What Does Personal Property Rights And Organizing Family Life Have In Common?


Personal Property Rights? Really? Isn’t that a legal principle? What does this have to do with a home organizing website? So glad you asked. Before I launch into a series of posts totally related to kids, I wanted to address two ideas, one legal and one economic, that are incredibly powerful in the life of a family especially from cradle through college. In this post we will discuss the legal concept of personal property rights.

Let’s define our terms so that we know what we are talking about. According to Merriam-Webster.com personal property is defined as “property other than real property consisting of things temporary or movable”. You are all probably very familiar with the idea of personal property. Everyone has ‘personal property’ whether it is clothing or computer or a car; it belongs to someone and it is temporary or movable. A piece of land or a building would be differentiated as ‘property’ since it would not be considered moveable.

So why are we really discussing the definition of this legal term here on this blog? I decided to write a blog post on this topic in an effort to get you up to speed with what your children already know. Understanding this concept and recognizing where your children stand on the issue, will help tremendously as you organize and manage your household and your children.

When the kids say, “But that’s not mine, why do I have to pick it up?” Or maybe, “Mom, his clothes are on my bed again. Tell him to get them off my bed!” Perhaps you have heard, “Why do I have to pick up her shoes again. She leaves them lying around the house all the time. Why doesn’t she have to pick them up?” Consider the comment, “He used it last, why doesn’t he have to put it away?” Or maybe you have heard, “That’s not mine, so I don’t care if you throw it away.” But my all time favorite personal property quote is, “Mom, she’s looking out my window!”

Yes, these are all expressions of the innate understanding that kids have about the principle of personal property rights. Just look at any two year old with his toy when a friend comes over and tries to take it. That is an innate knowledge of personal property rights in action. As a mom and dad, since everything in the house actually is yours and because you view these little darlings as extensions of yourself, therefore you view the house as “our” house and the stuff as “our” stuff and the maintenance of all of this glorious stuff as a joint effort…team work…a “we’re all in this together” kind of feeling. However, those little darlings aren’t quite as benevolent in their ideas about personal property. Due to their lack of maturity, they still view personal property as …uh…personal....meaning one person, even if the question at hand is related to a family situation. Therein lies the problem.

Or maybe not! Maybe rather than that viewpoint being the problem, that viewpoint could actually be considered an opportunity. Really the purpose of parenting is to train these little people to be adults one day. To train them to think for themselves, to handle finances well, to be able to provide for a family, to know and love God, to care for others. In essence, the end goal is to raise these children up to think and behave like mature adults rather than children. One of the difficulties of parenting is that continual balancing of knowing where they are in their journey to adulthood and helping them to press on while not pushing them too quickly such that they become utterly frustrated.

Since one of the foundational principles in all of law is personal property rights, you can actually be encouraged to know that your children already have some minimal understand of that concept. They are keenly aware of when they want to have control over something and also when someone else should be responsible for something. As a result, the idea of personal property rights is a concept that you will want to use as a foundation in many of your conversations with your children.

When you are trying to reinforce personal property rights the conversation will go something like this:

Child: “Mom, she left her shoes out again. Please make her put them away. I am tired of putting her shoes away all the time.”

Mom: “I understand that you think that she should put her shoes away because they are her shoes, right? But if that is the case then that means that you should always have to put your schoolbooks away when you leave them out and other people shouldn’t have to do that, right? So in the future, you make sure you put your school books away and I will talk to her about making sure she puts her shoes away.”

When you are trying to reinforce family helping one another regardless of who the owner might be, the conversation will go something like this:

Child: “Mom, she left her shoes out again. Please make her put them away. I am tired of putting her shoes away all the time.”

Mom: “I understand that you think that she should put her shoes away because they are her shoes, right? So that means that when you leave your school books out, which you do quite frequently, that you should always be required to put your schoolbooks away, right? So next time your schoolbooks are out, and you are sick, do you want me to make you get out of bed to put them away? Or do you want me to ask your sister to do it for you since you aren’t feeling well. You know that is one way that families can help one another.”

Personal property rights will come up again and again as we discuss ways to implement systems in your home and family life that also includes your children and their things. Systems of maintaining virtually everything in the household will bump up against private property rights. There are privileges as well as responsibilities that come with ownership and helping children discover the differences is part of a parent’s job. What better environment to learn about these concepts and practice using them, than through family living.

As we venture into organizing family life with children from cradle through college, be encouraged that your children already have a small grasp on a fundamental system of equity in our country. It is your job as a parent to refine that thinking, help the child to understand all aspects of personal property, and to know how to use wisdom in implementing that idea in everyday life.

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