Helping Kids Declutter Their Stuff

If you’re just joining us, this is part two of the kids clutter series. Check out part one here: Setting Healthy Limits with Packrat Kids.

In that post we talked about healthy limits. We talked about how parents are in control of the amount of inflowing stuff, and how taking back control of the influx is step #1.

We also talked about healthy boundaries and included a few ideas for how to start creating those boundaries using a simple family time technique.

Now let’s go a little deeper. Let’s hit up some heavy duty techniques for how to get the kids clutter out of the house. Steps one and two are important. Once you’ve got the amount of inflowing stuff controlled and the clutter contained in the child’s bedrom, it’s time to gently start weeding through the quantities they’ve got left.  This is when the big decluttering starts. Here are a few tips:

1 Keep it fun. In my book I include a kids clutter day that has the 10 minute clutter boogie. Here are the quick basics. Every week everyone in the family puts on some music, dances and declutters their stuff for 10 minutes. Afterwards there’s a family outing (think movie night) as a reward.

2 Go slow. If your child’s really attached to their stuff (as most packrats are) it’s going to take retraining their thinking about possessions. Develop a long haul plan for lasting change rather than one giant clutter purge that backslides quickly.

3 Start a toy rotation. Store 50% of the toys away. Every month switch out one tub of toys in the room for one tub of toys in storage.

4 Set a new firm policy that they must clean their room every Saturday morning. As they clean they’ll start to realize that having less means cleaning less which means more Saturday fun time. They may start parting with stuff on their own!

5 Hold a garage sale and ask every member of the family to contribute 30 things. Your child won’t feel picked on, but it will reduce their stash. Keep holding garage sales every few months using the 30 thing strategy until you’ve reduced your children’s things down to a comfortable level.

6 Set a new rule where anything broken or with missing parts is thrown away. This will teach your children to care for their belongings better, and reduce the extra “random” clutter laying around.

7 Read the 10 Clutter Personality Types. See which personality types your child fits in. Start reducing clutter types that do not match their clutter type (ex. declutter the “sentimental” clutter if he/she is a “multiplier”.) It’s easier to part with things that don’t fit within their personality type so it’s a good way to start.

8 Do the money angle (love this!). Teach them to work for their toys. Break it down to the exact amount of time you or your spouse would have to work. So if a toy costs an hour of your salary, give your child the option to “do without” the toy, or work around the house for one hour to “earn” the toy. This will teach them what it’s like in the real world. A powerful lesson and a wonderful skill to teach your children.

9 Do the charity angle. Sit down and have a family meeting. Let everyone know that you want to donate unneeded items to a charity that will benefit needy children. Focusing on the generosity of giving can get your kids to loosen their grips on their old toys. It will also teach them a wonderful skill… sharing and tithing.

10 If all else fails do compromises. Ask if they would mind if you “store” some of their out of season toys for later. It will at least get some of their extra “stuff” out of the house and into storage while you work out an action plan.

11 Warning. Against most advice I don’t recommend decluttering any of their things without their knowledge. My mom did this to me and it made me clutch even tighter to what I owned (and caused a big chunk of resentment). Go the slow way, declutter with their consent and have rational discussions  instead. You will show them they are a respected member of the family and increase their self-esteem. Working together you will make much more progress than through battles for control.

12 About the tip above, Jill from Daily Bread has some wonderful advice on a work-around for this. Jill is teaching her girls at a young age (4 and 6) to limit their stuff and care for it. She did a hiding method I really liked. She took the excess stuff they weren’t playing with and “hid it” in a storage box in the garage. If they ask for an item they’ll get it back but if they don’t notice it disappeared then a few months from now she is donating it all. I love the way she has the stuff “waiting in the wings” for a while in case she accidentally decluttered something one of the girls really cared about.

Kids crave love and respect. They want to feel that their voices are heard and their needs are important. They want to be talked to like adults (after a certain age :) and they want their opinions to matter. By taking the long route, and talking to your children about decluttering and simplifying, you will teach them an invaluable skill: how to respect themselves, their possessions and the people around them. The best schooling comes from home.

