The psychology of clutter: Why we hold onto ‘stuff’—and what that may be teaching our kids

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It’s been a long day. And whether we have just walked in the door from work, or we have just braved a poorly timed late afternoon grocery store run with three tots in tow, the feeling is all too familiar and the same each time we get home.


Instead of walking in the door and exhaling into relief, the calm we hope for is met with even more stress as our eyes set upon a garage stuffed with mega-store mega-items, current and stale sports equipment, and boxes full of I-have-no-idea-but-I’ll-get-to-it-later.

We feel our stomach tighten as we walk through the door and our eyes are met with piles of laundry, magazines we don’t have time to read, a constant rotation of dishes on the table, on the counter, in the sink, in the dishwasher, and toys—so many toys—on the floor.

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It’s all. too. much. And we wonder, "Is it just me?”

Just as working in an environment that is crowded, messy, too loud and full of artificial light has been proven to affect mood and health, so too does living in a space that is stuffed with things that bring us neither joy nor use.

With a modicum of knowledge of why we clutter and what it does to our psyches, plus a little self-awareness, we can learn to set the limits that can liberate us from the tyranny of the “too much” that prevents us from having the home we desire and the freedom to be our best mama.

We are not alone

Being overwhelmed by and in one’s own home is not as singular a situation as one might think. According to a study by UCLA's Center on Everyday Lives of Families (CELF) the amount of stress we experience at home is directly proportional to the amount of stuff we and our family have accumulated.

In the study, a team of professional archaeologists, anthropologists and other social scientists conducted a systematic study of home life in 32 middle-class, dual-income families with 2-3 kids of ages 7-12 in Los Angeles.

The scientists examined the amount of their stuff and found that women who feel their homes are cluttered tend to:

  • Be less happy with their marriages
  • Have unhealthy patterns of the stress hormone cortisol
  • Have difficulty managing every day tasks
  • Feel ineffectual
  • Have a harder time transitioning from work to home
  • Get increasingly depressed throughout the day
  • Having greater fatigue in the evenings.

The study also found that those unfinished home projects fall into the category of clutter and generate the same kind of stress that clutter does. Housework and home repairs compete for the attention of time and resource-strapped parents, turning home into more a place of increased demands than a haven from stressors.

Wives were found to be more affected by these stressors than husbands. Other research has shown that wives assume more of the responsibility for maintaining a home than husbands do, which may be more closely linked to how they see the home environment, and so they are particularly stressed out by the presence of clutter.

What about the kids?

If creating for ourselves a more restful home environment is not a big enough reason to declutter, perhaps the knowledge that our habits can be passed along to our kids will be.

"Our ability to organize begins at a young age through the modeling and messages we receive from our parents," says professional organizer, Regina Leeds. "Being raised in a home where we weren't taught the skills to maintain order, we inadvertently may fall into the habits of disorder and unfortunately pass along these non-serving habits to our children, rendering them incapable of organization until they take it upon themselves to learn the essential organizational skills, to eliminate, categorize, and organize."

Our stuff adds up

In our materialistic society, we are exposed to ads all day long that tell us what need to have to be healthy, handsome, happy, and successful. This can make it easy to accumulate all sorts of stuff we don’t really need and difficult to get rid of it due to the associated emotional baggage.

For many reasons, we can find ourselves emotionally paralyzed when it comes to deciding what to keep or get rid of, and that stuff winds up controlling us rather than benefiting our lives.

We can have sentimental attachments to things, or we may believe our things have hidden monetary value, but the main reason we hang on to things is fear. However misguided, we can fear the loss of security, status, comfort, and love when we throw things out.

Additionally, our possessions embody our memories, our hopes and our dreams, representing who we believe we are now, and who we believe the better version of ourselves will be in the future. So it comes as no surprise that it can be difficult to let go. "Tidying lets you stare in the face all of your core beliefs and what you’re living your life based on,” says Sue Rasmussen, a Minneapolis life coach and decluttering professional.

Others propose that discarding things we’ve purchased can be an admission of our failings, and holding on to them can also be toxic reminders of what we have not accomplished.

