Dear Miriam | With Kids at Camp, Should I Declutter?

Susumu Yoshioka. DigitalVision

Dear Miriam,

Now that my kids are at camp for the summer (thank God!), what are the ethics of throwing away things like school work and their old art projects without their permission? How about outgrown clothes?


Emptying the House

Dear Emptying,

If I had to find one nice thing to say about virtual school, it would be the lack of worksheets. Though storing all of my kids’ books at home all year was a pain, at least all the pages were attached to each other, rather than the literal flurry of paper that used to come home at the end of each week. On the last day of school this year, I gave away some lightly used workbooks and tossed the rest in the recycling bin. No one was sad.

I feel strongly that you should not keep any worksheets on which your children did not generate original ideas. Take pictures of some things that are questionable or that you want to share with grandparents, put others — like creative writing, “all about me” projects and sentimental artwork — in a box. Label it. Move on.

The whole “scan the artwork and create a bound book” movement just creates more work for parents, and — this is the part that’s crucial for you — kids generally don’t care about their schoolwork or artwork until faced with the question, “Do you want to keep this?” at which point they will likely say “yes” to everything or spend excruciating hours sorting into piles and then forgetting the categories of the piles.

A representative sample of writing and art from each year of school can be a nice thing to have, and your kids may enjoy looking at it at some point in the future. But do not burden yourself with more than you want to save, and unless your child is prone to remembering things at inconvenient times, don’t ask for their opinions. Don’t even show them what you’ve saved for a few years unless they explicitly ask to see things from their recent past.

As for clothes, it is respectful to ask for kids to help determine when something classifies as outgrown. You can do this at the start of every season or piece by piece when they find something in the closet that isn’t quite right. If you have younger children that benefit from older siblings’ hand-me-downs, have a place to store items if the younger kids aren’t immediately ready for those sizes. Have a designated area in a closet or basement for items that need a new home, and, if possible, have a designated place in mind to give them.

“Buy Nothing” groups are ideal for this kind of thing, as are younger cousins or neighbors, community clothing drives and thrift stores. Even if you are absolutely sure that a shirt counts as outgrown, wait for your child to agree with you before getting rid of it.

I know my approach to the two parts of your question are very different, but for one thing, your children will continuously generate new drawings and new school work. For another, they probably have fewer overall items of clothing than the overall number of pieces of paper generated in a year.

Also, while clothes can be stored and reused by someone else, it’s unlikely that these papers will be of value to anyone else, and so, as a result, it may be easier and more practical to allow these papers to take up a little less valuable space in your home as well.

Happy decluttering, and be well,



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