 

Part 3 (the last part in the series) will come out next week. Let me know what you think! Are you going to give these ideas a whirl? Have you done some of these before and have feedback to share? Comments make my world go round!

Additional Reading: Check out Jenny from Ex-Consumer with her follow-up post: When Your Child is a Packrat

More News: I’m still getting my new feature set up, The Minimalist Community Spotlight. It’s a fun way to share a little bit about yourself with the “minimalistish” community. It’s for anyone who’s into simple living and slowing down. I would love to get your entry! If you want to be in the spotlight send me a note!

Even More News: Guess what I’m doing this week? I’m reading two sneak previews of books about to be released. The first is by Faith from Minimalist at Home and the second is by Mike from The Art of Minimalism. I’m excited! I’ll tell you all about what I think of them later. The other thing I’m doing is the “guest post not contest” over at Karol’s Ridiculously Extraordinary. It’s been a fascinating challenge because I’ve pushed myself as a writer. So whether I’m one of the three that gets picked or not, it has been an awesome experience to push myself as a writer.

 

the minimalist packrat clutter bootcamp

 

81 Responses to “Helping Kids Declutter Their Stuff”

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  1. Tanja,

    Again, these are great, great tips for getting kids to go along with decluttering. I really like #6. We do have some broken toys, and I wonder why we’re holding on to them. Anything broken gets thrown away is a new rule I’ll propose to my family this week!

    Thanks for #11 too. It’s SO tempting to just swoop things up and get rid of them when no one is looking (at least it is for me…). Jill’s idea for keeping things in a box in the garage just in case is super clever. I’m doing that too!

    So, are you working on an eBook devoted entirely to kids clutter by any chance? If not, you should.

    P.S. Thank you so much for linking back to my blog!
    Jenny @ exconsumer recently posted..Why “Weeds” is so Appealing

    • Hey Jenny,

      I’m so glad some of those tips are inspiring you! And I’m happy to link to you. I love linking out to folks and you’re blog is up and coming for sure.

      I’m not working on a kids clutter ebook. :( Maybe…. someday I’ll put one together. My big project is something I’ve got in the works called The Complete Decluttering Program. It’s going to be a really big book. Then after that I’ve got one planned called Life After Clutter that’s going to be on adopting a simple living and minimalist lifestyle.

      p.s. Hey Jill (wink, wink, nudge, nudge) I bet you’d write a FAB book on kids clutter! You better do it before I do! :)

  2. Jill Foley says:

    First of all, thanks for the mention and link to my blog!

    #9 works really well for us as our family has a “mission focus”. We regularly talk about those less fortunate than us and my kids have become so generous. For the past couple years now, when friends come to play my girls will let them pick something to take home from one of their collections (shells, rocks, little plastic animals, books they’ve made, etc). Sometimes the friends bring one of their small toys to my girls. I love the smile on their faces as they learn the gift of giving.

    To reduce the number of stuffed animals we had, we recently set them up in our bedroom – on display as if in a store. Then we invited the girls in to pick their favorite animal. Each girls “shopped” in our room and picked out their favorite 3. We asked if there were any others they wanted to choose. My youngest chose a couple more. The rest went into a large garbage bag which sat in the garage for a month. My youngest was a little teary, so we told her that if she really missed a certain stuffed animal, she could ask for it and we would get it out of the bag for her. Guess what….she never asked for one.

    Some mornings I ask the girls to go to their room and find 5 things they don’t need anymore. It hardly makes a dent, but it keeps them in the practice of decluttering and has become somewhat of a game.

    I’ll leave you with one more final thought. My kids often play with things that are not toys (most kids do). They love it when I point this out to them and sometimes bring it to my attention themselves. It’s helping in their overall awareness of their attachment to stuff.
    Jill Foley recently posted..Boot Camp – Day 28

    • Hey Jill,

      I love all your generosity practices that you’re doing with your girls. They’re going to grow up and be such wonderful ladies!

      You know in the comment above, where I mentioned YOU should write a book, I was being serious. Your methods of child-rearing are really amazing. I don’t have kids but if I did I’d hope to be as good as you at being a momma!