“You hold onto things based on hope,” says June Saruwatari, author of Behind the Clutter, a book that looks at not just the physical stuff that takes up room in our lives, but the mental clutter that keeps us from feeling productive and happy. "We hope to lose weight, hope to catch up on reading, hope to finish that abandoned project. But when we don’t, it’s hard not to feel like a failure about it…how many items do you need to hold onto before it starts controlling your life?”

Or, we may feel guilty for wasting money on things, so we hold onto them to justify our purchase. And especiallly, we are afraid of regret. We have all tossed something, only to wish we hadn’t later. But holding onto stuff by rationalizing we may need it one day is a recipe for just. too. much. stuff... Eventually everything piles up and cannot be ignored.

In a vicious cycle, the clutter that results from a reaction to feelings of emptiness, fear, guilt and anxiety can cause us to clutter more and can "compound into the reactive emotional pain” of more guilt and shame, fear, anxiety—and ultimately result in preoccupation and depression.

If clutter is the physical manifestation of emotions, then decluttering, believes Saruwatari, isn’t simply about getting our desk and closet in order, "It’s about relieving yourself of all the stuff you’re hanging onto from past careers, relationships, and unfinished business."

Our clutter tells a story

Just as our stuff can signify different emotional messages, it can also represent our identity. According to a 2011 study published in the Journal of Consumer Psychology, the things we struggle to get rid of the most are likely tied to our self-worth, as evidenced by the findings that, "People struggle the most to part with possessions that lack monetary or functional value."

This is why we may mourn the loss of our possessions from a fire but not necessarily their monetary value. The study found that parting with possessions that make us feel worthy can cause us to experience real loss and real grief—even depression.

Some of us find self-worth in our physical appearance, while others find it in approval.

Usually, whatever we hold onto the most represents what defines our self-worth. For instance, if we place a lot of value on success, it can be hard to let go of the things that comprise tangible evidence of our achievements, like awards or college transcripts. Tossing these things might make us feel less successful.

Or, if we value our relationships above all, it may be more difficult to get rid of gifts from people. Tossing unwanted or unused gifts can make us feel like we are being disloyal to the giver. This can apply to birthday and greeting cards as well, which can represent to us that we are loved and appreciated, proving that we mean something to others.

Clutter is not just a representation of our emotions, memories, worth and identity, but it also can be distraction from tackling deeper issues—and a buffer from pain.

"In addition to what we keep,” clinical psychologist Noah Mankowski says, "where we put our clutter usually corresponds to different emotional events." According to Mankowski, clutter in the attic or the basement might indicate an inability to let go of the past.

Or a cluttered bathroom might reveal body image issues, since this is where we’re most likely to be standing in front of a mirror naked.

And clutter in the living room might suggest blockages in our social life, while a cluttered bedroom might relate to issues surrounding our sexual self, fears of intimacy or gender roles. “When you clutter things, … you can’t see the surroundings. Which actually allows you to not deal with it—it’s a way of coping.”

It’s not what we have, but what we do

Decluttering can be hard to begin when we are at the end of a long day or the end of an even longer week. So, approach it with an attitude of gratitude. Being grateful that we can give to others our unused belongings—especially those in good condition—not only benefits others, but can help us rewrite the story of who we are.

In a series of studies recently published in the Journal of Marketing, researchers tested ways to help people donate items that were meaningful to them. They discovered that people would experience less identity loss from donating a cherished item if they photographed it.

Echoed in another study by Ohio State University's Fisher College of Business, associate professor of marketing Rebecca Reczek and her colleagues found that, "People are more willing to give up possessions if we offer them a way to keep the memory and the identity associated with that memory."

The results of the study demonstrate that, "It may be relatively easy to break old habits of clinging to possessions with sentimental value by photographing items to preserve the memories associated with them, making people more likely to donate those items by keeping the memories they represent intact."

In related experiments, other researchers confirmed that it wasn't just the memories associated with possessions that were keeping people from donating, "it was the identities linked to those memories.

