Maybe you hate tripping over LEGOs and “Frozen” dolls, you’re tired of picking up tiny clothes off the floor or you simply want to teach your kids good life skills. Whatever your reason, you can get your kids into decluttering.
“It’s important to work with kids so they realize it’s a natural part of life for things to come into our homes and go out of our homes,” said Aby Garvey, a mom and founder of Simplify101.com, which offers an online class about organizing with kids. “They learn we don’t hold onto things forever.”
But getting a child organized can be easier said than done. Here are seven tips to get your little ones excited about nixing clutter.
1. Explain Why You Want to Clear Out Clutter.
Kids won’t be motivated to declutter unless they know what they gain from it—or lose by not doing it. “It’s important to keep a positive attitude and stress the benefits,” said professional organizer Ann Nagel, who offers organizing for kids.
2. Give Everything a Home.
Ditch the deep toy box and use clear plastic boxes as homes for each category of item—for example, Barbie dolls in one box, toy cars in another, Nagel said.
Store boxes at kid height and apply labels to them. For tots who can’t read yet, just take a photo of the contents; for bigger kids, print labels on your computer. “Then play ‘match the label,’” Nagel said. “That’s fun.”
3. Link Decluttering to Values.
Teach your kids that it’s kind to take items you no longer use and share them with others. For example, after a hurricane that made big news, Garvey explained to her kids that there were children who needed toys because they had lost everything. That really inspired her children to pare down and donate some of their belongings, she said.
4. Tailor Your Tactics to Each Kid.
Motivate your children based on their personalities, Garvey said. For example, her son is motivated by money, so she used to weigh the items he was getting rid of and pay him by the pound. “It sounds crazy, but it worked,” she said.
On the other hand, her daughter is sentimental and gets very attached to stuff. So, with her, Garvey set a decluttering goal. “We’d say, ‘Let’s see if we can find 10 stuffed animals to let go,’” Garvey said. “Be super encouraging and excited when you hit that goal.”
5. Hold a Garage Sale.
Host a garage sale and let your kids keep proceeds from the toys, books and games that they decide to sell, Nagel said. “Just a few dollars can mean a lot to a 6- or 7-year-old,” she said.
6. Let Them Catch You in the Act.
Could you use help remembering to put things back where they belong? No problem—kids love to catch grownups doing something wrong, said professional organizer Julie Bestry, president of Best Results Organizing.
For example, if you have an upstairs and a downstairs, put a basket at the top of the stairs and another at the bottom. Make a habit of tossing items found on the wrong floor into the basket, then make a new family rule: If there are items in the basket, anyone who goes upstairs (or down) must take them to the correct floor and put them away. Tell your kids to try to catch you going up or downstairs empty-handed, Bestry said, and give them a kazoo to blow when they do.
7. Declutter Daily to Music.
Pick tunes that appeal to kids (and adults) from artists like They Might Be Giants or “Weird Al” Yankovic, Bestry said. Every day before dinner, put on a song and have the whole family declutter common areas until it ends.
If your kids are under 5, take one large laundry basket, have them “help” you put in all the stuff that doesn’t belong in a room, then put the items away. Kids 5 to 10 can get a small laundry basket to use to collect their own stuff and put it away. Older kids can help gather and put back any items—their own or family stuff, Bestry said.
Try to set an example for your kids by being organized yourself, Nagel said. “It’s monkey see, monkey do,” she said.