I spent a power hour doing some decluttering today – there’s a shelf in our wardrobe that collects crap. Like, literally, it is a magnet for crap. There were sunglasses, watches, clothing tags, my jewellery box, a magazine and some clothes of Miss F’s. I put everything in it’s designated home, except for the old clothes of F’s. They’re still sitting there. And it prompted me to think – how do you let go of your children’s things?

It’s a black t-shirt with a pink print saying “Teenie Queenie” (on a side note, this was bought by an epic asf Mum boss @eskimonell – not sponsored, I just LOVE her and everything she stands for) and a denim mini skirt with ruffles and polka dots on it. Both in size 4. She’s now a size 6.

Image shows children's clothes hanging on a wooden clothing rack.

So what am I doing holding on to them?

Clearly they aren’t sentimental enough to go into her baby box (or are they just too big? I don’t know).
I’m not having another daughter (pregnant with our final child and it’s a boy!).
Do I think she will want them for herself or her own children one day? Probably not, they’re not that ‘special’. 

So, again, what the heck and I doing holding on to them?

To look at and admire?
To save for someone else?
To keep hold of a memory? 

Graphic reads: How to let go of your child's things: why do we hold onto them? Image shows: a stack of 5 books, with 3 wooden toy dinosaurs on top.
How to let go of your child’s things: why do we hold onto them?

3 Reasons Why We Hold Onto our Children’s Things

We Save Things For Them

Let’s be honest – we’ve all thought “I’ll keep this for X for when they’re older.” Right? I currently have a dress of Miss F’s hanging up in her brother’s wardrobe, saving it “for her”… I also have a dress of mine from my 6th Form Ball. It was the first dress I truly felt beautiful in – it’s designer, cost a lot of money and took a long time to save for at 16 years old! I will never fit it again – and even if I could, it’s not a dress for a 33 year old haha! But I have kept it. For Miss F. Why? I have assumed that she may love it too. I have two things waiting for her. But this is where we need to be careful – two things can easily become 20, which can easily turn into boxes of treasures and relics from my childhood and theirs. And when this starts to happen, we are simply passing on our own clutter to our adult child. 

We confuse an object that we love for a representation of our child

At the end of Summer and Winter, I do a clear out. I go through the kids wardrobes and set aside clothes which they have outgrown, and those which are so used they are had it. Every time, I come across items which I pause when looking at. Whether it’s clothing, toys or sentimental items – they normally make me feel good. Happy. Loved. They may not even be an item which my child particularly loved, but I did. Sitting with the item, and feeling those feelings make it that bit harder to let go; we think that the object is a part of our child – a representation of them. When in reality, it’s just an object that we have attached feelings to.

We keep objects as a tangible memory

Have you ever wondered why we remember some things but then completely forget what we had for dinner the night before? It’s all about how our brain fires and creates neural connections. When we experience something, and all our senses are taking in information – our brain releases chemicals otherwise known as feelings or emotions. As soon as we have feelings and emotions associated with an experience, we record it as a memory. So that’s why items like the outfit your baby came home from hospital in, will trigger such a strong memory. Our children reach so many milestones so quickly, there will be masses of objects which we have attached memories too. And it is easy to want to keep these objects as something tangible – something physical – to keep the memory alive for us, that we begin storing or collecting them.

So what do we do then?

Caption reads: How to let go of our children's things: we often mistake an object as a representation of our child.
Image shows; two green boots for a baby atop of a brown bedspread.
How to let go of our children’s things: we often mistake an object as a representation of our child.

How to Let Go of the Pieces of Their Childhood

Question

What is the purpose for keeping something? Now, I’m not suggesting you shouldn’t keep anything from your children’s early years. Not at all! But, when you are tempted to store something away for ‘later’, I would recommend that you ask yourself “What is the purpose? Why do I want to keep it?” Is it because you want to keep it for when they’re an adult? If so, what benefit will it bring them? Is it because you don’t want to forget something about them? Is it just because it’s cute and you like to look at it? Get really honest with yourself and think about the benefit in keeping this object.

Use it one last time (if applicable)

Maybe there’s a set of blocks that have been passed down through your children – each child imprinting their childhood onto the smoothed wooden edges. Towers are made, and toy towns are created. You come across these when you’re cleaning out a cupboard, and instantly loving memories are triggered. If you don’t feel like these are something that you should hold onto for when your children have their own children – you could consider giving them one last run! Get them back out, be kids again and play with them. Then package them up, remember the memories will stay with you, and decide where their next home will be. This might not work with clothing as it likely won’t fit haha, but you can still get it out and relive the memories attached to it!

Take a photo, write a memory

If you’re worried that saying goodbye to an object means saying goodbye to a memory you could record it. This is an awesome technique I read about in Soulful Simplicity by Courtney Carver. She talks about saying goodbye to the physical item, but immortalising it by taking a photo of the object and writing it’s story. Write about the memory – relive it and put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard). The memory will live on, and a photo doesn’t take up space physically or mentally, but you don’t need to lug around the object to ensure this.

Pass on to someone else to feel the enjoyment you got from it

And when you feel ready to let go, what better way than to pass it on to someone else who you know will get just as much love and enjoyment from it as you did. All of Miss F’s clothes are washed, folded and bundled together for her best friend – who happens to be a size down from her. It’s perfect really. And while Miss F has been reluctant at times, she is starting to see the enjoyment her bestie has in wearing Miss F’s favourites. It’s beautiful to watch.

Our kids are going to continue growing up, and as much as we don’t want them to – we need to provide them with the space to do so, rather than weighing them down with objects from the past.

Related:

Discovering the Magic of a Family Rhythm

6 Benefits to Being a Minimalist Family

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