Am I Decluttering the Joy Out of My Kids’ Childhood?

I didn’t mean to turn my five-year-old into a hoarder. 
In fact, as a compulsively tidy person who loves nothing more than a good clutter purge, I was more than mildly alarmed to start finding my son’s secret stashes. From water bottle caps and empty food containers in a bathroom drawer to mangled party goodie bag toys in a dark corner of his closet, I began to find unwelcome surprises nearly everywhere I searched. I won’t even begin to list the dusty gems lurking in the crevice between his bed at the wall.  
How, I wondered, did my genes manage to produce this packrat? He certainly wasn’t learning by example. After all, with three kids 5 and under, our handheld vacuum is practically an extension of my arm at this point; when my baby girl first said Mama, she may have been talking to the Dyson. Within minutes of the end of a game or art project, things are put away (mostly by me) and lined up in neat right angles (entirely by me). I relish the opportunity to give away toys that have been abandoned, and watch with dismay when the grandparents come to visit and create a new avalanche of “stuff.”
It doesn’t take a genius to figure out the motivation behind my hyper-organization: I may not be able to control whether my kids fall off their bike, spike a fever at 2:00 AM or throw a temper tantrum in the middle of the produce section, but I can arrange all their clothes by color and type, and spend 20 minutes three times a day tracking down stray Legos. 
But at what cost to my kids, who live blissfully in the moment and aren’t yet old enough to distinguish trash from treasure? How can I claim to want them to choose their imaginations over screens when I’m imposing my own strict order onto their personal spaces at all times? I don’t think my son was really hoarding; I think he was hiding his possessions from me
Armed with this uncomfortable self-realization, I have now let my kids have free rein of our house, and we live in sticky, junk-filled chaos. Ummm, yeah, not at all. But I have tried to loosen my grip when it comes to their rooms, and am making an effort to see, as they do, the potential wonders in the everyday objects around us. A leopard may not be able to change its spots, but I’ve accepted that my kids’ childhood home doesn’t need to be spotless. 


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