For example, older parents may still feel connected to their identities as new mothers and fathers so not want to part with their infant’s clothes, the memories of their child’s infancy being connected to the clothing that helps to define who they are. “It is this reluctance to give up a piece of our identity that is driving our reluctance to donate," Reczek said.

So taking pictures can help us part with all those boxes of old baby clothes we no longer need, not to mention all the preschool artwork that comes home and stacks up. Even better, this strategy can also be implemented to help our kids pass along toys and books they have outgrown.

Our stuff in control

More than 75% of families use their garages solely to store the overflow of possessions (Arnold & Lang, 2007). Understanding the gateways of accumulation and the thinking behind them can help us recognize useless stuff when we see it, making it so much easier to get rid of it before it becomes clutter and a problem.

  • Set boundaries. Storing other people’s things can be a signal that we need to be more assertive about our space and set appropriate boundaries to not allow other people to clutter up our home with their stuff. This includes holding on to family heirlooms. Keeping dear Aunt Lillian’s china set might be sentimental, but it just becomes clutter if it is not going to be used and we don’t really want it.
  • Let go of the past. It’s okay to be nostalgic, but hanging onto dusty dried corsages from our high school proms or our too-small jeans from pre-baby days can be unhelpful reminders of the past and can prevent us from taking responsibility for creating a better tomorrow and moving forward in our life.
  • Trust in the future. Shelves of unopened or unused items can signal “just in case” thinking and a lack of trust in the future. They can also signal an aspiration to do or be something we’re not. Donating these items can free up space in our homes, hearts and heads and help us move on.
  • Tame the unfinished. 
Incomplete projects and half-finished remodels can suggest an unsustainable perfectionism, provoking a sense of failure. Prioritizing completion or scheduling removal of the abandoned helps us respect and accept who we are here and now, which can be empowering.

Home, sweet, neat home

The more we declutter, the better we get at it and the more aware we become of choosing what to keep, dump and seek in our lives. A little empty space helps makes room for a new way of living that enables stronger relationships and a stronger us through better physical and mental health.

Think of it this way: Getting rid of clutter is the ultimate form of self-care.

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Creating your baby registry is one of the most exciting getting-ready-for-baby tasks a mama takes part in (other than, you know, growing a life). But even though sorting through adorably teeny this and itsy bitsy that can be loads of fun, that doesn't change the fact that there are SO many products from which to choose—not to mention slight variations in version for each. And how do parents know if you even need that *very specific* item to begin with, since each baby's likes are so different? It helps to have an expert guiding you through the what's-actually-worth-it process, whether it's veteran parents in your life who will likely offer up suggestions, or stores like buybuy BABY that handpick the must-have options and make registry building super easy for you.

From strollers to car seats and swings (because you'll definitely be needing a swing at some point), here are our top picks for first-time parents of the items you'll be glad you put on your baby registry, trust us.

UPPAbaby VISTA stroller

UPPAbaby VISTA stroller

The best recommendation is the one from someone you trust and if you ask around, it won't take long for you to learn that UPPAbaby® is one of the most beloved stroller brands by new and seasoned moms alike. The VISTA is their crème de la crème, and it comes with all sorts of high quality features (think an ultra-sturdy frame and all-wheel suspension to help absorb all those bumps on the road) that will keep your babe comfortable no matter where your walk takes you. Plus, it comes in a bunch of great colors and transitions to a double as your family grows.

$959.99

Chicco KeyFit 30 infant car seat

ChiccoKeyFitcarseat

When it comes to keeping your little one safe, a car seat is probably the most important piece of gear you'll buy. While you'll hopefully never need to test it out, the KeyFit® seat keeps your little peanut extra secure with things like side impact protection—plus, thanks to handy bubble indicators, installing it correctly doesn't require a rocket scientist[JS9] . It's all about making your life easier while helping you breathe easier, too!

$199.99

4moms mamaRoo classic infant seat

4momsmamaRooswing

All hail the infant swing 🙌. Whether your cute new bundle is generally calm or has more of a defiant streak, chances are there'll be a time when you need some hands-free soothing. Enter the mamaRoo, a beyond useful swing that looks as cozy as it is. Strap the nugget in, choose one of five distinct motion patterns, and let yourself enjoy that moment of solitude on the couch (without leaving baby unsupervised, of course).

