Wednesday, February 25, 2015

His. Hers. Yours. Mine. Ours. (How we Handle Communal and Private Property in our Large-ish Family)

But first... don't forget to check out Kendra's See Me Homeschool post from today!
Tune in tomorrow and Friday for the last two posts in the blog hop and link up your own See Me Homeschool posts until Saturday!

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In our home, stuff abounds.  We have lots of it.   Most of it is stuff we hold in common - food, books, art supplies, toys, and socks (because who has the time to truly sort socks...) 
Things can get a little tricky in a family with a lot of kids when it comes to differentiating between what things belong to everyone and what things are ok for a single owner to keep as "private property."  Even Birthday gifts and Christmas gifts, though often tagged for a single recipient, aren't always a cut and dry case of "private property."   How can we live in a large family where things are shared out of necessity and practicality, but still respect our children's right (albeit small) to owning and caring for their own things?  

Here are some of the general guidelines we try to keep in mind...

* Nothing we have is deserved.  All we have is a gift; it's all part of the particular way in which God has blessed us in the present moment.  All we have is a reflection of God's goodness and *should* be used for our own good (sanctification) and for His glory.  (I say *should* because... well, you know... we're all still working on that one.  Always.)

* Sharing is always encouraged.  But it is not always required.  

* "Equal" and "fair" will not always happen.  You're right, little one.  It may not be fair, but who said anything about fair??  It is what it is.  There are times when a sibling will have something that another doesn't and he or she is not required to share it.  But so will you be in that situation some day, little one.  In the mean time, rejoice for your sibling, and go distract yourself from your sorrow with something else ;)

* You're expected to treat your things well if you expect to continue to call them "yours."  

* Items that are the object of habitual bickering and conflict will be removed from the  home, or at the very least will "disappear" for a while, no matter who they belong to.

* When ownership is called into question, Mom and Dad have the final say.  

Living in fellowship and family with seven people in a house full of stuff means that questions of what's mine and what's ours are going to come up regularly.  The way I see it, for our family, most of our belongings fall into one of five categories.  These are they (along with some examples :) )

Equal Distribution

This doesn't apply very often, but occasionally I'll get all Socialist and insist that a thing is physically divided and everyone gets an equal portion.  A sheet of stickers for example.  

Also, if a child comes into the possession of a large snack, it will be divided equally and shared or not eaten at all.

We especially do this with candy received at Valentine's Day, All Saints Day (Halloween...), Easter, etc...   Our kids don't keep their own candy, it goes into a communal pot and is shared in equal-ish proportions at times of Mom's choosing.  (this is somewhat about sharing amongst family members, but is actually more about staying aware and in control of the sweets my son with diabetes eats.  To clarify - he can eat it, I just have to see it and account for it, so there's no taking candy to rooms and eating in private...)

When something is distributed equally around here, everyone can do what they will with their portion, but when it's gone, it's gone.  My kids have learned the definition and value of rationing - stickers and food alike - by this method :)

Family Owned 
everyone is expected to share or take turns with the things we hold in common

Most food, books, toys, arts and crafts supplies, etc... etc... etc...

In general, we're not the type of family that buys duplicates of toys to placate the masses (the Fisher Price lawn mower has been the obvious exception).  Taking turns is a thing in our family.  It's not always done graciously, but we try to make it happen.

Books are almost entirely communal.  Even if it's received as as a gift.  It goes on the family bookshelf for all to enjoy.  Even if it's something fairly specific - like a book about the life of Ruth.  Just because you're name may happen to be Ruth, doesn't mean the book can be denied to everyone else in the family.  Perhaps as the kids get older this will change, or perhaps Ruth will be permitted to take the Ruth book with her when she moves out and has her own apartment with her own bookshelves.  But for now, our children don't "own" books. 

