Clutter-Free Parenting: Managing Expectations and Compassion

Clutter-Free Parenting: Managing Expectations and Compassion

clutter-free parenting

I can just hear you now: “Clutter-free” and “parenting” in the same sentence? For real?

Well, not so fast. Clutter-free parenting is not a one-and-done proposition. When my children were little, I took delight in the nice, neat shelves in my basement, holding up totes clearly marked with clothing sizes. I was also Y2K ready (dating myself here), and had organized shelving stocked fully with massive quantities of food for pending disaster, enough to feed a small country. Yes, some of you are judging me right now while others are in awe.

Okay, so I have my skeletons in the closet of overdoing things when it comes to organization. I readily admit that maybe, just maybe, my focus on being clutter-free and organized bordered on being a little neurotic. Notice the past tense in that last sentence.

Clutter-free parenting as your kids grow older

Making five little people do their chores was stressful, but it does not compare with four college kids who all have jobs and school and a creative twelve-year-old who reenacts Curious George episodes again and again. Somehow the college “adult” status has a built-in entitlement that they just simply cannot do chores nor participate in the clutter-free schooling environment of days gone by.

A little background might help here. I home-educated all of my children all the way through. Yep. I am one of those. I delighted in purchasing books – LOTS of them – and organizing it all. Until … Until our lives were interrupted by a tragedy that transformed our very existence.

Suddenly the pet peeves about clutter really did not matter anymore. Just making my kids happy, just surviving, just trying to maintain some level of cleanliness, that’s where my focus shifted.

Balancing compassion and expectations

The problem with that state of living is that if we aren’t careful, it becomes our new norm. Kids are smart and realize this. The compassionate heart of mommas can, um, enable their disobedient behavior with excuses. I confess I have done this many times. I rationalized in my brain that it was cruel to stress them out with the burden of having to actually chip in around the house. They had a past pain that somehow overruled maintaining a clutter-free zone.

Now I have four kids, all with jobs and in college. “I’m an adult now,” several of my children have informed me. I mused over what those words meant as college textbooks were scattered all over my dining room table, kitchen table, coffee table, well, actually EVERYWHERE! “Mom, I have to work.” “I don’t have time to rinse the plate off.” “Gotta go.” The enabling side of me felt compassionately that it was just too hard for them to be expected to do 5-10 minutes of chores. They were stressed. But then, so was I. I work too.

The climb back to a clutter-free zone with children is not completely victorious. We fail and sometimes give ourselves space and grace when times get really hectic. But we don’t stay there.

When I am tempted to feel guilty and mean about expecting children who live in our home to pitch in, I am reminded that allowing clutter to reign in our lives and in the lives of our children is actually not kind.

One Small Win: Holding kids accountable to a standard that fosters peace can set the foundation for their lives to be clutter-free in their mind and homes.

So to our children who are now young adults, my husband says, “You’re right – you’re an adult now . . . act like it!”

“A servant pampered from childhood will become a rebel.” Proverbs 29:21

clutter-free parenting

Denise Pass is an author, CCM artist, worship leader and speaker from Fredericksburg, VA, where she lives with her amazing husband and five children. Denise is passionate about writing devotions and music that foster unshakable hope and healing in the face of seemingly insurmountable circumstances. Her ministry, Seeing Deep in a Shallow World seeks to be a compass grounded in Scripture and a place where real problems meet real, transparent faith and needed answers in Scripture.

You can read more about Denise’s ministry, Seeing Deep, over at or connect with her on Facebook and Twitter.

Message in a Bottle: How a Simple Jar Can Help Grow Deep Family Connections  (Plus a Book Giveaway!)

Message in a Bottle: How a Simple Jar Can Help Grow Deep Family Connections (Plus a Book Giveaway!)

Once upon a time I thought if I could make enough spreadsheets, post enough lists, or structure my planner enough, then I could build the scaffolding for smooth, meaningful days. I imagined days where love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control could just spill right out of my heart.

Turns out “fruit” doesn’t grow on spreadsheets. Nothing against lists, mind you. But through God’s gentle teaching over the past several years, I’ve embraced the natural rhythm of days and grace in the midst of busyness.

