What My 11-Year-Old Daughter Taught Me About Decluttering

published May 10, 2020
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Decluttering and organizing makes you feel good. I know this. I experience it myself. I write about it. And yet, the most indelible way for me to learn this truth has been to watch it happen through my daughter’s eyes.

I guess the love-for-organizing gene skipped a generation—my mother has memories of organizing her closet as a child. I, on the other hand, have memories of not being able to play with my friends until I picked up my absolute disaster of a room. I certainly don’t remember deriving joy from an organizing session, or ever initiating one. No one could have predicted I’d be organized at all, let alone write about organizing! But my 11-year-old daughter has the knack. I’m still surprised by how she not only takes on organizing projects for herself, but completes them to a standard that impresses current-day me.

She recently decided to re-do her younger siblings’ toy shelves. She categorized each and every toy into its own basket and adjusted the heights of the shelves so that there wouldn’t be any ambiguity about which sized baskets went where. She found images of the toys online and created, printed, and laminated labels, which she affixed to the baskets with a hot glue gun. I was floored.

Credit: Shifrah Combiths

This skill, as grateful as I am that she has it, doesn’t only make me happy because her drawers are full of neatly folded clothes and her desk cabinet is orderly. (One less thing I have to worry about!) What delights me the most is that she understands the functionality that comes from a neat and tidy space, and how pleasant it is to be able to locate exactly the coloring book you have in mind. Her joy is that much greater because it’s a product of her own hard work. I know this is the best reinforcer for her and can set her on the path of lifelong organized living.

But even more than that, I am so glad that she is experiencing, over and over, how good organizing makes her feel. Not just because of the visible end result, but because of the emotional, mental, mood-boosting effect of both the act of organizing and the achievement of having turned chaos into order.

I have included my daughter in organizing her own toys and art supplies since she was very young. And when she makes messes (she still does!), I make her pick them up. Sometimes she gets annoyed about having to do it. But she inevitably gets sucked into the project and comes out refreshed, anchored, and even happy. I’ve occasionally sent her to organize something when she’s in a grumpy, restless mood and it’s the perfect re-set—one I need to remember for myself more often! Other times, however, she’ll decide to re-do her closet on her own, just like her Nonnie used to, or to go through her art supplies or desk drawers. The quiet pride and satisfaction she gains from the activity is inspiring.

My daughter has taught me that our space is something we can change and that taking charge of something when we the ability to affect it positively is empowering. She’s shown me that even when we don’t want to, pushing through the resistance and getting something done feels so good. She’s demonstrated, right before my eyes, that organizing can be a meditative practice, one that anchors us fully in the present moment and leaves us with an upbeat, can-do attitude.

Most of all, she reminds me regularly, through her example, that when I need a bit of that attitude myself, it’s right within reach.