"Yours to Share"

 I coined this phrase a few years ago and use it all. the. time.  
For us it means that something has a specific owner and that a sibling must ask to use it.  However, when asked, the owner is expected to share it or lose their own privilege to use the item. 
I really do use this "category" a lot and find it's a practical way to teach Christian charity in the home.  It's a reflection of the concept that just as we have been blessed to receive, so we are called to share.  It respects the right of ownership, and encourages generosity in turn.

For example, there was a lot of drama last year surrounding a coloring book that Aaron got for his birthday.  Everyone wanted to use it, but the gift had been given to him.  In cases such as these, I employ the "it's yours to share" principle.  The other kids were not allowed to use the coloring book without asking Aaron first.  Aaron was expected to let his sibling choose a picture to color, but he could deny their first request and let them have their second choice - for instance, his sister chose the excavator but Aaron really wanted to color it so he was permitted to say 'no,' but had to give her her second choice.  It sounds more complicated than it is.  Everyone "knows" it around here so it usually happens without a hitch... Ruth got paint markers for her birthday, Dominic has to ask to use them, Ruth is expected to say yes.  Someone gets a Lego set or Calico Critters set for Christmas?  They'll get to build it or use the gift first, but after that, they're expected to share upon request.  The owner is protected from others just taking and using his or her things without permission, but he or she is also required to share those things when asked properly and politely.  And if s/he doesn't want to share?  They'll lose their privilege for that item for a while (and the other sibling gets it in the end anyway...)

Yours.  For now.

This is probably nothing new for other large families.  This covers those things that "belong" to someone for now because they fit - either by size, necessity, or common sense.
Like clothes and bikes.  
And baby board books, that obviously don't belong to James, but there's clearly no reason for the older boys to be taking them out of his room and hoarding them in their own.  Ahem.

Example: "For this summer, this bike is yours, and no one may borrow it without your permission, however, it was purchased with not-your-money and in a few years it will belong to your sister, so although it is "yours" right now, you may not trash it.  You may not lose, give away, tamper with, or otherwise misuse "your" bike that technically is not "yours." "

As for clothes, size often determines ownership at any given time.  But what if you have children who share a clothing size?  This is the case with my older boys.  For now, they are allowed to wear whatever is in the drawer, except for a few things which they've clearly designated as personal favorites, and they have an understanding between them that they will ask before wearing a brother's "favorite" article of clothing.  Clothes are also to be cared for with the understanding that they belong to the family and need to be kept well for hand-me-downs.  (Except jeans.  It's against the laws of nature to expect that boys will not put holes in jeans, no matter how well they "care for them.")

Private Property 

Means that there is no question as to who it belongs to and that Mom will not require you to share it.  In these cases, sharing is always encouraged, but not required.

There's not much that falls into this category...

These are items that have one specific owner, often because they were gifts, but not exclusively.  It also includes things that the kids made (works of art, craft projects, model airplanes, Lego creations until they're demolished).  It also applies to money that has been earned or was given to the kids as a gift and things they may have  bought with their own money.

Things only remain "private property" if they're cared for properly and are not left laying all around the house after Mom's asked for them to be put away.

Things that definitively belong to one child or another cannot be taken or borrowed without asking, and even then, sharing is not guaranteed.  I don't require the kids to share the things that are specifically "theirs" but often they do.  So that's nice :)

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That's the way we handle most of the stuff in our home.  How about you?  How do you manage the issues of community and private property in your home?  

(hehe... I just deleted a few notes that were left over from writing this post.  Embarrassing :)  When that happens again, as I'm sure it will, don't hesitate to tell me.  I could use a good dose of humility now and then ;) ) 


  1. Obviously, I don't have experience with communal child property at the moment. But our ideas of the things in our house are very similar - everything is a gift, a gift is meant to be treated properly and with respect or it can be taken away, specific things (screentime) are entirely dependent on good behavior.

    I do keep this in mind while I purchase things for H. in my mind except for a few specific things (a couple stuffed animals really are the only thing that comes to mind), I try to think that it's an investment for all my potential children. It also helps me focus on quality as much as I can.... cause mama really doesn't want to have to buy the same crappily made toy twice, or three times or more because it breaks between each kid.