It’s a beautifully confounding idea that the miraculous is often present in the mundane. A moment setting aside a scrambling schedule in order to kneel down, look a little one in the eye, and just listen to what is on their heart, is worth all the crossed-off lists in the world.

In short, I’m learning that the “small” can be momentous. That the moments make the days. And that it’s the humblest things that make life the richest.

How a jar can unify your family

Take for example the idea of a simple jar and a few pebbles. What if these everyday things could help unify your family throughout the day? What if it weaved hearts together? Here’s what I propose:

1) Find a jar, bowl or vase.

2) Obtain a group of pebbles, glass gems (as you might use in a fish tank or for the game Mancala), or other memento—one style or color for each person in the family. Even just a slip of paper with each person’s name written on it would do the trick.grow deep family connections
3) Each morning every person takes a pebble of another person’s chosen color. Slip it into a pocket, lunch box, brief case, purse, pencil box or backpack. Gather before parting ways for the day to talk about prayer requests for the day.

4) Throughout the day, whenever that person comes across the pebble, it’s a prompt to say a quick prayer for the person it represents, and whatever they might be facing in their day.

5) At the end of the day, take a moment to go around and debrief about the day. Each person asks the person whose pebble they drew how their day was. Then let them know how or when they were prayed for.

6) Finally, deposit each of those traveling gems into your chosen jar. Over time, the intermingled pebbles (or other items) serve as a visual reminder of how cherished each person has been in thought and prayer.

grow deep family connections 

A message in a bottle

In my research for the newly-released Message in a Bottle Romance Collection, I’ve come across some incredible stories of objects and messages in simple vessels. This is just one way to make a living message of your own and create a beautiful tradition.

grow deep family connections

For a chance to win one of five copies of that book, tell us in the comments: What is one simple but important message you would love your family to carry in their hearts each day?

grow deep family connectionsAmanda Dykes is a drinker of tea, dweller of Truth, and spinner of hope-filled tales. She spends most days chasing wonder and words with her family, who love a good blanket fort and a stack of read-alouds. Give her a rainy day, a candle to read by, an obscure corner of history to dig in, and she’ll be happy for hours. She is the author of the critically acclaimed Bespoke: a Tiny Christmas Tale, a contributing author to the newly-released Message in a Bottle Romance Collection, and enjoys connecting with her readers on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

How Our Family Ebenezer Helped Us Through a Season of Financial Stress

How Our Family Ebenezer Helped Us Through a Season of Financial Stress

by Amberly Neese

Money stinks.

Don’t get me wrong I appreciate the freedoms and opportunities money can afford, but the lack of it is draining.

My husband and I have been in full-time ministry for most of our lives. Budgeting has been a necessary reality since the beginning of our union. Dental bills, unexpected car repairs, medical issues, and the cost of everyday life created stress for us in various seasons but nothing could have prepared us for nine months of unemployment.

The cost of unemployment

We had just moved so I could accept my dream job at a Christian camp in the mountains of Arizona. I left teaching, took a pay cut, and trusted God’s call. Everything was awesome until my husband started looking for a job. He has a Master’s Degree from USC (on a full ride), decades of experience, and, frankly, he is a good guy. Nothing. No one seemed to have a need for that which he had to offer. It was arduous.

The tension in our home with our teenagers and between my husband and I became palpable. An increase in raised voices and shed tears precipitated a change. That change came in the form of a trip to the dollar store (God bless the dollar store).

We bought polished rocks, a candle, and a Sharpie. I pulled out an old glass hurricane lamp and charger plate from the garage and got to work. I put the candle in the middle of the charger plate, placed the hurricane over the candle and spread the rocks all around the outside of the glass. Then I called a family meeting where I told everyone anytime we felt overwhelmed or frustrated, we needed to contribute to our family’s ebenezer.

A family ebenezer

Ebenezer is more than the name of the lead character in that old Christmas story. It comes from the name of a stone raised by Samuel to commemorate a victory over the Philistines at Mizpeh (I Sam.12). The word itself comes from the Hebrew (ebhen “stone” + ezer “help”). God often asked His people to remember His goodness by building an ebenezer to remember His faithfulness. God didn’t do it to feed His ego, but instead, He knew we’d need the reminders.