      And your last point. Yeees. I can’t believe I forgot to put something like that in my list. I guess I kind of mentioned it in the first post. But yeah, kids love playing with things that aren’t toys. I think it spurs the imagination when it’s not all laid out for them by some toy company executive. A stick is a fairy princess wand. A blanket and a few chairs is a castle. It’s the simple things….

      • Jill Foley says:

        You are so kind to suggest I could write such a book. I don’t have much confidence in myself as a writer, but my husband has suggested the same thing. We’ll see…
        Jill Foley recently posted..Kids Mini-Mission

        • Hmmm. You know, when you start hearing the same thing from many different people it might be time to think about it!!!

          I’m not pressuring you Jill. I just know that as a non-mother I have been so completely blown away by the ideas you’ve shared on your blogs. I always said that if I had children I would want to raise them very consciously and compassionately. It just seems like people don’t have time for their kids anymore. And you not only create that time, you do it in a way where you’re teaching them the important life lessons like kindness, generosity, sharing, gratitude. It’s more than A,B,C’s that are important.

          I’m really impressed with you Jill. That’s why I wanted to “voice” my thoughts about you writing a book on parenting.

  3. I agree to put away half their toys. Get them used to less. And if your children are younger, keep things with small pieces put away except for special times of play so they don’t add to everyday clutter. As a matter of fact teaching kids to put one thing away before getting out another is a great habit to teach and will cut down on the messiness.
    Awesome tips Tanja!
    Bernice
    Living the Balanced Life recently posted..Begin again- each and every day

    • Hey Bernice,

      Yeah it’s all about gentle acclimation to a new way of living. Like you said when they get used to having less it will feel normal to them. That’s why I like the half-measure of storing them.

  4. Robert Wall says:

    A friend of mine used to do a twice-yearly purge. Sometime in the early spring she’d get her kids to sit down and go through their stuff. It was a nice time to do it, because you knew which Christmas toys they wound up really liking and which stuff they were no longer playing with.

    I believe she did it again in the early fall.

    The only real rule, as I recall, was that there was a limited amount of space for toys – old toys had to go to make room for new stuff. The kids were welcome to get rid of more than that, and she encouraged them to dispose of anything that was broken, but I think the only constraint was space.

    I seem to recall it working well.

    By the way, I disagree with throwing anything away that’s broken or has missing pieces. Some of my favorite toys when I was a kid had missing pieces or broken parts. Barring a replacement for that toy, I played with the broken stuff sometimes as much or more than the other toys.

    The real test should be the same as most other clutter decisions – what’s its current place in the kid’s life?

    Just my $0.02. :D
    Robert Wall recently posted..In Control- Change Your Inputs

    • Ah Robert. Words of wisdom indeed. You’re right. It shouldn’t be throwing away anything broken. It should definitely be throwing anything away that’s broken AND doesn’t ever get played with.

      I like your friend’s strategy with the twice yearly purge and the “space constraint” rules. I bet that worked great. It’s similar to the “only what fits in this toy box for this room” type of rule. Spatial restrictions are something I talk about a lot in my book.

      Your $0.02 rocks! Thanks for coming by Robert.

  5. jenny smythe says:

    I’m so going to try this on my husband and brother (who also lives with us). Which is perfect because in a sense they do act like little kids lol!
    jenny smythe recently posted..I’m back from my Digital Sabbatical

    • You’ve got two grown-up kids Jenny! I’ve only got one. But he always has been and probably always will be a minimalist. His only downfall is a collection of Magic Cards. It’s still pretty darn minimal though! Hope you enjoyed your sabbatical.

  6. Megan says:

    Did you write this just for me?
    I think you did.
    I’m a declutterer (real word?) by nature but my husband and kids…well, they’re a whole other story.
    I won’t touch their stuff, because it’s theirs, but something needs to give around here.
    I have tried the hiding thing. A lot is all nicely hidden away. I can’t seem to make the final heave-ho out the door though. I am so worried they will ask for it. THanks for the post. I’m going to try some of this stuff.

    • Hey Megan. I wrote it just for you! And… a few other people too, hope you don’t mind sharing. :) Make sure to check out part 1 as well. It had two big tips that will make lasting changes in your house.

