A week or so ago, Erica shared an AWESOME idea in the comments on Things a Mother Might Say When Helping Her Sons Declutter. I loved the idea so much that I asked her if she’d be willing to write it up as a guest post! If you’re at your wits’ end feeling overwhelmed by the sheer volume of STUFF in your kids’ rooms, this idea might be for you.
Some background first, since we’re all just meeting.
My family of four lives in a dear old house of 1,100 square feet. Compared to the average middle class American, our house is wee and tight, but I taught in Japan for four years, so I oscillate between chafing at our limited space and marveling at how much space we have.
Regular purging is a must for us.
Emma is six and William is four, blessings both and wee clones of my beloved husband who is not one to get rid of things easily. Neither, alas, are his offspring, bless them all. Every book, toy, shirt, cup in the house has memory and meaning for one or more of them. Thus, purging is a burden of epic proportion around here.
Deep, heaving sigh.
Two years ago, I started a tradition of working with my kids to give away toys in the month before Christmas. It is So. Hard.
Especially for Emma, because how can she give up or send away even one of her baby dolls? They will miss her, they will need her, they will have their feelings hurt from the rejection!
Don’t I know they come to life and play every time we’re not looking! AGONY! (She has never seen Toy Story, and at this rate, she never will!)
Despite the resistance, we managed to get rid of some of the toys, but never enough to balance the Christmas gifts, party favors, spring birthday gifts, and sneaky hand-me-down toys from their cousins. By this summer, I found that clean-up time before bed had become an exercise in building piles and stuffing toys ANYWHERE just to clear a path from the door to the bed.
Something had to be done, something more positive than the last few tries. This time, I realized that the choices I was training my kids to make needed to be positive ones, focused not on what they would reject, but on choosing what they would keep.
So two weeks ago (after prepping everyone beforehand) I dumped every toy in the house on my living room floor.
That took a lot of work. Most of the toys were upstairs, some were hiding in the basement, several were under beds. Laundry baskets were helpful, and the kids did help.
Positive Tip Number One: Young children find almost nothing more charming than having all their toys dumped out in a different context.
Seriously, once my kids grasped the potential of all their toys in one place, they were lost in hours of intense play. They hadn’t noticed several of the toys in months, so doing this was like having all the holidays at once. While they were occupied, I sat myself down in the middle of the gigantic pile and began to sort it out into some order: all the blocks in this basket, all the cars in this box and the trains in this tub, all the stuffed animals in a huge pile by the door.
The more I sorted, the more they played.
I’ll be honest, it took a long time. I managed to almost fill a garbage bag with broken or worthless things that wouldn’t be missed. (Shh! Don’t tell!)
Positive Tip Number Two: Create opportunity for kids to find and choose order in their space.
Why should my kids want to clean up their rooms if they have no understanding of the benefits? Motivation is key for anyone, so I wanted to give them a chance to build their own desire for order. Thus the next step was to really clean their lovely, empty rooms. Perhaps I should have had them help, but teaching them to clean was not my objective that day. I wanted to charm them with the peace and order their rooms could have.
One at a time we brought them upstairs to show them their made-over spaces. Guess what? They loved their rooms that way! Without the mess and clutter, they were so nice!
Positive Tip Number Three: Have your kids choose the toys they are keeping, not the ones they are purging.
I was clear with both kids. If they wanted to keep the calm and order they liked so much in their clean rooms, they could only have as many toys as fit.
It didn’t matter to me which ones they kept. They both had bins, drawers, and toy boxes to fill. However, once the limits of their storage were reached, we wouldn’t be keeping anything else. After establishing the parameters, I took each child back down to “shop the living room” for what toys would fit in their rooms.
They didn’t shop without coaching, but they seemed much more energized by picking what to keep and deciding where it would go than by choosing what would leave.
Once the kids were in bed, my husband helped me whisk the leftovers into my car. Out of sight, out of mind. I took them to my Mom’s the next day to re-sort. Some stayed there at her request, some were donated, some went to friends or younger cousins.
Two weeks in, we’re doing a LOT better with managing our spaces. My kids have been playing HARD with the toys they kept since they know where they are and can find them.
All in all, the purging was much more positive, and I’ll be repeating the routine in December, but this time they’ll have one less tub to fill to leave room for the incoming bounty.
Erica Carlson is a full time wife, full time mom, and full time teacher in Columbus, Ohio. She would rather read, cook, chat, or play with clay than clean or pick up.