We have very short memories in times of trouble!

Each person in my family was given a few rocks and asked to write something God had done to show His love in the past week. We used the permanent marker to scribble our ideas on the rocks. Anytime we saw the hand of God provide for our family, we wrote on a rock and placed it on the inside of the hurricane glass.

They served as our reminders

By the end of the unemployment drought, we had gone back to the dollar store three times to buy more rocks. Even on days when our financial situation looked bleak, it was very difficult to feel sorry for ourselves. Written on every rock we saw His faithfulness evidenced on a daily basis through others, circumstances, and His church. The arguments dissipated and the joy quotient vastly increased.

Someday when my kids leave the house to start families of their own, the first thing I will send with them is the makings of an ebenezer. I pray when they face the tumult of difficulty, such a visual reminder will commemorate God’s faithfulness, and the “joy of the Lord (will be their) strength.” (Nehemiah 8:10)

One Small Win: As we built an ebenezer, He built in us a solid trust in His provision. When we removed some of the rocks, we were reminded of all that had happened. We were flabbergasted at the creative ways God provided for our family.

Amberly Neesefamily ebenezer is a national speaker, author, and humorist with a passion for pointing others to the joy found in Christ. She has won hearts (and funny bones) of people all over the country at hundreds of conventions, camps, seminars, retreats, and chapels. She also serves as the program director at UCYC and an adjunct professor at Grand Canyon University. Amberly received her Master’s degree from Biola University.

Amberly has been married to Scott Neese since 1992. They have two kids, Judah and Josiah. They live in beautiful Prescott, AZ and love the Food Network and all things Star Wars. You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram.



Parents Guide to Decluttering: Stage Five – Adults

Parents Guide to Decluttering: Stage Five – Adults


A Series by Paula Tobey

Either you are reading this because you, yourself still need some help, or you have a young (hopefully, young and not a 40 year old) adult living at home who needs a little help. Either way, it’s time we have a heart to heart conversation. The matter at hand here is usually disorganization and clutter.

To get to the root of the problem often takes examining what has gotten you here in the first place. Maybe it’s life change, or maybe it’s simply not having the energy to deal with ‘life’ and procrastination has become your friend. Whatever the case, it’s time to get busy. But don’t worry, this isn’t hard stuff to do, it just requires reflecting.

What has happened to make this procrastination take control? What issues are not being addressed? What pain is possibly trying to be avoided? On the flip side… what could you do with more space, more time, and more energy? How would you feel if you could be given those things? Would you feel free? Would you feel less stressed?

Let’s think of some of the physical and tangible things holding you back like some luggage you are taking on a trip. What could be causing you to feel this way? Is it possibly stuff… clutter… excess?  Is it possibly not having enough hours in the day?

  1. Identify your luggage– (stuff, clutter, lack of time). Think long and hard about the root source and find ways to take small actionable steps (baby-sized steps) in dealing with it. An example is that you are carrying too many bags.
  2. Open the suitcase- What is stopping you from opening the suitcase to take some of the load off? Is it feelings of guilt or pain? Can those feelings be dealt with in a way that won’t knock you down for days? Lift the lid of the suitcase if so.
  3. Take out one item and think about it this way. Do I need it? Do I love it? Does this item bring me peace and joy or hurt or pain? If you can answer that honestly, you know what to do!! Sometimes we can trace back our memories of the object (or situation, if you are dealing with emotional stuff) and we feel like we need to keep them. Maybe it was given to you… or you happened upon it. Either way, you are allowed to decide what to do with it. It does not own you.
  4. Discard and Keep piles- and literally make some. If it needs to go, get rid of it. Bless someone else! There has got to be one person out there in real need of the item you possess. Allow them to have it! Take your keep pile and find places to safely keep that stuff. (Homes for it). If this is too daunting, ask for help! There is no shame in asking. I believe it says a lot about someone when they ask for help. It is honorable!
  5. Literally do it again. And the next time and the next… Plan on doing it again and before you know if, you have created yourself a habit!

