I have only one child and, yet, the amount of stuff that our house has accumulated based on his residence therein is staggering. It’s the stuff of a hit television show; yes, I’m referring to Hoarders. The sheer volume of stuff he brings into our home on a weekly basis is beyond comprehension and requires weekly, if not daily, sorting, curating, and organizing.
At first, it was stuff that I bought him and stuff that was gifted to us. Stuff that every book, blog, magazine, parent, friend, etc. said I was required to have in order for W to survive, grow, develop, thrive, eat, sleep, laugh, poop, read, be entertained, and everything else in between. This stuff took over our entire house. A pack-n-play, a jumparoo, a swing, a bouncer, an exersaucer, a play mat, and don’t forget the toys! Toys of all shapes and sizes that sang, counted, and talked. EVERYTHING made noise, played music, and had flashing lights. Absolutely everything. This was just our living room. Not. Even. Kidding.
As he grew, I replaced the jumparoo with a highchair, the exersaucer with a wagon, and the infant toys with toddler toys. I never really got rid of anything; I simply replaced one item with another. Now that he was mobile and didn’t need all the big, bulky things, he started acquiring mass amounts of toys, play sets, and books. He had an overflowing bookshelf, so many clothes he could barely wear them all before outgrowing them, and toys buried under so many other toys that he never played with them all. I was afraid to throw anything out too soon for fear that he would play with it for five random minutes if he found it sitting on a shelf and make the money I had spent on it totally worth it.
After years of carefully storing/hoarding all the clothes, books, bottles, toys, and EVERYTHING else, I was finally able to accept that I wasn’t going to have a second baby and was determined to clear out ALL the baby and little boy stuff that I would never need again. I had a garage sale. It felt so good to clear out strollers, a tricycle, a train table, a diaper genie, everything listed above, and lots of other stuff that I had forgotten over the years that I even had. It felt wonderful to get rid of all that stuff!
That’s not the end of the story, though. Oh, no. That was just the end of an era. Now, I’m in a whole new one: the school years. W has actually been attending public school since he was three, thanks to his speech delay, but we are right in the thick of it now with kindergarten. EVERY DAY he comes home with a backpack crammed with paper, paper, and more paper — midterm grades, book orders, lunch menus, newsletters, class work, art work, and last but not least, his homework packet. No matter how hard I work at being clutter free, there is always a stack of papers needing to be sorted and dealt with on my kitchen counter. I recycle a lot of it, unbeknownst to W, who wants to keep everything. And a good chunk of it is put into a plastic bin in his closet for further processing later on. I write descriptors (if needed) and dates on his artwork before stowing them away.
W also brings home lots of little trinkets and junk toys. His kindergarten class has a “prize box” from which he gets to choose some small piece of garbage almost daily. Similarly, his after school care has a “treasure box.” When he was still attending speech therapy, his therapist would give him a “prize” every week. His bus driver gives him little gifts on holidays. He gets stickers from every cashier, librarian, and doctor’s office he comes across. There are goodie bags at every birthday party. His bi-annual trip to the dentist leaves him walking away with several pieces of trash and a bouncy ball. You get the picture; every trip everywhere leads to more and more stuff being accumulated and it all ends up in my house.
From time to time, I will sneak into W’s room where he has amassed all his treasures and I will pillage his booty. Some of it goes straight into the trash. The rest goes back to the treasure/prize boxes at school/daycare or into a box headed for St. Vincent de Paul. He doesn’t usually notice that the stuff is gone, but occasionally something will remind him of a treasure he once possessed and there are some moments of anger and grief at his loss.
My removal system isn’t always successful. The other day, W brought home a light-up Lex Luthor figure. It is the same, exact figure he acquired about a year ago in a Happy Meal; the same, exact figure that I had gotten rid of last summer. In my very own moment of life coming full circle, Lex Luthor with the light-up head was back to bite me on the butt. I had to laugh.
I imagine that there will be many days in my not-so-distant future where a little boy with a torn out knee in his brand new pants (how does this even happen?!) won’t be walking through the door with a junky action figure in one hand and a pile of crumpled papers in his other. The neat freak part of me will be relieved, but the sentimental mommy in me will be sad. It will be the signs of yet another era gone for good. I don’t long for the days of all his work being done on a school issued laptop. As much as I complain and as crazy as it sometimes makes me, I will miss these days of being inundated with stuff when they are past. I won’t miss the trinkets, but the papers tell the story of a little boy who is learning and growing every single day. His numbers are looking better. He’s writing in short sentences now. His drawings are of lightsaber duels and space battles instead of dinosaurs and ninja turtles. This is the stuff that I will keep.