The Gratitude Project

“He that is faithful in that which is least, is faithful also in that which is greater: and he that is unjust in that which is little, is unjust also in that which is greater.” Luke 16:10

“Lay not up to yourselves treasures on earth: where the rust, and moth consume, and where thieves break through and steal. But lay up to yourselves treasures in heaven: where neither the rust nor moth doth consume, and where thieves do not break through, nor steal. For where thy treasure is, there is thy heart also. ” Matthew 6: 19-21

“Bless the Lord, O my soul, and never forget all he hath done for thee… Who satisfieth thy desire with good things.” Psalm 102:2,5a

I have a certain tolerance for kids being what my husband calls “destructive.” That is, in the sense that I see a lot of what they do (taking tissues one by one out of a box, or ripping up styrofoam to make snow) as creative expressions, imagination, and curiosity about how the world works. They see things through new eyes and they learn by all their senses. It would be a mistake, I think, to force them into an adult mode of “this is for this and only this, that is for that and only that,” too soon. I believe that could hamper their future creativity – I mean, maybe they’ll find a cure for some disease or build the best mousetrap because they have been allowed to think outside the box all their lives.

But, when my two oldest children, who have been instructed, and should know a bit better, show utter disregard for property and show that they care nothing for the effort, time or money that went into something, I think it’s time for a little lesson. We have had an ongoing problem with the girls’ room being a complete disaster. Laundry is not put away when it is given, toys and books are strewn everywhere, as well as ripped up and taken apart, and the worst part, they started cutting up wearable clothing with scissors and writing on the sheets of their bed. I hit the roof and finally realized I was doing them a disservice. I remember growing up in a room that was largely unsupervised by my parents because of its location in the house, and boy did we live in a pig sty most of the time. Every now and then my sister or I would rip the room apart and clean it from top to bottom and organize it, with great expectation and hope of keeping it that way, but it just didn’t happen. Even then my parents kept telling us it was because we just had too much stuff. I know that was true. When I took off my 100% silk Brooks Brothers sweater and threw it on the floor in a pile of candy wrappers and other unrelated garbage, I was indicating that I really didn’t care much about it. I still struggle with this lack of care, and I have found that limiting the stuff that we have really helps prevent it from getting too out of control.

In the interests of teaching my children to show gratitude for what they do have and to learn to care for things as though they, well, care for them, I went on a crazy purge in their bedroom. I left them with only 4 dresses each, 2 nightgowns, and a few saint books, and no toys except for a stuffed animal. The idea was that they need to learn to care for a little bit and in this way they can earn back some of their other stuff little by little and grow in the skills they need to keep things neat and orderly. It really was unfair of me to expect that they could have everything at once and be told “Keep it clean!” If that is overwhelming to them, I can just teach them little by little. If it gets to the point again that they are unable to handle the amount of things they have, we will take some more away again.

We are calling this “the gratitude project.” We are making it a whole theme… Our nightly prayers are made for the intention of learning gratitude. Mealtime has been included as well, and they have each had opportunity to go hungry as some good food was served that they didn’t prefer. Eating something is a privilege, and eating something we love is an even greater privilege – there are people who would be thankful just to have some nourishing food. Snacks are not a right, either. We are remembering the poor in our exercise and plan to give things away, hopefully to someone we know in person who needs them, but if not, we will donate to a charity or thrift store.

The funny thing is that although they were a bit sad at first, they have each since told me they are happy with their current amount of stuff and might not even want anything back. They played the entire day yesterday with a friend, without dress up, toys or movies, and were quite happy and occupied. I think they are getting the message… and as for their room, well, this is Day 3 of the Gratitude Project and this is how their room looked without any adult supervision or help when they came up for breakfast:


I’d love some more ideas of how we could expand on the theme of gratitude. I’m considering making it our family resolution for 2010, actually, so we could be doing this for a while. 🙂 If you have something to share, please leave a comment!

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10 Responses to The Gratitude Project

  1. This is a wonderful idea!  I’ve noticed my boys getting a tad more destructive than normal (and I agree with everything you said about their natural curiosities) and we’re in purge mode, so I might just copy/paste this in an email to John and see if he’d be on board with me dumping the whole lot of stuff that they have.

  2. Sarah, thanks for this very encouraging post.  I almost can’t wrap my mind around how much purging I need to do around here (my girls room especially) but I’m confident my husband will be more than willing to “pitch” in!

  3. Love it, love it. You go, mama!

  4. perelandra30 says:

    When my kids were little and I had to take them shopping for clothing, shoes or anything that was needed, they were required to thank their father for earning the money that provided them with the new clothing or whatever.  It was my way of making them aware of the fact that their father worked hard so that they could be decently dressed or have the tools necessary for school or whatever we bought for them.  I did the same after getting groceries.

  5. whteroses says:

    @perelandra30 – That is a very good idea! I think I’ll start having my son do that in addition to saying thank you when given something. I see so many friends of mine purging their kids’ toys and I know I need to do the same with Michael’s toys. After Christmas, it’s more necessary than before. We have so many toys and only two children so far! I just need to kick my bum in gear and do it. I’m glad it’s working out so well for you and your girls!

