We’re positively drowning in stuff. We desperately need to get rid of some stuff. And there should be an easier way to go about it. Marie Kondo (who’s actually come around after having kids) made an empire out of ditching everything that doesn’t “spark joy.” My vacuum and dish rags do not spark joy. Once in a while, my children don’t spark joy, either. I cannot Kondo any of them out of my house, no matter how much, some days, I might want to. Any time I’ve embarked on a massive decluttering spree, I’ve regretted the epic scale and whirlwind effort later. Yes, I really chucked all my winter clothes in the middle of summer more than once, because, unlike lab rats, I do not learn from experience. Do not do this—there’s no need to go all in.
Instead, let’s focus on certain categories of items you can purge without repercussions. You can do this without guilt, without intense spousal consultation, and without lingering regret. Donate and recycle what you can, and trash what you can’t. You can do this; I believe in you.
1. All that art
Picasso probably created 50,000 works of art in his lifetime. Your kid appears to be headed in that direction, too. We know your son or daughter is precious, but do you need to keep every single drawing they have scrawled in their lifetime? Keep the best, maybe one from each month, and throw out the rest. Your kid doesn’t want you to keep them all. My mother-in-law gave us reams of my husband’s childhood scribbles. I wish she had kept it to a few—they would mean more.
2. The bad pictures
You have a million billion photos of your kid. In some of them, they’re making a weird face or scratching their butt or ducking under the table. You don’t need these pictures in your life. Do future you a favor: Narrow it down from 57 ever-so-slightly-different snaps to a handful of winners from every event—big or small—or day. (Psst, the Tinybeans app can help with that.) You’ll feel less overwhelmed, we swear.
3. The presents you feel guilty for hating
Someone gave you a thing. They put thought into the thing. You want to like the thing, but you don’t like the thing, and you feel really bad, you do, and it’s such a sweet thought, but it’s not your thing. Donating the thing is not disavowing the kind thoughts. It is passing on the kind thoughts. Just donate the thing and stop the guilt freight train. It’s just running you over every time you peek under your dresser.
4. That thing your kid loved but has ignored, and it’s now developmentally inappropriate, and they won’t notice if you chuck it
I don’t care how much they loved it. They don’t need it, and they don’t want it, and it’s taking up space in your house. Caveat: You can keep it if it’s a stuffie. You are allowed to keep a stuffie or six.
5. That iPhone box
The impulse to keep iPhone boxes remains a great American mystery.
6. Birthday cards
One day, you imagine, your child will want every birthday card they ever received. Pause. Think about your end game. Do you want to hoard every birthday card you’ve ever received? You wouldn’t look at them. You’d vaguely resent them. Don’t be that mother who saves all of her kid’s, then calls them in 20 years and attempts to pass the torch. Throw them out now and save the argument later.
7. Those clothes your kids refuse to wear
My oldest wouldn’t wear jeans. He had a drawerful. Instead, he threw on ratty athletic pants or shorts. Why keep a literal drawer full of clothes (jeans take up a lot of space) when I could fill them with clothes he’d actually use? Eventually, I purged all my kids’ closets—or rather, I let them do it because they’re old enough that I can’t force them to wear what I pick any longer (cue dramatic, tearful sniff). We traded with friends for clothes the kids liked. Then I bought my oldest cargo pants.
8. The fair/amusement park tickets of yore
Once, you visited a magical land of child slot machines. Yes, you said as you dragged your spawn from the blinking hellscape, wishing there was a matching version of Gamblers Anonymous. We will return one day to use the tickets to use the approximately three dollars and 25 cents worth of tickets that you can trade for a loud, plastic toy. Do not think about how much money you dropped to earn those tickets: They’re banking on that. The game was always rigged, and your kid had fun at the arcade. Ditch ‘em.
9. The mud-caked shoes
Sometimes, no matter how much you spray a pair of white sneakers, you can’t get the mud out of the cracks. Sometimes, you’re too icked out to scrub it with a toothbrush. This is not about the mud. This is about the sneakers: They’re ancient and they smell bad, and you can use the mud as a convenient excuse to toss them. Your children will not argue because mud is disgusting, and they think those shoes are hopelessly contaminated, anyway.
10. The old magazines
You will never look at that issue of Southern Living again. Admit it. You’re not going to cook the squash casserole, okay? Your kid would cheerfully choose cannibalism over zucchini. Pulp the magazines and back away slowly.
11. Tupperware without lids
Where do the lids go? That’s a trick question—you will never ever find out. Accept what you cannot change—the lids are gone—and even if they do appear at the bottom of a cabinet, they’ll be dusty and gross and you won’t want to use them anyway.
12. Sippy cups and bottles
To confront them is to confront mortality. Be brave. Remember—sippy cups come with grubby paws and sticky faces and diapers. Lots of diapers. Remember those diapers and the screaming nights and the times you never slept? Maybe you don’t: You didn’t sleep. You do not want to return there. Ditch the cups and bottles as soon as you’re able. You are not going back. And if you’re still in that season of life where you’re drowning in dozens of parts, keep the faith! Your day will come soon enough.
13. The idea of achieving a perfectly clean space
Throw this one away while you’re at it, too. It’s not going to happen. You have children and a life, and work’s never done. Get rid of the idea that you’re getting rid of everything. Nothing’s ever perfect. Your to-do list never ends, and you’ll drive yourself batty if you think it will. Sing the Frozen “Let it Go” song. You’re doing the best you can, and honestly, that’s plenty!