Part of the problem we find ourselves in is: overwhelm. That is a nasty bugger and it can paralyze you. Don’t let your thoughts, worries and what could possibly happen, stop you from taking one step. You are too good for that! You deserve more!!  Just start. That is what matters!


Want even more ways to get rid of the clutter and start living the life you were designed to live? Get Kathi’s book Clutter Free Quick and Easy Steps to Simplify Your Space!

Paula TobeyWhat are your best decluttering tips for before baby? Tell us in the comments below and we will randomly pick one commenter to receive “21 Ways to Connect with Your Kids” by Kathi Lipp and Cheri Gregory.

Do you want more great information to make your family the best it can be? Subscribe to Paula’s blog and get weekly posts and encouragement to help you on your parenting journey.

Paula Tobey is founder of PheMOMenal Life Ministries a community for women to go get encouraged and equipped to be the best mom’s they can be to their children by living a healthy balanced life and by becoming all that God created them to be. 

Parents Guide to Decluttering: Stage Four – High School

Parents Guide to Decluttering: Stage Four – High School


A Series by Paula Tobey

How often do you think about your life back when you were a teenager? Did your parents get after you about cleaning up your room? Did you get nagged?

Even if they did nag you, I bet it was not their goal. Let’s think of the goal of your child keeping his/her room clean. Is it so your house looks like a Southern Living magazine or is it so your child is prepared and responsible in life?

If the goal is to prepare them, your job is to facilitate them getting there themselves. You cannot make your teen be neat. What you can do is show them the value in being neat and that less clutter brings more peace.

Closet (clothing) storage and organization

Have your teen go through their clothes and make piles of clothes that fit and don’t fit. Then have them sort further by season or if it is to be worn at school. If you can leave them to this task independently, GREAT. If not, help them with the first 5 pieces so they get the idea and wait for them to ask you to leave. JRemind them that the point is to make getting ready easier and faster. The goal is to love what they do have.)

I use the analogy ‘Love it, or Let it Go’ if I am ever unsure whether I should keep something. I try to think about when I would wear or use it and if nothing comes to mind immediately, let it go. If you have used it in the last 8-12 months good, if not, let it go.

Bathroom products and toiletries

Teens seem to have a ton of products. One product for washing their faces, one for hair, one for body and the list goes on and on. Teen girls are marketed to on make up more than any other group. Choose a time to talk with your teens (not when they are already running late, because let’s face it, they probably are). Have them sort their cosmetics, products and toiletries by the expiration date to start.  They will be releasing the clogged up space, much like a pore that needs air to breathe when they get rid of some of that stuff. Help them make a list of what they need to replace and the order of importance.

Desk and work spaces-

Teens have tons of homework and this area should be as clutter free as possible. Their minds cannot focus if they are looking at a mountain of x-box games, teen magazines or yesterday’s half eaten tuna sandwich! Have them clean the top off nightly and inside their desk area every month, or every other month. This ensures there cannot be too much in the way.  This will help them be successful when getting started on their own, because we all know the goal is that they move out one day!Clutter-Free

Being a coach to your teen is the easiest way to get them to cooperatively participate in cleaning. I suggest you have an open discussion of what peace they could have (which makes them successful) by taking the time now to get organized. I did not have the luxury of having my mom coach me. I wish she had because it would have saved me quite a few years as a young adult figuring out what did not  work.


Want even more ways to get rid of the clutter and start living the life you were designed to live? Get Kathi’s book Clutter Free Quick and Easy Steps to Simplify Your Space!

Paula TobeyWhat are your best decluttering tips for before baby? Tell us in the comments below and we will randomly pick one commenter to receive “21 Ways to Connect with Your Kids” by Kathi Lipp and Cheri Gregory.

Do you want more great information to make your family the best it can be? Subscribe to Paula’s blog and get weekly posts and encouragement to help you on your parenting journey.

Paula Tobey is founder of PheMOMenal Life Ministries a community for women to go get encouraged and equipped to be the best mom’s they can be to their children by living a healthy balanced life and by becoming all that God created them to be.