As New Yorkers we have both a natural tendency towards, and a revulsion of, clutter. We all derive great energy from this city, and I’ve always thought we are all much like the genie in Aladdin, “phenomenal cosmic power, itty bitty living space.” The itty bitty living space both generates clutter, since we will never have enough space for all our crap, and rejects it, since if there ain’t no place for it, it’s place is in the garbage. To survive in this neuron-jangling, retina-twanging maelstrom of a city, we all need an oasis of calm and coziness. This is particularly true of kids, who are just being pulled through the madness with little sense of agency. Also, they are spazzes who need to chill the frog out. So how do we empower and support our littlest New Yorkers? We give them some zen at home. And I don’t mean just buying that feng shui book and leaving it in the bathroom for six months.
Taking a tip from Kim John Payne’s book Simplicity Parenting, I have attempted to reduce the madness in our apartment. Payne says “behavioral tendencies can be soothed or relaxed by creating calm.” Since I would describe my behavioral tendency as annoyed/critical, and my husband’s as twitchy, and my daughter’s as dramatic, I figured we all need some calm. Listening to Múm and going gluten-free have been good first steps, but tackling the clutter might actually produce some results. Payne has tons of suggestions, but what resonated for me most was paring down the toys. This started with explaining to relatives that a four-piece wooden toy kitchen is not a practical gift for a New Yorker tot. We have this conversation every holiday and birthday. I’ve literally had to say, “no bigger than a bread box, and preferable something that can fit in a pocket.”
Limiting the number of toys actually helps our kids play. Fewer toys means more use of their imagination. They become more the architect of their play, not letting the toys dictate how they play. Think Reggio, a pile of blocks has infinite possibilities, the ironman water blaster actually has fewer, since it’s identity and function are already decided. So Payne suggests taking every single toy in your house and putting it in a pile. Sort through it and get rid of everything listed on the chart below. Now take the remaining pile and divide it in half, donate one half and take the other half and further divide it, putting half into storage for a “toy library.” Continue whittling down to your most essential toys. There isn’t a perfect number, but you’ll know it when you get there, you’ll have a sort of Grinchy combination of supreme satisfaction mixed with droopy puppy dog guilt. You then want to reduce the number of toys your kid actually sees, meaning you want said toys to be put away (science can now confirm that putting crap away is good for you!). This way you reduce the visual stimulation in your house, which means that Hyacinth and Fir can be more purposeful in their play. Now if only I had the heart to do this with all my books. Sorry kid, no way.
Here’s Payne’s list of what to chuck, recycle (one last point for Bloomberg) or donate, and how I think we could apply her ideas to other sources of clutter:
|TOYS||ClOTHES (yours or theirs)||BOOKS (yours or theirs)|
|· Broken Toys||· Ripped, worn out clothes||· Visible chew marks or smelling of mildew|
|· Developmentally inappropriate toys||· Outgrown clothes||· babybooks, your text books from college (you are never going to brush up on BioChem)|
|· Conceptually “Fixed” Toys||· Out of style or no longer appropriate (just get rid of those mesh crop tops)||· The impulse buy of that hostessing book|
|· Toys that “do too much” and break easily||· The everywhich way dress you never wear||· Any book that has some plastic feature|
|· Very high stimulation toys||· Anything with Feathers, any hipster graphic tees||· Any book that that makes noise|
|· Annoying or Offensive Toys||· Anything pleather||· See above and Pinkaliscious|
|· Toys that claim to give a developmental edge||· Anything that says “juicey” or has writing of any kind on the ass||· Anything Baby Einstein, Anything that promises a “better you in 30 days”|
|· Toys that you are pressured to buy||· Damn those sales people||· Books that you feel an irrational pressure to keep (Ulysses, Gravity’s Rainbow), gifts that you are afraid to toss|
|· Toys that inspire corrosive play||· Boxing gloves?||· Anything by Ayn Rand or featuring vampires|
|· Toy multiples||· Duplicates, how many black sweaters do you need?||· You don’t need that many copies of Harry Potter, they will not be “worth something someday”|
Sarah Moriarty is a writer, editor and adjunct professor teaching composition and literature classes at The College of Staten Island. Sarah’s writing has appeared in such hallowed places as her blog, her mother’s email inbox, the backs of Value Pack envelopes and a waist-high stack of mole skin journals. In addition, Sarah has contributed to F’Dinparkslope.com and edited fiction for Lost Magazine. An excerpt from Sarah’s novel, The Rusticators, is forthcoming in The Brooklyn Writers Space 2013/2014 anthology, The Reader. A resident of Brooklyn for the last eleven years, Sarah lives with her husband, daughter and a dwindling population of cats. Check out more of Sarah’s work at sarahmoriarty.com.