There is no task quite as Sisyphean as cleaning up a home with children in it. As one of my friends puts it, it’s like brushing teeth with Oreos. Getting your house “clean” just doesn’t really ever happen.
Still, I try. I have a strongly held belief that the child’s environment is a silent teacher, and as a homeschooling mama, I don’t need a “teacher” that is at cross-purposes with what I want for my kids: simplicity, serenity, beauty, gratitude, focus, spaciousness and calm. In short, I want my kids to have the physical and mental space to think, feel and create.
I consider myself a minimalist. I buy very little, and I try to buy only what is useful, necessary and hopefully beautiful and long-lasting. The world I inhabit, generally, is not in accord with this modus operandi of acquisition; instead, the world seems to be awash in materials that are frivolous, extraneous, unsightly and quickly disposable. As such, great waves of this worldly flotsam and jetsam inundate my home ceaselessly. It seems to be almost as inevitable as the tide washing great rafts of tangled seaweed ashore.
The key in that last sentence is “almost.” While it will never stop, we, the adults, are responsible for what comes to reside in our homes. I’ve done the KonMari method on my own things, and Marie Kondo is right: Once it’s “clicked” for you, you will not relapse. I am so much more intentional about my possessions than ever before.
However, that doesn’t mean that everyone understands the burden possessions place on us, and especially on mothers. I want to help them—the spouses, the grandmas, aunts, uncles, well-meaning friends—to understand what it means when, unasked, you buy my children something, anything.
That gift you want to give to my child? It might or might not bring them delight (which is more often than not fleeting), but the one thing it is guaranteed to do is this: It will steal my time.
For as long as it resides in my home, it will have a claim on my time, the one resource I have so very, very little of.
Because my children are young, it falls to me to care for that item. I must clean it, wash it, put it away, make certain it isn’t lurking somewhere so the baby doesn’t find it and choke on it. I must gather all the pieces to make sure it isn’t rendered useless or non-functioning, I must make sure the younger child doesn’t break it, I must make sure that the child learns to care for it, not get it wet, not let it dry out, not grind it into the upholstery. I must sort, store, carry, and put it away, day after day after day after day. Eventually, in the fullness of time, I (or someone) must also dispose of it, somehow, somewhere.
As a stay-at-home mother who homeschools, freelances occasionally and makes all the meals, not to mention does much of the housework (even though my husband is very modern and helps out a ton), I do not have a lot of free time. Really, no mother in any circumstances has a lot of free time. It’s just not part of the job description.
That’s OK. But the next time you think about giving a child in your life a gift, think of the mother first. Do you like her? Are you OK knowing that you are literally stealing not only the time she has for herself, but also the time she could be spending on reading to her kids, cuddling them, playing a game with them, pushing them on the backyard swing?
To put it another way: what you are giving with that gift is the gift of drudgery. Drudgery that will be conserved: never diminished, never extinguished, until that item leaves the home. Or at least until the child takes over its care. (Ha ha ha ha! I must pause here to consider this implausible scenario and laugh-cry.)
Actually, my seven-year-old is beginning to care for his things, and so I do know that it will get a bit easier on the mother. And I’m not advocating for an empty house. But I want to know that the things I spend my time caring for, washing, putting away, storing, etc., are worth it. Gifts can be wonderful, of course. Some toys, clothes, books are the stuff of memories, hours of play, and great beauty and use. And of course sometimes gifts are wonderful because they are truly needed; when the baby grows out of his pajamas, he will need new ones. When something beloved breaks or is lost, by all means, replace it.
I guess what I’m asking you is this: Is what you’re giving something to be treasured or gratefully utilized, or is it cheap, extraneous crap?
Though this post might persuade you otherwise, I am truly so grateful, always, for the love people want to show to my children. Really, I am. I’m just asking you to remember to show love to the mother, too, and to be mindful about what you’re taking when you give.