My family doesn’t live in a very big house. I’ve always been a cottage person and I prefer a house with less square footage to clean. Living in a little house, though, means not accumulating a lot of clutter, and accumulating a lot of clutter is basically the entire definition of having a child.
On a regular basis, I have to face the daunting task of getting rid of my daughter’s old stuff. If I didn’t, we’d probably be buried alive, but letting go of her outgrown toys and clothes, tattered books, and even used nursery furniture turns me into an emotional wreck. When I saw her crib in pieces on the bulk trash pile, I wanted to throw myself, keening and wailing, on top of its remains like a grieving widow on a coffin in a southern gothic novel (we had to throw it away instead of donating, because it was cracked and unsafe).
I realized that whenever I’m about to purge another round of outgrown stuff, that I need to brace myself and mentally prepare, because I will go through these five stages of grief every single time:
1. Denial – There is no way that I could possibly be the mother of a six year old. It’s simply not true. This child is still a baby. I swear, I just had her, like, yesterday. No way is she forty-three inches tall. That’s ridiculous, and of course she still fits in this adorable size two romper with the big, ruffly butt. I’ll keep it a little longer. Like five more years.
2. Anger – This is insane! How do we have so much crap in this house? This is our parents’ fault. Our extended family is messing up my house because they are too generous and well-meaning! So help me I am cussing out the next parent who gives my kid a goody bag at a birthday party. I can’t live like this with all this clutter. None of this garbage brings me joy! I’m like Marie Kondo. Bring me a trash bag immediately because I am throwing everything away and we are going to live in a spare, modern house with a single sea shell as decoration. If I see another stuffed animal I am going to tear its head off and rip out its heart of batting with my bare hands. Someone please make me a margarita. Now!
3. Depression – Otherwise known as the part where I completely lose it while sitting on my daughter’s bedroom floor holding a small stuffed elephant that chimes “Rock-a-Bye Baby.” I have sobbed over laundry baskets of impossibly tiny onesies, and I have mourned the loss of moldy bath toys. In this stage, I can also be found anthropomorphizing all the stuffed animals, which I blame squarely on The Velveteen Rabbit. That book caused me lasting psychological damage and if I ever become a stuffed animal hoarder you will know why. Ditto for the Island of Misfit Toys in Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. It feels cruel to toss a doll baby because her eye fell out, she’s missing an arm, and because your two-year old cut off all of her hair and drew on her face with a sharpie. I just feel like it’s mean not to consider the feelings of toys with faces. Now I’m weeping again because I just thought of Toy Story 3 and I feel like the worst villain of all time.
4. Bargaining – During this stage, I try to convince myself that I shouldn’t get rid of anything because of the .00001 percent chance that I might change my mind about having any more children and I may actually end up needing this bouncer, this ripped play yard, and that stained high chair, and if I don’t keep all this junk one day I might seriously regret it because what if I accidentally get pregnant? Then what? There’s also the possibility that if I hold on to all of these incredibly adorable, sentimental items that one day they just might be collector’s items, and I don’t want to ruin my chances of going on Antique Roadshow and having the host tell me that this Peppa Pig playset is now worth fifty-thousand British Pounds. Wait, wait, I’ll do ANYTHING if my daughter could just stay cute and sweet and innocent and keep all these lovely little figurines forever!!!
5. Acceptance – Finally (usually when I can see the floor and the shelves of the closet again) I find my inner peace. All is well. I know I am doing the right thing by donating so many wonderful and useful items to families in need. My house will be clean and relatively clutter free (at least until the next birthday). I am fine with the fact that my daughter is growing up and is no longer interested in Daniel Tiger (even though I still am) and everything is going to be okay, even though my six year old just asked me for a cell phone and sounded exactly like a teenager.
Fellow parents, we can do this. We can let go of our kids’ old things. We are not alone in the agony this causes, nor in the relief we feel when we are finally rid of the sixty-thousand Beanie Babies that clogged our closets. All we have to do is move through each stage at our own pace, taking time to stay present with the puzzles missing pieces, and the old bottle sterilizer that is still in the box. We can rid ourselves of breast pumps, newborn dresses, and the teddy bear we got at our baby showers, if we remember that we are strong, we have support, and if all else fails imagine the inner peace we will feel at not having to listen to any of those horrible beeping, singing, chiming, electronic baby toys ever again.
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