Most parents feel overwhelmed with the mess that comes with kids, myself included. Plus, if your kids speak 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!
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
9. Establish gifting guidelines for birthdays and holidays
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!
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!
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
- Self-Serve Kids Water and Snack Station Makes Life Easier for Everyone
- Art Storage and Organization with Kids
- Homeschool Tour: Mid-Century Modern Meets Montessori (old tour…I’ll post an updated tour soon!)
- Montessori Inspired CD Organization and Accessibility for Kids
- 15 Smart Ways to Motivate Your Child to Read
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