Play Area / Homeschool Room Before and After: 11 Tips for Decluttering

Play room before and after decluttering with multilingual kids pictures inspiration
Before: single-use or electronic toys piled on the ground; After: open-ended toys and school materials organized on open shelves encourage independent, cooperative play

Most parents feel overwhelmed with the mess that comes with kids, myself included. Plus, if your kids are learning multiple languages like ours, you might have 2 or 3 times the amount of “stuff” around. Although the toys, artwork, paper work, and gifts easily multiply, decluttering with kids is possible and very rewarding!

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Decluttering with kids is challenging for most parents

Despite our heartbreaking experience with decluttering after my mother’s sudden death, we fell into similar hoarding habits when we started our own family.

By the time our second child was born, our house was exploding with popular toy gifts from friends.

I was impulsively buying every Chinese and Korean product, desperately hoping to boost my kids’ minority languages.

Of course, kids can learn in the thick of clutter, so is change really needed?

My daughter was starting to learn 3 languages when we had toys shoved under and piled up in random places.

I grew up in a messy house and am a fairly successful adult!

However, like many of you, we noticed that our kids seemed distracted and frustrated from searching through excessive options.

I also get cranky when I step on toys and can’t find what I need!

Furthermore, in order for our kids’ minority languages (Chinese and Korean) to stand out against the dominant English, we needed to make drastic changes.

Play room before and after decluttering with multilingual kids pictures inspiration
Before: rarely used toys shoved under easel and in an ill-fitting shelf with obstructive lip;
After: unused toys donated, open shelves are easy to access and see options

Benefits of decluttering with kids

In our experience, decluttering has made our days more peaceful and productive with our kids.

We have seen the following benefits:

  • More independence
  • Less frustration
  • Better concentration
  • Greater creativity
  • Increased efficiency
  • More time to teach minority languages
Before and after easel in play area
Before: markers in bag makes it difficult to find and take desired marker; infrequently used toys shoved under easel in zipper bags; After: markers on tray accessible for easel use; open, shallow baskets under easel holds frequently used open-ended toys.

11 Tips for Decluttering with Kids

As with anything, the beginning was the hardest!

Over the past few years, decluttering has gotten easier as it has become part of our family routine.

Here are 11 tips that have helped us get in the habit of decluttering with our children.

I know it can be overwhelming, and I sincerely hope these ideas can empower you to a fresh start!

1. Talk about the importance of decluttering with kids

The first step is to work on decluttering as a family.

Someone needs to take charge, but team effort will make it easier for everyone.

Brainstorm which approach you want to take, such as Montessori and KonMari or a 30-Day Declutter Challenge.

Throughout the process, encouragement is important. My husband and I try to remember to thank each other and our kids for helping out.

We also point out consequences as they naturally arise, such as losing beloved belongings or tripping over something.

Organized modern Montessori inspired play room; involve kids in cleaning
Shortened Swiffer sweeper allows my toddler to participate in cleaning; Wagon, easel, playmat (we also have this one), wood rainbow stacker, open cubed shelves, baskets, CD player (CD organization tips here)

2. Be the example for your kids

Before we tackle the kid clutter, we need to set the example ourselves.

For instance, we might block out a day a month where the goal is to clean out a certain area, such as closets on Saturday and kitchen on Sunday.

Rarely worn clothes are given to friends, local consignment stores, and thredup.com.

Extra kitchen tools and electronic gadgets are donated.

Junk mail is dumped in the recycling bin.

All of our billing is paperless, and most important documents have been scanned and saved electronically via the Genius Scan app.

In addition, our adult music and books are nearly all digital.

Play room and homework area
Organized play area: floors are clear after play and school work are complete; step stools (here and here) improve accessibility

3. Don’t organize what you can donate or discard

Before starting, the most important rules are to:

  • Determine what you want the space for, and
  • Keep only what you need

Organizing is futile when there is too much stuff. Sorting will be much more productive after you have donated or discarded unnecessary items.

If you haven’t used something in a few months, you probably can live without it.

As you can see in my photos, we have had different shelves in our kids’ play area, which is a corner of our living room.

Before fully de-cluttering, I made the mistake of purchasing cubed storage when rectangular shelving was better for our materials.

Electronic toys hinder child development. Removed batteries from digital toys and don't buy more!

4. Get rid of battery-operated toys

Despite all of the flashy advertising, kids do not need electronic toys.

While it’s possible for kids to mimic letters and words heard from toys, rich dialogue and connection comes from human interaction.

From the Journal of Pediatrics:

“Electronic toys (eg, sensory-stimulating noise and light toys)… and tablet-based toys…detract from social engagement that might otherwise take place through facial expressions, gestures, and vocalizations and that may be important for social development.

Plastic, battery-operated toys also have long-term devastating effects on the environment.

Besides, English-speaking toys would sabotage our attempts at being consistent with speaking the minority languages – Chinese and Korean.

If you already have these toys at home, take out the batteries so your family can do the fun talking and sounds!

5. Donate duplicate toys, art supplies, and clothes to other children
Redundant vehicles that my toddler chose to donate (we still have tons of cars)

5. Donate duplicate toys, art supplies, and clothes to other children

Gather items that serve similar purposes to see what is redundant. These can be donated to other families.

For example, since we have allergies to dust mites, we donated over 40 stuffed animals, including large ones that we could not wash. My kids picked their favorites to keep and chose which ones to give away.

Extra art supplies, such as markers and crayons, are offered to school.

Organized, modern play area and homeschool room: Son playing with blocks and toy cars; bamboo stepstools are use for sitting and also play; tray table for my daughter's homework; white custom shelf inspired by IKEA Besta
Son playing with blocks and toy cars; bamboo stepstools are use for sitting and play; tray table for my daughter’s homework; white custom shelf inspired by IKEA Besta

6. Put away outgrown toys

Available options should be developmentally appropriate.

