Tuesday, July 7, 2015

decluttering homeschool materials II

On one side: my hoarding tendencies and my general difficulty parting with things.
On the other side: the tantalizing promise of easy cleanup, less overwhelmedness, and the ability to find things quickly.

It should be no contest.  Work through my emotional resistances and live a life of minimalism and simplicity.

I have read a few times that people feel that konmari doesn't work when you have children.  I can't talk about other family's conflicts, but in my particular case my children are not overly attached to their things.  The disorder or order in the house is really about how I am choosing to establish things.  In our gloriously abundant culture, having 20 toys or 100 toys or 1000 toys is all on the same continuum insofar as there are ample things to occupy them.  In fact, it causes stress, crankiness, mess, waste, and an inability to use all of your stuff (or even find all your stuff).

As a homeschooler, I would estimate a large portion of my home management is taken up by and frustrated by dealing with the stuff.  That's less time for teaching, less time for hanging out, less time for doing fun things, and more frustration, irritation, anger at the children, and exhaustion.

In my particular case, my children don't really care how much clothing they have.  If they go to their bins and there are clothing, they are fine.  They have a couple of favorite pants and sweatshirts.  (I'm not talking about teens here.  I shut the door.  It's confined to the room.)

The question is regarding toys and homeschooling materials and books.  I probably could remove 80% of their toys and they would not miss them.  But once in a while, they rediscover a toy and spend hours and hours with it.  They go through revivals every few years.  How do I know what to keep?  I can't predict it.

I have grammar games and fraction games and math manipulatives and coloring books and all sorts of homeschooling paraphernalia.  One of the principles of unschooling is "strewing," where there are educational materials around (like the map on the wall, or the biology chart that the kids drag over to me so I can show them how the human body works).  If I get rid of things, what will they pick up?  I have held on for two years to a bucket of fraction pieces that annoys me  tremendously (but I can't get rid of it because, you know, fractions).  Chana never used it.  The boys play with it periodically (once in a few months).  I'm not sure how much it does for them.  I know it drives me crazy, taking up space and barely being used.  In fifteen years my children have rarely picked up a math workbook or a coloring book.  Very, very rarely.  But I have over 30 of them, waiting on shelves, because once in a while, once in six months, they will drag it out and start tracing letters.

I have wonderful books full of information and facts about science and social studies that are explained clearly and beautifully.  My daughters barely looked at them.  Occasionally I paid them a dollar to read one.  Did that help their education?  Maybe a bit.  But have these things been hanging around, bothering me with their general lack of use?  Yes.
But what if they pick them up?

I wonder if I'm lacking trust.  I live in the fearful world of what "might" be instead of removing all that and making space for what IS.  Because surely by now I know that my children are never bored.  They always find something to do with whatever is around.

What exactly would happen if I don't have these things in my house?  At the moment when they might have been ripe for fractions and would have had the materials to learn them... they look around and find something else to do.  (In theory, something productive and joyous just like they do pretty much all the time.) What if they would have taken that workbook and done some math problems or writing but it's not around?  They "miss" the opportunity.  What if they don't learn that science or social studies?  They'll learn it as an adult or perhaps (and I guess this is what terrifies me) not at all?  Or they'll read about it on the internet?  Or take a college class?  I almost feel like I am waiting until they all know how to read so I can just get rid of all those workbooks and coloring books without guilt.  But in the meantime, they are in a giant laundry basket (no room on the shelves--those are filled with seforim and other books that we might use) and I walk by them every day and cringe.

According to konmari, the way to not revert is to do it all at once and do it to the point where the joy is manifest because everything has an obvious place (hint: if you are trying to fit things into places then there is still too much stuff).  Chipping away at this instead of doing it all at once means that decluttering for the next while is going to be something that I have to do regularly instead of getting it all done forever.  I read the book over Shavuos and got up the courage to do the first step (my own clothing) in July.  She says that decluttering in the order she recommends helps build the skill of only keeping what sparks joy.  And if you do it in a different order then you haven't built the skills or practiced enough.  For example, trying to declutter things with a lot of emotional charge like picture albums (!! Those weren't even on my radar!  I have 22 albums and that's not including that in the last 4 yrs we are primarily digital and that we rarely take pictures) before you have eased into the skill by doing the other things will not be so effective.

Now I'll go clear off my dining room table.  Apparently if I had less stuff, I would have obvious places to put the things that end up hanging around my table.  And then I wouldn't have to clear my table regularly.  The concept beckons like a hazy utopia.


  1. I am in the middle of decluttering homeschol books, science kits, coloring books, etc. as well and loved this post. I have been telling myself that just because one of my children COULD use this (fill in the blank) for some valuable purpose doesn't mean that I should keep it. It's hard though - I feel that I am getting rid of "educational opportunities" which isn't easy for me!

    1. That's the conflict! I think the idea is that I am removing things that "might" one day be useful in order to make more space and a more relaxed environment for what IS happening right now. Trading a possible future for a definite now is hopefully the gain.