$219.19

HALO Bassinest premier series swivel sleeper

HALOsleeper

Being a new mom is all about snuggles and, if we're being honest, surviving those sleepless nights. And since the American Association of Pediatrics' current recommendation is to have your baby sleep in your room for at least the first 6 months of life anyway, why not have your little one spend his or her early nights snoozing in a bedside bassinet to save some time in the middle of the night? The HALO Bassinest is designed to nuzzle right up next to your bed, too, so you won't even have to get out from under the comforter during those 3am feedings.

Graco Table2Table premier fold 7-in1 convertible high chair

Gracohighchair

Spoiler alert: Your little babe is going to grow up fast. While it may seem like they'll be in that just-learning-how-to-eat phase forever, they'll outgrow the full-fledged high chair in a blink. While you can definitely buy a variety of different seating apparatuses for them, you can also buy one that'll last with your growing baby. With seven different configurations ranging from an infant reclining high chair to a toddler table and little chair, this is the only one you'll ever need.

$169.99

Fisher-Price 4-in-1 sling 'n seat bath tub

Fisher-Pricebath

Bath time is arguably one of the cutest elements of parenthood. So rather than concentrating on holding your slippery little baby safely in the sink while also, you know, washing them, do yourself a favor and invest in an infant tub with an adjustable sling. It'll help make the bonding time fun of bath time more secure so you can focus on enjoying those beautiful sudsy moments.

$39.99

Hatch Baby Rest sound machine night light + time-to-rise

HatchBabyRestsoundmachine

Technology has brought us a lot of advantages, but one of the best? The ability to comfort your little one without ever leaving bed. The Hatch Baby Rest offers sound- and light-control from your smartphone so you can use the power of noise to help them back to sleep if they fuss in the middle of the night without requiring you to drag your tired self out of bed. Plus, when the toddler years come around, it doubles as a time-to-rise clock so that ball of energy knows when it's appropriate to barrel into your room.

$59.99

Fridababy baby basics kit

fridababybasics

Fridababy has made a name for itself with its cheeky (but incredibly practical) products like the congestion-fighting NoseFrida® and the less-than-pleasant Windi. With this basics bundle, you can get four of their most popular—for nose, behind, scalp and nails—in one convenient package. It's not glamorous, mamas, but it's parenting at its finest.

$39.99

Graco 4Ever all-in-one convertible car seat

Gracocarseat

Whether or not you choose to purchase an infant car seat for the first months, you will eventually need a convertible car seat as your kiddo gets bigger, and the best options will grow with them. The Graco® 4Ever All-in-1 accommodates children up to 40 pounds facing backwards and up to 65 pounds facing forward. Plus, it can be used as a booster seat up through the age of 10. One less thing to buy until then, mama!

Skip*Hop explore + more 3-stage activity center

SkipHopActivityCenter

Insider parenting tip: Invest in a few great toys that serve as a great way to help your baby learn and explore and stay safe (read: unable to crawl away when you turn your head for a split second). An activity center serves both of those purposes—keeps them entertained and contained fabulously. Even better, the SKIP*HOP® Explore & More 3-Stage has an extra-long shelf life as it converts to an activity table when they outgrow the harness. Plus, there's a snack bowl attachment, and as every mama knows, snacks mean victory.

$129.99

This article was sponsored by buybuy BABY. Thank you for supporting the brands that support mamas and Motherly.

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At Motherly we know that mothers can and do balance business needs with the needs of their children every day. We do it every day, and we know that mothers at other companies are doing it every day, too—but this balancing act often isn't talked about.

This week a COO and father, Seth Morales, went viral for drawing attention to how hard his wife, and all working moms, work outside of regular business hours and outside offices.

Morales posted a photo of his wife comforting their child in a hospital bed, writing, "I took this picture of my wife and son this morning. Too often working moms don't get enough credit. I'm sharing this because I want people to know it's possible. You can be great at work and at home."