      Hiding is a first step. It’s what you do when you’ve gotta make the change but there’s still resistance to the change. Donating is what comes next. You’re there! You can do it!

  7. jaime says:

    Thanks for these tips. As you know we have been struggling with the toy issue. We planned to use Jill’s suggestion when we moved to the new house this weekend, but Carter was already feeling a little unsettled (he kept asking to “go back home”) so we decided to deal with the toys a little later. The move was so easy that we were able to set his entire room the same day. It made Carter feel much more settled to see that all of his things made their way over to the new house. Actually, as we were putting all his toys up, I started to feel like I am okay with the amount of toys he has now but we need to seriously scrutinize what we add in the future – one in, one out will be the rule of the day. Right now, they fit in the given storage and space. With a much larger room the number of toys seems less overwhelming and he actually has room to play in his own space – he doesn’t drag everything out into the main living area. We did keep a small suitcase of things in the closet and donated a small box of toys before moving. When my husband was taking the box of old toys out of the house, Carter started crying and asking for them back. I told him that he has a lot of toys so we were going to give these toys to other kids to play with. I had to repeat it a few times, but eventually he began to understand/accept – I think.

    My favorite tip is #11. I think it is so important that we respect our children;s feelings and take a gentle approach to introducing them to lifestyle changes.
    jaime recently posted..stickers and birthday cake

    • Hey Jaime,

      So glad to hear that you all got settled in from the big move! Or settling in :).

      With Carter going through what to him is “the biggest move of his life” having his familiar toys around probably is providing him with a ton of comfort. It’s wonderful that everything fits nicely in his new and improved bigger bedroom. Spatial restrictions are definitely a BIG thing. Bigger space. More stuff can fit in without it feeling claustrophobic.

      Carter’s very young, and you both are raising him well so I think he’ll get comfortable with the idea of limiting his quantities in the future. Especially the one in, one out. He’s at the perfect age to start working on that concept. That way it’s always HIS decision. Does he really want that new toy? He can have it, but he has to make a choice that one old toy gets donated. It’s good! It empowers him and makes him the decision maker.

  8. Megan says:

    Thank you, Thank you, Thank you, Thank you, Thank you, a thousand times over. I read this last night. THis morning I offered my daughter $1.00 for every toy she decluttered and my son 4 Chucky Cheese tokens per item. All of the sudden we are decluttered by 10 TOYS! 10 TOYS! I tried everything else on the list in the past to no avail. THis worked and they were toys my kids NEVER play with. I had such fear that I would get rid of something and they would resent me for it later. Now THEY ( I am aware I am shouting) got rid of it. I’m writing about it on my blog tonight and adding a link to this. This is sooooooo valuable. Thank you (did I already say that?) .
    Megan recently posted..Day 30 – One Month Anniversary – What did you get me

    • Jill Foley says:

      I’ve “bought” toys from kids before, too – giving a quarter for each item. It works pretty well!
      Jill Foley recently posted..Kids Mini-Mission

    • Bribery! A well loved tool. I actually mention that one in my bootcamp book. Limited amounts of bribery in just the right spots can make a HUGE difference in getting the ball rolling.

      Congrats Megan! 10 toys is a victory! Now just make sure you get the donation bag out of the house A.S.A.P. so the kids don’t go sneaking into it and “taking back” their toys!

  9. Tanja, I have a question for you. Would this work on my mum? She hoards all of my old toys and clothes from when I was mini. I’m 23, and long since not cared. And I’ll always feel like they’re ‘mine’ taking up space somewhere, even if it’s at family home… it’s going to drive me crazy!
    Michael Ashcroft recently posted..The five stages of environmentalist grief

    • Hey Michael,

      It’s a little harder with your mum, since you’re not in control of the “house rules” and all. :) But I’ve got just the trick for you. Check out this post: The Minimalist Packrat Guide to Dealing With Other People’s Clutter.

      Clutter and junk is all about psychology. Whether someone’s 3 years old or 50 years old there’s heavy emotional mojo going on. Just like with kids, be gentle with your mum, go slow, make just a teensy bit of progress getting rid of something, and then praise, praise, praise. Praise means saying wonderful things to her about herself and saying wonderful things about how “incredible the space looks now that my giant gorilla stuffed animal is out of the room”. She will come around and that way you won’t have to go crazy. :)

  10. Hey Tanja,

    Thanks for the link, I’ve bookmarked it! I think your approach is probably best – slow and steady, not scary or pushy (after decades, it’s easy for me to get a bit frustrated), and lots of praise for small steps :)

    Thanks!

