole thing needs to go down peacefully.
I started by offering to help him clean his room. "Hey Josh, honey. I see your room is really messy. Can I help you clean it up?" "Sure, I'll just be playing out in the living room," he replied. So I got started. I found some broken pieces to things and called him in to make sure I could go ahead and throw those things away, to which he agreed.  Once I'd made a sizable dent in the clutter he came in and joined me to help. I think he was really just overwhelmed by the amount of stuff to be cleaned and didn't know where to start. He'd also been playing in his room less and less often. 
I brought this up to him, the idea that maybe he had too many things and it was overwhelming. He thought about it. We found more and more broken toys, things that likely had been stepped on in the clutter. We talked about that as well, how perhaps having so much stuff had lessened the value of each item. That perhaps he wasn't careful not to break things because there was a replacement waiting right next to it. We talked about his upcoming birthday, and how he really wanted a Wii. I explained to him that I was not willing to buy him anything new, especially not something so expensive,  when it was very likely going to be broken soon after purchase. He thought about that. 
We got the whole room picked up, and he vacuumed. Afterward I asked if he would like me to help him go through his things, to reorganize, and to perhaps get rid of some things so his room would stay clean more easily. He agreed. And this is what we ended up with-
We re-purposed some drawer sets and a table top to create a lego organization and building center.

He especially likes that the drawers are clear, so he can see all his legos more easily.
Those buckets in the stand in the corner hold, from top to bottom, Lego instruction booklets, his electric Polar Express train set, Transformers, and random small toys (a couple stuffed animals, matchbox cars, etc.) The shelves hold books, his piggy bank, alarm clock, and tool set.
All these buckets are completely empty!
As you can see, he loved having his room clean so much that he decided to move his bed in and sleep there! When all was said and done, he kept his Legos, Transformers, electric train, and a couple little toys. We moved some items out to our "homeschool shelves" in the living room- magnifying glass, test tubes, art supplies, etc. Some things got passed down to Bug, like his Lincoln Log set. But mostly he got rid of stuff. A lot of STUFF. I couldn't even tell you what it was. Junk. Little things his grandparents bring him from the dollar stores every time they visit. Which brings me to a little tangent.
I hate cheaply made plastic toys. I hate that we can buy a set of cheap plastic toys for $1. I hate that it breaks within the first week of play. I hate that we don't feel badly at all for throwing it away, "because it was only $1". I hate that we can easily replace it, "because it is only $1." and then the cycle continues. What kind of example does that set for our kids? To sacrifice quality for price? Not to care for our things? To create needless waste? That things are disposable and easily replaced? To throw away hard earned money?
I'd much rather spend the money on quality, durable toys. Which brings me to Bug's room, which was much easier to minimize. It went something like- "Hey Bug, let's put all the plastic toys in trash bags and take them to the garage. What do you think?" "OKAY!" 
He ended up keeping wooden blocks, Lincoln Logs, some dress up hats, puppets/stuffed animals, wood and die-cast train sets, a set of instruments, wooden puzzles, an Aqua-doodle pad, fabric Easter eggs, one of those beads-on-wires things, and a few matchbox cars. Almost every single thing he kept had been Josh's first. Wood and metal. Durable. Long lasting. They have survived 8 years of hard play and are going strong. They still hold resale value should I choose to sell them. Well worth the initial investment.
Of course right after we cleaned up, he thought it would be awesome to dump out all the buckets.
 He still has a lot, but take a look at how much he got rid of-
Seriously, whoa.
They're obviously not down to an amount of stuff which will fit on the bus, but they're one big step closer. Especially Josh. And how are things working out now without so much stuff? Josh has been playing in his room more often, and having his friends over to play in there with him. He's been picking everything up before bed each night, and making his bed each morning. All on his own, without any mention of anything from me. He even re-purposed one of the empty buckets to be his dirty laundry basket and proudly brings it out on laundry day. I have honestly noticed a lightening in him, as if by removing the clutter we also removed some burden that had been weighing him down.
Bug is happier playing in his room also. I've noticed him playing with his blocks for hours, making patterns, building towers, and initiating more creative play with them whereas in the past he was largely uninterested in the blocks. Perhaps he was distracted by all the other toys. Clean up in there has been much easier too. 
Even if we never end up living on the road and needing to minimize further, I am happy we've taken the time to simplify our lives in this way. Having less things occupying the space around us, having less things to clean, having less distractions from each other, caring for the items we do have, appreciating the items we have more, and encouraging our creative play have all been very positive changes in our lives.

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