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He continues: "But sacrifices need to be made before/after normal working hours. The idea of working 40+ hours in the office isn't realistic. You'd be surprised at how productive my wife is from her smartphone while running errands. But she constantly thinks she's falling short with everything. Balancing life is messy and difficult. For all you working parents out there please have grace for yourself, it's a process."

Morales is right about many things: 40 hours of butt-in-seat office work is not realistic for many parents. Our kids have needs Monday through Friday, 9-5 that we need to be there for sometimes. Clearly, Morales' child was in need of medical attention and that's the kind of thing that parents need to be able to give their attention to, whether it happens during regular business hours or not. And Morales is also right that parents are making sacrifices, working before and after traditional office hours and making the most of small pockets of time. It sound like Morales' wife is multitasking a lot of time time, running her work from her "smartphone while running errands."

It's great that this powerful COO is sharing the struggles that working parents face and that a working mother's spouse is recognizing her efforts on a personal level. But we would challenge partners like Morales: If you see your partner trying so hard to do everything and feeling like she's never doing enough, perhaps it is time to ask yourself if YOU are doing enough.

Research shows that among heterosexual couples, women simply do more of the unpaid work of child-rearing than men do, and it hurts our careers, our families and our relationships (and that if men did just 50 minutes more labor at home every day we could close the gender gap.)

We would also challenge business leaders like Morales: If you see your employees are making the sacrifices that he mentions here, working before and after working hours and feeling like they are merely surviving, not thriving, maybe your culture needs to catch up with the needs of employees.

And finally, we challenge any working mother who "constantly thinks she's falling short with everything" to drop some balls and delegate at home. Get the store-bought muffins and share the load of managing your family load with your partner.

Morales is right, we can be great at work and at home, but not if we're not supported at work and at home.

News

Sometimes it's hard for kids (and adults) to understand things that can't see. That's why some creative teachers are using bread to show kids just how germy their hands can get.

"We did a science project in class this last month as flu season was starting. We took fresh bread and touched it. We did one slice untouched. One with unwashed hands. One with hand sanitizer. One with washed hands with warm water and soap. Then we decided to rub a piece on all our classroom Chromebooks," teacher Jaralee Annice Metcalf writes in a now-viral Facebook post.

When the bread was left in sealed plastic bags the slices that had been exposed to more bacteria via laptops and unwashed hands grew the most mold.

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The bread that had been rubbed on those Chromebooks might be the grossest piece of bread we've ever seen, and really underscores Jaralee's point: "As somebody who is sick and tired of being sick and tired of being sick and tired. Wash your hands! Remind your kids to wash their hands! And hand sanitizer is not an alternative to washing hands!"

The CDC agrees with this elementary school teacher: Handwashing reduces the spread of diarrheal and respiratory illnesses (basically the bugs kids seem to be magnets for) so it's a good idea to teach kids to do it properly and often.

Jaralee isn't the first teacher to go viral for incorporating this experiment into her classroom and she probably won't be the last. Full instructions for this project are listed on the C.S. Mott Children's Hospital website and are easy to replicate at home.

Her Facebook post has been criticized by people questioning the conditions of her experiment, but as she notes on her Facebook page, they're kind of missing the point: "We are an elementary school. Not a fancy CDC lab, so relax a little and WASH YOUR HANDS."

It's good advice from a caring teacher and a reminder to wash our hands (and sanitize our laptops!)

News

Whether you have a child in a Montessori school or you are just looking for cool gifts that encourage creative, independent play, we've got you covered. We found the most Montessori-friendly gifts available on Amazon and they won't break the bank—win-win.

While they aren't the hottest toys of the moment, they'll last you a lot longer than a trendy product. Here, you'll find handpicked quality and non-tech gifts like marble runs, interlocking discs and iconic board books, that'll stimulate simple, open-ended play. Perfect to share with family members looking for gifts that don't involve a screen.

Here are our favorite Montessori-inspired gifts under $50 found on Amazon:

TT.Remax Montessori munari mobile

TT.Remax Montessori munari mobile

The Montessori mobiles were designed specifically to engage infants in each developmental stage. This one is the first mobile in the series and is meant for newborns which is why it features black and white images.