  6. Amanda says:

    That is awesome. Just a few years ago, I probably would have thought, wow, how cruel. But the last year and a half or so I’ve been attempting to get more simplicity in our house and in my life, and now that I’m not in school anymore it has become something of a priority. I find the more I get rid of, the less it weighs on my mind, AND, as a bonus, I’m only left with the stuff I LOVE. (Which makes me want to take care of it, which means I am neater).As a child, I too had WAY TOO MUCH. Too much clothing, too many toys, too many health and beauty products…and I remember using a lot of it, true–BUT. I also remember feeling extremely depressed and overwhelmed anytime it was time to clean up. Nothing ever fit anywhere because there was always too much of it. My clothes drawers and closet were ALWAYS overflowing; underneath my bed was always full, the bathroom cabinets were full plus stuff on the counters…and I carried it through into adulthood. In college I had too many clothes to fit into a large walk-in closet, plus clothes in drawers and under my bed in storage boxes. I think this translated into a lifelong habit of clutter everywhere–mail on counters, books in the living room floor, clothes all over my bedroom floor, shoes everywhere in the house. I applaud you for teaching your children something that it took me 26 years to teach myself. I am HAPPIER being less materialistic, having less STUFF, because that’s not what really matters. Plus it’s easier to keep clean. And a small wardrobe requires FAR less expenditure to keep up than a humongous one. (I don’t blame my mom for this…she isn’t materialistic and doesn’t have a lot of STUFF. However, my dad is a packrat and would keep everything if allowed. I think this is because HIS parents are materialistic and lived through the depression and so keep EVERYTHING. But my dad isn’t materialistic, he just can’t get rid of anything lol. I wish he read stuff like this. It would help him let STUFF go and keep my mom more sane, since she has to live with all his accumulated STUFF).Sorry this is so long. I totally identify and think you are doing a very good thing for your kids. 🙂

  7. @Amanda – Thank you Amanda! I have a very similar experience to yours. It wasn’t until I was married a couple of years that I realized how oppressive “stuff” really is. And ever since going on a budget, it has actually been quite a fun challenge to see to what extent we can make do with what we have. Our friends laugh because we use mason jars instead of wine glasses (actually we did have some but they were in storage :)) or empty wine bottles as a rolling pin… but I think it’s fun! And, it’s one less thing to store/put away/clean around! Glad you are finally getting to a simpler phase of life. 

  8. nkweiss says:

    I was thinking the other day that our culture is too used to finding things to entertain themselves, rather than being useful to ourselves and others. I think this fits that theme. Instead of having toys and so much stuff to rely on for entertainment, taking them away will teach your children to go out and serve others, as you already saw. I hope to limit the stuff my children have, too, when we have them.You’ve got some lovely thoughts, Sarah, and I really hope you put all this into a book (or series of books) someday!

  9. i second nina’s idea of a book 🙂  calling it the “gratitude project” or something like that ~ put me down for a copy!!  journal the progress 🙂

  10. Wow, this is a great idea. I have come to the realization, at the ripe old age of 54, that “things” really can be chains. At the end of my life, I don’t want those I love to be stuck with getting rid of a bunch of non essentials–let’s face it, most of what I own will be put out for a yard sale or even in the trash.  Ideas for gratitude? You seem to want your kids to focus on those who are in need. Holidays are a great time to reach out to others. My friend Debbie, who has eight children, used to take them to a local nursing home on a regular basis. She plays the guitar, and the kids would sing for the patients. They would take home made Valentines to the elderly, bake cookies at Christmas, etc.  Another thing they did to earn some extra cash was to sell loaves of bread to their neighbors. Debbie made homemade bread for her family, and they invested in two machines–one ground the wheat she bought, and the other was a super deluxe dough maker.  One day a week they made the bread for their family, and also any loaves ordered by the neighbors. When they moved away everyone sure was sad–can you imagine looking forward to getting reasonably priced fresh from the oven whole grain bread every week? From what I’ve gleaned by your posts, though, you probably bake your own as well.  Debbie also made her own yogurt. The kids were required to tithe what they earned, put a certain percentage into savings, and then they could spend what was left for themselves. Often the kids would use the money to obtain items for poor people.  They developed open and generous hearts.  The tv was only used for home school education and occasional special treats such as a good religious movie at Christmas. Debbie never got caller id or an answering machine, never got any air conditioner, and supplemented the family groceries with home grown veggies. She homeschooled all her children (she is still homeschooling her four younger ones).  She is a marvel.  Debbie loves Jesus and strongly believes in good stewardship of the time and resources God has blessed us with.  Her now adult children also love the Lord. Her oldest is married with three little girls, and she is carrying on the same home centered traditions of her mom. Debbie has been through ups and downs but always determined to thank God for His blessings no matter what else was happening in her life. Your gratitude project will not only reap benefits for your own children, but for society as well.  We desperately need parents who fear God and who raise their children to fear Him, too. God bless you as you pursue this project. And congrats on number six!

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