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In Part 1 of this series we looked at consequences of coercion and the benefits of autonomy. In Part 2 we thought through whether or not hard work is a natural human quality. In Part 3 we looked at how we can cultivate a willingness to work hard. In Part 4 we are going think about the source of a lot of our work:

the stuff we own.

When looking at our expectations for how responsible and hard working we think our children should be, I think there’s also a certain amount of self-examination we should undertake regarding the amount of stuff that we believe is necessary and acceptable to own. Is all the stuff we have, the need to manage and take care of all our stuff, a design mismatch? Is all the angst over not being able to take care of all our stuff, because we’re not meant to have this much stuff in the first place? I don’t know, but these are the questions I think about when I’m tempted to get frustrated at my children for not taking care of all the stuff their parents have put in their lives. I have to own my part in the mess.

My general thought is when kids get that glazed over look about a mess is that it means there is too much stuff. However, honestly, I have such a conflicting inner dialogue and dissonance about this, how much stuff we own. On one hand, I love for my children to have lots of resources, experiences, and options. On the other hand, I know good and well that it gets overwhelming quick, that it’s certainly a diminishing returns kind of situation (more stuff doesn’t guarantee more education or a happier life), and that children will do just fine, thrive even, with radically less stuff.

So, one thing I feel is I have to own my part in choosing to live this modern, stuff-crazy life. Our family tries to be fairly minimalist and conscious about the amount of stuff we own and keep. But let’s face it, we’re minimalist for Americans. Compared to most Americans we’re minimalist. We still own a lot of stuff!

I have to own the fact that my husband and I brought and/or allowed the vast majority of this stuff to come into our home. Essentially, we did not protect our children from an overwhelming amount of stuff. I have to be the adult, the one with power in this situation, and own my part. Then, I have to figure out what level of stuff each kid is able to take care of, then I won’t let them (I will protect them) from having an overwhelming amount of stuff, gradually scaffolding them towards greater responsibility.

So I find there to be this constant tension between:

  • access to a greater amount of things, but less likely for the kids to be able to independently clean it up
  • access to fewer things, but more likely to be able to independently clean it up.

There are lots of ways people tackle figuring out a peaceful solution to this tension. I’ll talk about the way we addressed it in a future post.

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