Age: 3-6 months

$13.99

Kiddison Montessori kicking ball cotton

Kiddison Montessori kicking ball cotton

This handmade ball is perfect for Montessori babies because it is easy for them to hold and rolls slowly, providing just the right amount of challenge for babies learning to scoot and crawl. It also has a soft jingle that babies love.

Age: 1-2 years old

$15.99

Melissa & Doug rainbow stacker

Melissa & Doug rainbow stacker

This ring stacker is made from durable and child-safe wood, rather than plastic, and is simple in design, perfect for a screen-free play experience for babies 18 months and up.

Age: 18 months+

$7.97

Global Babies board book

Global Babies board book

Montessori focuses a lot on world peace and learning about different cultures. This beautiful board book is a perfect introduction. Spanish and English words teach the littlest readers that everywhere on earth, babies are special and loved.

Age: 1-3 years old

$5.99

EOFEEL Montessori interlocking discs

EOFEEL Montessori interlocking discs

These interlocking discs are a good example of a Montessori toy designed to isolate one specific skill—in this case, a baby's ability to transfer something from one hand to the other. It's ideal for building fine motor skills, hand eye coordination and inspiring babies to explore the world.

Age: 12 months+

$6.99

Elite Montessori object permanence box

Elite Montessori object permanence box

This Montessori toy helps babies explore the concept that just because they can't see something, it doesn't mean it's gone. With repeated use of this material, the child learns how it feels to succeed when they have achieved a goal on their own.

Age: 1-10 years old

$22.99

Elite Montessori infant coin box

Elite Montessori infant coin box

This is a more advanced baby toy to help babies further explore object permanence and work on fine motor skills.

Age: 12 months+

$21.99

Sunny Days Entertainment adventure play tunnel

Sunny Days Entertainment adventure play tunnel

Movement and gross motor development are a big part of Montessori and this tunnel can be used indoors or outdoors, encouraging babies and toddlers to keep moving even on the coldest days. When not in use, it folds flat for easy storage and quick portability.

Age: 3-12 years old

$14.39

Helen Oxenbury Baby love: a board book gift set

Helen Oxenbury Baby love: a board book gift set

Montessori books for babies and young children focus on the real world. These little board books depict babies doing things like clapping and saying goodnight, real life events babies can relate to.

Age: 1-4 years old

$9.99

Five Color Lines mini band musical instruments

Five Color Lines mini band musical instruments

While Montessori toys do not feature electronic sounds, instruments that allow babies and toddlers to create their own music are perfect!

Age: 5 years+

$33.99

Schleich north america farm world starter set

Schleich North America Farm World Starter Set

While many Montessori toys are made from natural materials rather than plastic, Schleich animals make the cut because they are highly realistic and to scale, supporting the Montessori ideal of helping young children to learn about the real world through their play.

Age: 3-8 years old

$19.92

JC Toys Berenguer doll newborn gift set

JC Toys Berenguer doll newborn gift set

Providing toddlers with realistic toys like this baby doll or realistic play food supports their exploration of everyday life through pretend play. The 8-piece layette gift set includes short-sleeve bodysuit, short-sleeve t-shirt, a pair of booties, hat, cloth diaper, diaper cover and hospital bracelet.

Age: 2-10 years old

$24.49

TickiT wooden fruit + vegetable match

TickiT Wooden Fruit + Vegetable Match

Montessori classrooms use matching work, like this one, to help young children refine visual discrimination to prepare for reading, as well as to introduce vocabulary. We love that the chunky tiles are easy for small hands to grip, rotate and turn over.

Age: 12 months+

$41.74

Star Right heads + tails animal match puzzle

Star Right heads + tails animal match puzzle

Part of the magic of Montessori is matching a child with just the right level of challenge. This beginner jigsaw puzzle does just that, as you can give a child one puzzle at a time if they're just starting out, or three or four puzzles if they've mastered completing one.

