Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Review of "Clutterfree with Kids"

As a mom of three boys, I read Joshua Becker's Clutterfree with Kids hoping to gain insight into pairing down our household possessions to the essential and limiting the influx of gifts from well-meaning relatives each holiday and birthday. The author is sort of a minimalist guru who runs popular blog, becomingminimalist.com. Becker seemed to echo other writings on simplicity with familiar ideas, such as: own less to live more, value relationships over things, be free of debt, live below your means, and treasure the simple things in life.

Clutterfree is arranged into three sections: 1) Change Your Thinking, 2) Discover New Habits and 3) Free Your Life. The first and third sections are predominantly philosophical. The middle section gets more practical with chapters on various areas of life that tend toward clutter: toys, clothes, artwork, sentimental items, collections, screens, photos, gifts, packing, schedules and baby gear. Each of these chapters begins with an anecdote about a mom who learned to de-clutter that particular area before launching into general suggestions for controlling clutter.

After reading the roughly 200 double-spaced pages, I was disappointed that I didn't find any really new or innovative ideas to help me build on my already minimalist-leaning ideology. I also found the writing to be sometimes repetitious and scattered, like a compilation of bullet points converted into a series of short, loosely connected paragraphs. A sprinkling of typos and style issues made the text appear a little cluttered to this former copy editor. But normal people probably won't find these detractors as irksome as I did!

On the plus side, the book’s strength is in motivating readers to reject their own consumerist and materialistic tendencies, creating a minimalist mindset that should, ideally, trickle down to the children they parent. Many of the ideas in this book weren't necessarily kid-specific; however, I agree with Becker's view that if the parents change, the kids will learn through their example. Throughout the book, he reiterates principles for simplifying life by focusing on relationships and the gifts money can't buy, such as contentment, generosity, curiosity and imagination. While all of this certainly resonated with me, I can't say I had any epiphanies. Some of his suggestions did illuminate the fact that Joe and I actually already make a lot of minimalist choices: we don't own a TV, we buy clothing only to replace something that has worn out, we encourage our boys to go outside rain or shine, and we make a habit of giving money, time and hospitality to others.

In sum, I can appreciate and promote Becker’s message: Living clutter-free is not about having a beautiful home that is the envy of all your neighbors. In fact, the final chapter is devoted to warning readers against the pitfalls of envy and comparison. Eliminating clutter means breaking free from the bondage of “stuff” and giving yourself the mental and physical space to really focus on relationships with those you love.

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