    1. Good point, Molly. I tend to lean toward better quality stuff that will last also. And if it's going to be in the house for a while, I want to look nice too :) Mom reserves the right to get rid of ugly, noisy, annoying toys (even if they were gifts ;) )

  2. I promise I'll come back and read the whole post when I get a chance, because it looks really interesting. But for now, I have a selfish question: do you have any photos in other posts that show more of those beautiful built-in bookshelves?! I've been hunting for ideas because we're preparing to build some of our own, and I'd love to get a better look at yours. I love that fluted molding down the side :-)

    1. here's a post from last year when I took a pic of the living room b/c it was finally clean! You can sort of see that shelf next to the window. Or - I put a pic of it on instagram after I rearranged the shelf yesterday, so if you watch the instagram slide show over the the right, it may pop up.

  3. Our "rules" are similar to yours. But we have one difference. Each child has one place that is specifically his, like a closet or a box under his bed. His personal things that he received and doesn't need to share must be in that closet or box when he's not using it. Our daughter is the most fortunate. Being that she is almost 15 and the only girl, she is the only one who gets a whole room to herself.

    1. We do the same thing. So far my oldest is the only one who really cares about things that are specifically his--mostly artwork and special treasures he's dug up--if he wants to keep those things safe he has to put them in a designated drawer in his room. If he leaves them out they are up for grabs. Same thing for lego creations. Since all three of my boys share a room the toddler can wreak havoc on lego "masterpieces." If they want to save them they must put them up on a designated shelf to (1) make sure their brother can't reach/destroy it and (2) signal to mom that it is special and still being used and therefore shouldn't be tidied up--which I tend to do ruthlessly with any offending legos left on the floor :)

    2. Ah, kids sharing rooms/personal space is tricky! Our two older boys share a room and our two girls share. So far, there hasn't bee too much drama, but I'm planning on it as the get older. I'll takes any tips you have on this, Christine!

      And second Christina - I think my boys have finally learned my take on Legos - it stinks if the little ones wreck a creation, but if it was left in an "at risk" spot, I don't have much sympathy. The really tricky thing is that our boys bedroom is also our basement play room, so all their Lego stuff is down there, but the girls are allowed to be down there also and sometimes bodies and toys collide with Lego creations and and.... sad faces all around. I guess it's one of those good life lessons you get growing up with siblings.

  4. This sounds so, so similar to our house rules. The only thing we do have a "yours" rule for our kids is toys that the younger ones are obviously not ready for yet. Lego, for instance, the 5 year old received for his birthday and Christmas. He may share it with his 3 year old brother and is encouraged to do so when the 3 year old wants to play, but he is to only share when they are far away from the baby because the 3yo is more apt to drop pieces and not pick them up before they're in the baby's mouth. It's mostly a sanity saver for me. Your rules are so well laid out!

  5. I'm sure Ruth is looking forward to her own apartment ( and book!!!)...Love ya lots...

  6. I'm sure Ruth is looking forward to her own apartment ( and book!!!)...Love ya lots...

  7. Where did you gets those dolls in the basket? Did you make them yourself?

    1. I did make them. I tried to search for the pattern/tutorial I used to include it here but I couldn't find it. Pinterest is crawling with good doll patterns though if you're searching for one!
      Thanks for stopping by and commenting, Rhianon :)

  8. Great ideas!
    I am wondering what other people do when a toddler wants to use an older child's things... I can understand that my 7 year old doesn't want her 3 year old sister to use the set of glitter makers she got for her birthday because there are only 5 of them and the 3 year old's coloring is, as would be expected for her age, not exactly"gentle." Anyone want to share how you handle having a younger child who is still learning how to use"big kid" toys be able to share while also keeping the older child from being worried about her things not getting ruined? Obviously things like makers are going to run out the more they are used...