Age: 2 months-2 years old

$8.99

Guidecraft jr. rainbow blocks

Guidecraft jr. rainbow blocks

Blocks of all kinds are in line with Montessori's emphasis on exploration and child-led learning and play. Use this toy when helping kids with hand-eye coordination, visual perception, color exploration or light table activities.

Age: 2-7 months

$24.95

Gabrielle Balkan The book of bones: 10 record-breaking animals

Gabrielle Balkan The book of bones: 10 record-breaking animals

The Book of Bones is the perfect addition to a Montessori library because it provides rich detail about the world in a straightforward, beautiful way. Little readers can examine animals' skeletons and guess to whom they belong; the answers are revealed in humorous explanations.

Age: 7-10 years old

$14.85

ECOOPRO elecfly kids microscope

ECOOPRO elecfly kids microscope

Young children are all about exploring their world and a microscope is the perfect tool for a budding young scientist. It's built-in three different color filters and the rotating wheel saves you from having to stain slides.

Age: 5 years+

$43.99

Kidz Xplore outdoor explorer nature exploration kit

Kidz Xplore outdoor explorer nature exploration kit

Montessori schools often include an outdoor classroom, encouraging children to spend as much time as possible in nature. This outdoor explorer set helps get kids learning outside!

Age: 5-10 years old

$25.97

Thoth Montessori wooden mathematical manipulative material block board

Thoth Montessori wooden mathematical manipulative material block board

Rubber band boards are often used in Montessori classrooms to encourage children to explore geometry, while also working on fine motor skills and concentration. Kids will also learn all types of 2D shapes and concepts around fractions.

Age: 3 years+

$14.99

National Geographic balance stepping stones

National Geographic balance stepping stones

These stepping stones are in line with the Montessori philosophy of encouraging children to use their bodies as well as their minds—these make a great indoor gross motor activity!

Age: 3 years+

$49.99

Fajiabao Montessori logic games slide puzzle board

Fajiabao Montessori logic games slide puzzle board

In Montessori, children work with patterns to encourage early math skills. This toy encourages children to work with patterns in a fun way. The one side of sliding blocks printed with four kinds of shapes and five-pointed star. Matching the different shaped blocks helps kids identify different geometric puzzles.

Age: 3 years+

$14.99

MEROCO Montessori screwdriver board

MEROCO Montessori screwdriver board

Developing real life skills is a big part of Montessori for young kids. Why not let them practice with a real screwdriver instead of a pretend one?

Age: 3 years+

$26.99

Ravensburger solar system jigsaw puzzle

Ravensburger solar system jigsaw puzzle

In Montessori, elementary aged kids are busy exploring the big questions of the universe as they begin to think more abstractly. This type of beautiful and realistic puzzle supports that interest in science while building skills like concentration and creativity.

Age: 8-15 years old

$12.99

DK dinosaur book

DK dinosaur book

Montessori elementary classrooms spend a lot of time studying early history, including prehistoric times as this is a huge interest of many children this age. This dinosaur book is a great way to encourage their curiosity!

Age: 4-7 years old

$20.69

Blue Orange Photosynthesis strategy board game

Blue Orange Photosynthesis strategy board game

Many Montessori classrooms for older kids begin incorporating more group work as social interactions and relationships are so important to this age group. Board games are a great way to support social skills like taking turns and winning or losing gracefully. Kids will love going through the life-cycle of trees and earn points as their leaves collect energy from the revolving sun's rays.

Age: 8 years+

$29.99

NEX sewing machine

NEX sewing machine

Montessori continues to support teaching practical life skills with older children and a sewing machine can be a really rewarding gift as a child experiences the pride of making his or her own clothes. The simple on/off control button and foot pedal make it great for little ones.

Age: 10 years+

$27.99

Hape quadrilla wooden marble run

Hape quadrilla wooden marble run

A wooden marble run is a perfect Montessori toy because it's made of natural materials and encourages creativity and problem solving skills. The marble run can also be leveled or built up with add-ons for more advanced builders.

Age: 4-15 years old

$42.52

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A month before Christmas the brakes on my 15-year-old sedan started making a strange noise. The bill at the auto shop came to $2,400. That's a lot of money for my family. My Christmas shopping list was immediately slashed, the vacation we'd been planning for the new year (our first real vacation ever) drifted further into the future.