Since my kids are 3 years apart, I try to organize resources at eye level into 3 categories:

  • Everyone (eg, blocks, Legos)
  • Appropriate for my 3-year-old son (eg, counting)
  • Suitable to my 6-year-old daughter (eg, elementary school materials)

If the toys are too challenging, the child will get frustrated and need parental help. See if you can simplify it, or store it away and introduce it later.

On the other hand, if options are too easy, kids will get bored. These toys get in the way of finding relevant ones.

Same open-ended toys are enjoyed every day in different ways
Same open-ended toys are enjoyed every day in different ways

7. Keep open-ended toys and art supplies

Art supplies and open-ended toys, promote skills that are so important for long-term success and happiness.

Wood blocks, Legos, and other building toys encourage independence, problem-solving, and eye-hand coordination.

A nice set of colored pencils, watercolor brush pens, and/or water calligraphy set can encourage exploration and creativity for a wide age range.

These simple, versatile tools grow with our children. Honestly, kids probably don’t need much more.

8. Limit purchases

As kids grow, shopping is still necessary for age-appropriate clothes, toys, and school supplies.

However, before carting an item, consider whether you “need” or “want” something. Encourage your children to practice asking this as well.

As a prevention strategy, some of my friends have canceled their Amazon Prime account to avoid regretful purchases! Amazon is my weak spot, and I can’t give up free 2-day shipping!

But before entering Target or other stores, I talk to my kids about the shopping plan. They know we will not be getting anything else.

When I involve them in writing and reviewing our shopping list, this reinforces our focused buying.

Memory journal with letters to children: free, meaningful holiday or birthday gift
Memory journal: free, meaningful gift to my daughter

9. Establish gifting guidelines for birthdays and holidays

Depending on your relationship to relatives, consider discussing limiting birthday and holiday gifts to a certain number.

For relatives who insists that presents are their love language, consider suggesting alternatives. Useful gifts include cash (eg, Chinese red envelopes), special experiences, or something on a curated wish list.

In lieu of boxed gifts at a birthday party or holidays, book exchanges celebrate literacy and are usually more useful than short-lived toys!

Organization tip: one activity at at time; put it away before getting the next one

10. Make organization a regular habit

When the home gets messy as it naturally does, we expect our kids to participate in clean up.

By training them to do chores like dishes and laundry, they are learning practical life skills.

They understand that responsibilities come with the privilege of living in a home. They must do the work of life in order to be part of it.

To set our kids up for success, kid items are kept in predictable, reachable, and visible locations. Commonly used items are often placed in open baskets.

We encourage each child to focus on one task at a time. Before starting a new activity, they should finish or put it away.

Of course, kids resist and test limits all too often. Stay positive yet firm but try to make clean up fun. For example, you can race to see who can finish the fastest!

Riding bike and scooter outdoors, enjoying beautiful weather!

11. Don’t feel like your child is missing out with less

With less clutter at home, our kids have more space and opportunity to be creative and independent.

They have more time for free play inside and outside, which is incredibly important for their health and well-being.

Moreover, my husband and I can spend more quality time with each other and our kids.

Have you tried decluttering with your kids?

What challenges have you experienced with organizing with kids?

What solutions have helped your family minimize clutter?

Please leave a note below – I’d love to learn about your family’s journey!

Creating a prepared learning environment at home

Soon to come:

  • Practical Life Skills and Kitchen Organization with Kids
  • 5 Ways to make Books Easily Accessible to Kids
  • Daughter’s Library Bedroom Tour and Trilingual Bookshelf
  • Son’s Mid-Century Modern Montessori Bedroom
  • Updated Play Area and Homeschool Room Tour

Happy decluttering, friends!

10 Comments

  1. Thank you for this posting! I was frustrated with the sheer amount of stuff my kids have. This gives me a guideline of what to do and so that we can enjoy what we have and not be overwhelmed.

  2. I can’t wait to read all your post. I struggle with the “maybe one day” trap of keeping materials beyond my girl’s cognitive levels (they were adopted and have delays in all areas.)
    I love learning from you!

  3. Any ideas of how to help family and friends buy language-focused books or materials when they don’t speak the language? Just gift cards for sites? Can’t wait to see your updated tour and art storage organization area, and thanks for the ideas!

    1. Hi Crystal! Thank you for the question, and so sorry for the late reply! I know many families who use Amazon wish lists or wish lists for other companies, and gift cards are always a great idea. Currently, my in-laws will ask me to buy something for them and help them wrap the gifts; then they send me a check after (even though we try to decline it). On my side of the family, my auntie just sends the kids money.

      And thanks for your patience on the other posts! Here is the new post about our art storage/organization plus our kids water/snack station. More to come soon! 🙂

  4. Thank you for posting. I am so overwhelmed with the amount of things my kid has. Currently, we are homeschooling her and would love to get organized. I would like to ask you where did you buy your white rectangular shelves?

    1. Hello, new to your blog! It is really useful for setting up a toddler play/learning space. Also wondering where you bought the newer rectangular shelving. Thanks!

  5. I was just about to put an order in for a reading pen that reads the word out loud when you tap on the picture. After reading your post on battery operated toys, I’m wondering if this would be a supportive or hindering purchase for my son’s cantonese learning? Would love to hear your thoughts.

    1. Hi Jess! Great question – I have a soft spot for Chinese reading pens because they have helped our family tremendously. I don’t consider them to be the same as typical battery-operated toys. The downside is that they can sometimes be distracting. We have some that we store away and others that we leave freely accessible. Overall, the benefits might outweigh the downsides, especially for non-fluent parents or parents who are really busy. Hope that helps reassure!

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