    1. I'm wondering the same thing. (This article is so, so helpful!!) But we have a 2 year old and I'm not sure how to handle sharing between him and my 5 and 7 year old girls. I have no idea how to handle it. He wants everything that they have, and he simply cannot have "it" sometimes. I don't mind letting him throw a fit, but is that how you would handle it? Should I distract him? Or have the girls share with him more? I don't know.

    2. Hi Katie and Erin! (Erin, sorry that I seemed to have missed your comment a few months ago and am just replying now. I usually try to be better about that....)
      This is tricky territory, right? I probably pick from a few different options (depending on the situation) when my baby/toddler wants something that's clearly meant for older kids. Usually, the responsibility to "prevent a disaster" falls on my older children. For instance, if my boys are playing Legos in their room and it's not a good time for the baby to be in there, they're responsible for closing the baby gate. My girls have some marker paints and dot paints that they know have to stay stored away - they're one of the art supplies that the girls have to get permission to use, and I usually only let them use them while the baby is napping. Sometimes the big kids are working on a puzzle but forget how stupid it is to do that on the living floor (hello, baby magnet...) so I'll remind them to do it at the table (that was before the baby became a toddler who could climb ;) ) or take it to their rooms. We used to have a no-toys-in-bedrooms policy, but that doesn't hold up so well when your kids are such different ages. I may seem a little harsh to put the responsibility on the big kids to change what they're doing to avoid a toddler meltdown, but I'm being pulled in too many directions throughout the day to constantly be keeping the toddler away from toys/siblings/craft supplies, etc... I hope that my method eventually helps the kids to take increased responsibility for caring for their things. Hope that helps. A little ;)

  9. A WAY late commenter here. I love your rules though and I have been wanting to implement them a bit more in our household now that we have two toddlers. Our oldest is 3 and our second is 1 (third on the way!). Our oldest is already so stuck on what is his... you say that your kids understand these rules, but (if you remember) how do you start? It's so hard to get across to the 3 year old that he has to share "his" toys and books with his sister. He does listen well when it comes to doing things or keeping things out of her reach (puzzles at the table, his special toy up high if he doesn't want to share, etc). Any tips though on getting him to understand that basically ALL of the toys are communal and not just his?

    (It doesn't help that grandparents buy matching items of things, so they are by default "his" and "hers"...)

    1. Oh man. Good question. Thinking back on what it was like when I had just the two boys is tricky :) I have a three year old and one year old (almost 2) now, so I'll give you some ideas that come to mind from "the past" and now....

      - We typically don't let young kids keep toys in their room. All toys are in communal areas. (My older boys (8 and 9) are getting to the age where they are starting to keep some age-appropriate toys in their room, though) Having toys in just the family room or play room helps physically and visually reinforce that they are "family toys."

      - My 3 year old (will be 4 in March) is absolutely old enough to appreciate my rule "either you share it, or YOU will be the one who loses the toy." If she can't play together with the baby than she won't play at all with that particular toy. If she puts up a fight, I can enforce this by having her sit in bed and when she comes down of her own accord it's with the understanding that she's ready to share (or play with something else ;) )

      - I'll often encourage the toddler/preschooler to "teach" the baby how to use a toy. Then they're both getting "hands on" time with it and the older child feels "grown-up"! This seems to diffuse arguments pretty well.

      - Some toys are "baby" toys. As my kids outgrow toys, they're put away and only brought back out when the new baby is ready for them. This is another concrete way to show that not everything a child used to use/have belongs to him.

      - Finally, I often fall back on the old "just let the baby play with it for two minutes and I know he'll get over it quickly. The toy will be yours to use again soon."

      Hope some of that helps. It's always a tricky thing navigating "sharing" with young kids. But I'd rather they learn it young because it's really a non-negotiable skill in family life and all of life! Thanks so much for stopping by and commenting, Caitlyn! And congratulations on your pregnancy! Hope all goes well!

    2. Thank you! Those are some great tips. I will have to try the "teaching" trick especially! He just started going to Good Shepherd (Montessori religious ed for 3-5 yr olds) and so he understands being shown how to do things before you can play with them... it would really resonate I'm sure!


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