    Michael
    Michael from greenminimalist.net recently posted..The five stages of environmentalist grief

    • I’m going to do a post on our progress with Cora soon but I’ll give you a sneak preview of the details Michael. It was slow going at first, a LOT of resistance. We started with yardwork (like I mention in that other post), then we started clearing outbuildings. Now. Wow. We downsized her humongous Christmas shed (imagine 9 full size artificial Christmas trees as just the start of what was in there). That shed is now totally empty. The Christmas she kept is in a very small storage spot (an old chicken coop). Her garage is now walkable again, she has one completely empty shed, she’s tossed a thousand pots (not literally), and recently taken on the gumption to re-do her laundry room all on her very own…. Slow and gentle is definitely a good approach. The trick is not being so slow that “nothing happens” but keep dropping those little hints, statements, and offers.

  11. I’m very impressed to be honest, and it’s clearly a good technique. I just need to overcome my frustration when it comes to thinking that slow = too slow :)

    Michael
    Michael Ashcroft @ greenminimalist.net recently posted..Climate change is our best chance to change the world

  12. Great Article.. I’m sharing my advice and experiences on decluttering and minimalism… but for me it’s easier than most. I don’t have any children. Now I can refer to this piece.

    Thanks!

    Lars

  13. Mai Stanley says:

    :) But I’ve got just the trick for you. I had to repeat it a few times, but eventually he began to understand/accept – I think. You know in the comment above, where I mentioned YOU should write a book, I was being serious. That way it’s always HIS decision.
    Mai Stanley recently posted..Arthritis Tips

  14. Lucinda Hawkins says:

    As you know we have been struggling with the toy issue. My big project is something I’ve got in the works called The Complete Decluttering Program. I can’t seem to make the final heave-ho out the door though.

  15. Hi Tanja,

    I am so glad I came across your blog. I struggle everyday with clutter. Actually, I don’t really struggle everyday. I struggle every two weeks when the cleaning lady is coming and I have to put everyone’s STUFF away (translation – I shove stuff in cabinets, pile things on beds so she can vacuum, and toss stuff in empty laundry baskets.) That day is a nightmare for me and I curse myself for ignoring 14 days of accumulation from 5 people in my household, only one of which miraculously does not hold onto stuff. I’m a packrat who doesn’t even like to shop but I just hold onto stuff – old things mostly. My daughter has become one too and I’m thinking about all the tips you suggested. I encourage donating to the church regularly and she still has a fit parting with things that she has plenty of when others have none. Recently, she wanted to paint her room and I said not until we get rid of the clutter. We did a pretty good job of getting stuff out of her bedroom but she made piles in my bedroom (I agreed, at least it was out of her space) of stuff she would allow to go to the basement for future use. Stuff is still waiting to go to the basement b/c the basement has NO ROOM. Two years ago, I coerced her into selecting one stuffed animal for every year she was old to have in her room, the rest go in the basement. There they’ve sat in a giant black garbage bag, largely untouched. TWO YEARS. If I can get her to agree, how can I donate stuffed animals? Any ideas?

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Trackbacks

  1. [...] don’t be. The majority of minimalists are not nomads. Some minimalists have families and children and suburban homes and personal baggage and go to school and practice their religion and live [...]

  2. [...] 5. The Minimalist Packrat shares ideas on helping your kids to declutter. http://minimalistpackrat.com/2011/03/02/helping-kids-declutter-their-stuff/ [...]

  3. [...] asked me from some tips for packrat kids. My reply to her comment ended up turning into a series of posts. It should have been really freakin’ simple to answer that question guys and gals! But I was [...]

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  5. [...] Help your children de-clutter their rooms, choosing toys or clothing that they no longer need to donate to charity. Make them active participants by having them help you clean the toys, launder the clothing and prepare everything to deliver to your chosen charity. [...]



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