Every day I look at my family and I think about how lucky we are. Our son is healthy and that is priceless. We have a modest home filled with everything we need and wiggle room for some little luxuries (hello Starbucks and Disney+). And importantly, in an area where unemployment is steadily climbing (and with a spouse who is about to be out of work) I still have a job.

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But when that $2,400 bill came my usual gratitude was overtaken by resentment. Because as much as I appreciate what we have, I resent how much our culture is focused on the aspirational when for so many of us, even average seems unattainable.

I resent the fact that I am still paying off my student loans.

I resent how incomes haven't risen with housing costs.

I resent how childcare costs eat so much of my income.

But mostly I just resent how society is squeezing parents for every dollar while simultaneously shaming us for not having enough of them.

So to the mama who wishes she had a bigger budget for her kids' Christmas presents, I see you. I know that you're trying so hard and your kids know it, too. Please know that the magic of Christmas is not in the cost, it's in the memories. Please give yourself the gift of a guilt-free Christmas.

To the mama who is working overtime and picking up side gigs, I see you. I see your hustle, your ambition and your love for your family, and this Christmas I want you to try to give yourself a break. Even just a small one, because even mamas are human and you need to rest, too.

To the mama who is running a household on only her partner's income, I see you. I know it can feel impossible (that's because it nearly is). I also know you are supporting your spouse in their career because that's what is best for your family right now. I know that you are working so hard at home and that sometimes it feels like one income isn't enough. Please give yourself credit for all the unpaid labor you are doing.

To the mama who can rely only on her own income, I see you. You're solo parenting, you're the sole provider, and you are amazing. You are strong. You are bearing so much responsibility and I want you to know that you are more than enough for your children.

To the mama who can't afford to live where she wants to, I see you. Maybe you always dreamed of raising your kids in the big city, but economic realities have relocated you to a far-flung suburb. I see you out there, doing what is best for your family on a budget smaller than you'd like, in a city smaller than you'd like. Mama, know that you are a gift to your community.

To the mama struggling to pay for IVF: I see you. And I see how bad you want this. I want it for you, too. I wish you didn't have to turn to loans and credit cards and crowdfunding for this. Please know that motherhood takes many forms and be gentle with yourself this season.

To the mama struggling to pay off a birth: I see you. And I'm angry for you. I am so angry and perplexed by a system that would bill new parents astronomical sums at a time in their lives when they can least afford it. Giving birth should not put people into debt.

To the mama who has reached her limit, I see you. When you're waiting for payday, every minute seems like forever. When your card is declined at the checkout that moment lasts a lifetime. Please, accept help if you need it. There is kindness in the world for you.

To the mama using SNAP or visiting the food bank this season, I see you. And I'm proud of you. I'm proud of you for navigating this challenging time in your life because figuring out how to do this isn't easy. I'm proud of you for being such a good mother and making sure that your kids have nutritious food.

To the mama getting help from her family, I see you. It can be hard to accept help from your parents when you are a parent yourself, but please do try to see it as a gift. They love you so much that they want to support you, and you can honor that by seeing yourself as worthy of support.

To the mama who is not getting help from her family, I see you. It can be painful to watch your friends and acquaintances get financial help from their families when yours is not in a position to do the same. It's human to be envious when someone's dad gives them a down payment, but the best gift you can give yourself is to focus on your own kids and non-financial gifts you are giving them every day.

To the mama who feels like her life doesn't live up to Instagram, I see you. I understand the pain of scrolling through social media, wondering why it seems like everyone else has a nice home and can take their kids on vacation when you can't. Give yourself the gift of unfollowing or turning off social media.

To the mama who feels like she'll never get out of student loan debt, I see you, I am you, and I can tell you there's hope. For years my student loans have kept me down. They are the reason I am driving a 15-year-old, money pit of a car in the first place. But by the end of 2019 they will finally, mercifully be paid off. Most of the student debt in America is held by women. This is an issue impacting a generation of mothers. You are not alone.
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