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The art of decluttering doesn’t work so well on young ones who’ve inherited hoarder genes

In this week’s Chubby Hubby, Portly Papa column, Aun Koh discovers the difficulty of downsizing and de-junking with two kids.

If any of you follow either my wife or me on Instagram, you'd know we moved homes very recently. For my wife, who planned the layout of the home and created a dream kitchen with our architect, this has been a particularly stressful last couple of weeks. It’s also been stressful for our kids, who have only ever lived in the old place. Our oldest is eight and we’ve been in that house for almost a decade.

The move does have major upsides for the kids. My oldest is thrilled because one of his best buddies lives in the same development we’ve moved to. My daughter loves the multiple (yes, multiple) swimming pools. She’s also excited to scoot to school in the future (assuming that we can actually get her into the primary school around the corner).

(Photo: Freepik)

The new home, though, is considerably smaller than our old place. We were lucky when we built our old home – we were able to get the plot ration waived and we took the opportunity to squeeze out a fair amount of space without sacrificing style nor functionality. And, thanks to very smart architects, our old place had loads of built-in storage. The new place, while nice, is quite cookie cutter with almost no built-in storage. In terms of square footage, it’s also a good 25 per cent smaller than our old home.

All of this essentially translated into a clear need to downsize. Which, for a family of hoarders, was a very painful exercise. Let me clarify, it’s been especially painful for my wife Su-Lyn. Not because she had to give up a lot of her things. I mean, she did, but in our family, she actually has the lowest propensity to squirrel things away. Maybe it’s because she is the most un-Golem-like of us all, but she ended up being the one stuck with reminding the rest of us that we needed to do some serious decluttering.

(Photo: Pexels)

But here’s the thing with kids and decluttering. It’s pretty hard to do. Because while a child might forget about a toy (or a game or a book or even a sweater) for a while, if you remind him of it, and then say something along the lines of, “so, can we donate this or give it away?” or even worse, “I think we should throw this away,” that toy also of a sudden becomes his or her favourite toy. Because all things spark joy when you’re young.

Decluttering queen Marie Kondo wrote, “Keep only those things that speak to your heart.” My daughter would be the first to tell Ms Kondo that every single one of her frilly dresses, her plastic tiaras, her stuffed toys, her wooden fruit, every single Lego block, her collection of countless plastic eggs, her storybooks, her ever-growing collection of hair accessories, all of her bangles, necklaces, and other (fake) jewellery all speak to her heart. Knowing my little girl, she’d probably harrumph and exhibit some oft-practiced side eye if she ever did get the opportunity to meet Ms Kondo in the flesh.

Su-Lyn did try her best to weed out a lot of the kids’ things. The good and bad thing about young kids is they grow so fast. That means they outgrow clothes far too soon. Which is great when you’re trying to pack only what fits, but damned depressing when you start doing the mental math on how much these kids have costs you over time. In the packing madness, we discovered that almost none of T1’s pants actually fit him. This also explains why he’s always wearing shorts that looks like a 1970s athlete (i.e. far too short for public outings). A good forty percent of T1’s wardrobe has now been donated to charity.

(Photo: Freepik)

On the other hand, T2 has a wardrobe full of princess dresses, many of which have been donated to us by other friends (whose own little girls have outgrown them) which she’s yet to grow into. During the packing process, they filled one wardrobe box all by themselves – a scary rainbow-coloured box of polyester, frills, sparkles and unicorn dreams.

The funniest exercise (for me at least) was when Su-Lyn attempted to have the kids declutter their stuffed toys. I will say openly that the kids are very spoiled – grandparents, godparents, friends and we have all enabled building a Doctor Moreau-level menagerie of real and mythical fuzzy, cuddly animals over the last eight years. Also, because T1 has severe dust mite allergies, as much as he loves cuddling stuffed toys, he really shouldn’t, because he always ends up with itchy eyes and a runny nose. So, supermom tried her best to have the kids work with her to divide these fuzzy animals into “keep” and “donate” piles.

(Photo: Freepik)

Once again, Ms Kondo writes, “You should let your kids experience the selection process by touching all of their toys. It's also important how they throw away their toys. They can earn a stronger sense of valuing things when they throw things away with respect and appreciation.” Great sentiment but harder to do in practice. When mommy had laid out all the stuffed toys, the kiddies went through them, hugging each in turn and taking the ones they wanted. The rest were left out in a big stuffed toy bin, earmarked for donation. Over the next hour, however, every single one of these fuzzy little guys quietly migrated to the kids' bedroom. I guess the kids felt that every single bear, pony, bunny, and other creature sparked joy in them.

In the wee hours of the night, my wife had to do her own job of culling the animals, keeping the ones she felt the kids truly loved, curating a few other special ones, but quickly boxing the rest away -- "Out of sight, out of mind" a much simpler and more practical philosophy when it comes to kids.