One of the most incredible things about becoming a parent is just how much stuff is involved. Some of it is unavoidable. Bottles, diapers, clothes – can’t get around that. But truly, most of the stuff of parenting is stuff that the Baby Industrial Complex tells you that you need. (Related: I’ve written before on how I think attachment parenting gets a bad rap partly because it doesn’t require you to buy as much crap.) Even with the best intentions, you have a baby and pretty soon you end up in a house that’s just covered in childhood detritus.
I’m no saint when it comes to household cleanliness. I’m no slob either. I’m firmly mediocre at housekeeping and how much stuff I generally have around. As an artist, I tend to have a surplus of art supplies that I don’t dare ever get rid of because the second that I toss something is the second I’m gonna need it. I’m getting better at that and really paring down to things that I’ve used at least in the last two years… but still. I also keep a fair amount of books because y’know. BOOKS. Beyond that, I don’t have a lot of knick knacks that I can’t bear to be without – just a few things here and there that are truly important to me.
And what I do keep that I don’t need is relentlessly weeded out by my husband, the King of Minimalism. Nuno is borderline maniacal about getting rid of things – to the point where when I announced my pregnancy with Paulo, one of my relatives asked which cat was Nuno going to get rid of. (Neither, though it’s been touch and go with Wensleydale at times. Cat fails to come up with convincing arguments as to “Why do I keep you?” and yet, we do. I think it’s Stockholm Syndrome.) When I moved in with Nuno, I referred to his apartment as “Minimalist Paradise” and were he on his own, his house would fit the “ascetic monk” aesthetic.
All these influences combined put us firmly on the middle path w/r/t childhood clutter. Nuno can’t deny that Paulo should have toys, but at the same time, we don’t fill our house with stuff. He truly has the bare minimum of toys and yet I found myself able to fill this box with toys that are in perfect condition that he hasn’t played with in months. It’s crazy.
It’s very timely that I was thinking about writing this and I came across this MetaFilter post on household clutter and while it’s not part of our own lives – I can totally, totally understand how this happens. Especially as parents we’re surrounded – CONSTANTLY – by cultural cues telling us to buy stuff! More stuff! And as our kids get old enough to absorb what’s going on around them, they naturally start wanting more things. And, of course, when you buy into this it means that you end up with a lot of stuff in your house that isn’t necessarily making you any happier.
It can be hard to get rid of things, but living with Nuno has taught me that if you’re not using it – you won’t miss it. Likewise he’s more accepting of the things I choose to keep around because he knows that things can have value to me even if it’s not a *practical* value. Truly the middle ground has worked for us as a couple and it’s how we’re trying to make it work as parents.
The one thing I’ve truly learned about consumerism as a parent is that they’re always making more stuff. There’s always more of it. If it’s broken, you can throw it away and get a new one. Likewise, if you’re not using it and it’s something that’s replaceable… there’s no harm in passing it on to someone who *will* use it because you can always replace it later if you need it. Thinking about things this way has really helped narrow down what I keep around – not just for us, but for Paulo too.
That box in the photo? Is going to the thrift store this afternoon. Paulo might not be playing with his toys, but this is another lesson I hope to pass on to him – that what he’s not using might be valuable to someone else. It feels good to open up some more space in our home and our lives for new things to come along.