Ever since I can remember, I have been teased about how long my “things” last. Believe it or not, I have clothing from my twenties (I’m almost 47) that my girls now wear – yes, my clothes are “cool” again! My friends swear that my shoes never wear out or that my purses and bags never show their age. I suppose there is some truth to that. The furniture in my house is almost ten years old and looks as good as it did the day it was delivered. My parents taught me that paying close attention to how we care for our things is showing respect for our things.
From the time I was a child I would keep the original plastic on my new things, such as the plastic cover on my computer top or a plastic sheath over a metal end on a bag, because I wanted it to look new forever. I stored most of my things in the original boxes if it wasn’t something I used on a daily basis. Well, now that I’m older, I’m not quite that picky about my things looking brand new, but I do tend to take extra care of my belongings.
It’s something that I learned from my parents. I had the parents who always helped me think through what would happen if I didn’t put something away; they reminded me of the possibilities of accidents or damage that could occur if something was left out or kept in an environment that wasn’t safe.
My dad was especially frugal. So to him, the thought of having to repurchase an item that could have lasted much longer if just taken better care of was ludicrous! And both my parents were clean freaks. A person could eat off my dad’s barn floors, and you could practically perform surgery in my mom’s bathrooms! When I was a kid, I thought it was ridiculous. Of course, now that I am an adult, I am grateful.
I guess that I inherited their mentality.
To be honest, this mindset has served me and my family well. Respecting our things teaches responsibility. As a child, I knew that I had a responsibility to take care of my things and my parent’s things. I wasn’t allowed to leave my bicycle outside overnight. I wasn’t allowed to leave my dirtbike muddy after racing on our trails. I wasn’t allowed to run off and play after we came home from a day of boating. I was made to wipe down the boat and clean it immediately, so that the dirt and grime from the Illinois river water didn’t have time to set.
I was taught that if I see garbage on the floor – pick it up. It will make cleaning easier later, AND there is less risk for damage – what if the “wrapper” had something sticky or dye on it? I was taught not to be rough with things, such as sitting on tables, plopping with all your weight onto couches or flinging things around in the house. I was taught that if I see pieces to a game to pick them up immediately (even if it wasn’t mine) and put them in the correct box. And guess what? I didn’t lose my game pieces that way!
Taking care of our things is not necessarily intuitive. I believe it is something we must demonstrate for our kids. Thanks to my parents, this is something I have learned and in turn, been able to instill in my own kids. I can remember my dad telling me to put the folding chairs and tables away after a gathering and then explaining that I shouldn’t be so rough with the legs of the table or stand on the tabletop while I had it upside down to put the legs down, because it would weaken the integrity of the table and shorten its lifespan. He always explained “why.”
We all have things we value. Being responsible for your things is a form of respect. But respecting your things takes self-awareness, consistency, commitment and self-discipline. At the end of the day, these are all character traits we want our kids to have. So, why not begin teaching them now how to respect their things and other people’s things?
Here are a few pointers that can help get the ball rolling.
Have a Routine
If you have littler children, have a clean up routine with a song (such as the Barney song) to make it fun and create a habit. Narrate why it’s important to clean up. The trick is to clean up EVERY TIME and after EVERYTHING you do and help them to understand WHY. The “why” is important. Remember, kids learn what they live, and their little eyes are watching you.
If you have older kids, a Barney song may not be helpful, but you CAN help them create a new routine. Let’s say your teen is always forgetting to do a few things when he leaves the house, such as making sure his computer is put in a safe place, homework is placed in the proper folders, a phone charger is packed and they are wearing good shoes when heading out somewhere rugged.
Start by making a short and simple list. It could look like this:
- make sure computer is safe
- homework in proper folders
- phone charger packed
- wear shoes that won’t get ruined
Write out your short, simple list ,and have your teen memorize it. Help him make a silly song out of it, if that makes it more fun (it does in my house). Then, sing it with him before school, after school, at dinner, in the car and whenever it pops into your head to do it. Then begin having him recite it to you a few times during the day for a few weeks. Each time your teen begins to head out the door, have him sing his song to you (or just recite the list) and then ask him if all the items he mentioned have been done. Soon you will have a new habit form in your teen. Start with a few things, and once those have been mastered, move on to more. Just remember to always go back and do a refresher on things of the past to keep him in the habit. We all need reminders.
Being self-aware is the key to any change you want to make. Start making mental notes about yourself. This is the key to helping your kids become more self-aware.
- Do I always pick up after myself?
- Do I stop to think about how something may get ruined? (i.e. scuffing my shoes by how I stand or brush against things, being careful about where I set my purse, being aware of where my personal belonging are so they don’t get ruined or lost, thinking through how others may step on something of mine or push on it in a way that it could break, etc.)
- Do I allow the kids to leave ink pens, small toys, socks or anything else lying around left out or on the floor? (These little things are precursors to big things)
- Are there any rooms left untidy before bed each night?
My kids use to put their weight on the side of their shoes while standing. It would pull the sole apart from the side of the shoe, then BAM! We had a useless pair of shoes. I explained to them in detail how it ruined the shoes. And then, every time I saw them stand like that, I would gently whisper, “Don’t stand on your shoe like that. It ruins it.” My kids learned fairly quickly to not do that. I haven’t seen that “stance” in years from my kiddos. Again, the “why” is important.
If you find that you’re busy and you just don’t feel like picking up the silverware that your two year old has flung all over the floor, you are demonstrating inconsistency, and your six year old is watching. You may not care in that moment about your silverware, but if it were your glass bowls, you probably would care. But staying on top of all of it (the little things and the big things) will bring consistency in your home. If you stay on top of those small moments of not taking care of the unimportant items, it will bring great dividends when everyone in your home is handling the more important items.
Stay Committed to the Cause
Staying committed even when you are tired and burned out will bring you peace and save you money. Yes, save you money! If you teach your kids to take care of the items in your home (including their personal things), you won’t be replacing them as often. Things last longer when you treat them as special.
I said earlier that I have clothing that is over twenty years old. Well, I don’t dry my clothes. I wash them, fluff them in the dryer for about five to ten minutes, then I hang them to dry in my laundry room. Living in small spaces has never stopped me from this routine. I often use door jams to hang the clothes on hangers. Clothing seems to last forever when you don’t use the dryer. And it saves me a ton of money.
This all takes self-discipline. It’s tough to get up and correct your kids when you are in the middle of something or follow up to inspect if they put their computer in a safe place. But if you do that now, one day you won’t have to.
Let’s teach our kids to respect the things in our lives by paying close attention to how we care for them. Leave us a comment and share how you teach your kids to respect things.