Colleen Prieto wrote on Unschooling Basics in February 2013. Kelly Lovejoy saved it to share further.

In response to:

**** My mom is a hoarder, and I have that same tendency. I am constantly fighting my own battle with clutter and Stuff****

****After living in backpack for almost a month we reevaluated what our children really needed and donated much of the items that were adding to clutter. They now play with and value the fewer toys because they are not able to just move on to another.****

**** Kids don't need all that many toys****

Colleen Prieto wrote:
My parents divorced when I was young, and when I was 11 or 12 my father started dating a woman who was a lawyer. She had a beautiful, amazing house full of lovely furniture, incredible stereo equipment, etc.

My sister and I were allowed to roam the house freely and play wherever we wanted when we were there visiting – but there was one locked room on the second floor that we were told never to enter, and never to ask about.

We didn't enter or ask :-) but one summer my father and his girlfriend went on a long vacation, and they asked my grandfather to stop in on the house a couple times while they were away to make sure everything was ok. On one of his stops he heard a crashing sound coming from that room, so he got the key down from above the door and unlocked it.

My grandmother said she had never seen anything like what was in there. The whole room was piled, floor to ceiling and wall to wall with just a few paths left open for walking, with brand new unopened packages of clothes from various catalogs (LL Bean, Lands End, etc.) and brand new unopened toys. There were stacks and stacks of games, doll houses, Barbie dolls, etc. everywhere. A whole wall was lined with Cabbage Patch Kids, still in their packages (this was when Cabbage Patch Kids were super popular and people were fighting for them in the stores). A tower of dolls had fallen over – that's the crash my grandfather heard.

My grandparents locked the room back up and waited for my father to come back before they asked him about it. He said he hadn't seen inside but had heard about some of what was there – and he explained to my grandparents and to my sister and I (my grandfather had told us about it, as he was so amazed he couldn't keep it to himself :-)) that his girlfriend's parents had been very "frugal and strict" when she was growing up, despite the fact that they were very well-off. At any given time, she and her sisters were only allowed to have a couple school outfits and a couple play outfits each, one church outfit each, and one shelf of toys each (in their bedrooms, of course ;-)). He said their parents were the "prim and proper" sort (I met them later – they indeed were :-)) and that appearances mattered very much to them – they didn't want a house full of "kid things" but wanted a house that was fit for entertaining their church friends at a moment's notice.

His girlfriend's reaction to this was not to grow up appreciating a frugal ethic and a lack of material possessions – her reaction was to grow up and try to make up for everything she didn't have by filling this secret room up with a bunch of things she then wouldn't allow herself or anyone else to actually touch or enjoy. She was a one-room hoarder, it seems :-) And she was ashamed of her hoard – it didn't bring her happiness, all those things she bought. Pretty sad.

My grandmother, on the other hand, grew up in great poverty and (by her own telling) had no baby dolls or other such things, because after her father died when she was a toddler, her mother married someone who (her words) "drank every penny away so there wasn't anything left for tea sets and baby dolls." As an adult, no longer poor, she *loved* collecting baby dolls, knitting clothes and afghans for them, dressing them up, and displaying them on shelves in her house. She would buy old unwanted dolls at yard sales, clean them up and repair them, make them clothes, and give them away to kids she thought would enjoy them. She surrounded my sister and I with dolls and toys to play with when we were at her house – she had a whole closet dedicated just to us :-) She turned her childhood lack into something fun and something she was proud of – she gave dolls to kids to make sure they'd have some while they were still young – and she had her dolls to enjoy as she aged. And not a one of her dolls was stuffed away in shame :-)

What makes one person grow up with nothing and end up in a place (mentally) where they can still find happiness and joy in Things – and what makes another person hoard in shame? What makes one person react to control by rallying against it and trying to get herself all that was controlled – and what makes another person want to make sure other children don't grow up without what she herself didn't have? What made my grandmother share her Toys and my father's girlfriend hide hers?

I don't know exactly – and I'm sure personality and genetics and such play a role. But I also know for sure, from firsthand experience, that depriving kids of Things – that deciding kids' toys are Clutter or Crap – that deciding kids have Enough toys and now some should be donated – or that houses are for adults and not for families, and that children's toys should therefore be out of sight – or that because Mom can live with what fits in a single backpack so can everyone else in the house… I know that that might not all end up with the outcome folks who say and think those things are probably hoping for.

Because rather than raising Responsible children who value Neatness and Frugality and Minimalism – maybe deprivation and control will lead right to the opposite of what Mom's hoping for. Maybe it'll lead to a room or a whole house full of what was taken away or controlled by Mom. As long-time unschoolers have written on this list and others so many times, when parents try to Teach A Lesson, kids are in no way guaranteed to learn what those parents were aiming for. Maybe they'll learn the opposite, in fact, of what was intended. Or maybe they'll simply learn that their parent(s) aren't very nice and aren't very kind, and they'll move away and lose touch as soon as they are old enough.

My son has toys in every room of our house, and his dad and I provide lots of bins and shelves and baskets to make straightening up for visits from friends and grandparents easy for whoever wants to help with the pre-visit clean-up. Because to us, a neat and orderly house with lovely, Perfect rooms and a minimum of Stuff isn't worth trading a relationship with a Child Who Will Be An Adult Before You Know It. – No way :-)

More by Colleen Prieto

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