Caring for our children’s stuff can be overwhelming and exhausting. Despite my best efforts, there are times when I feel disheartened by what feels like a never-ending cycle of accumulating, picking up, cleaning, organizing, and then eventually getting rid of their things. To some degree this cycle is inherent in the relationship between children and their stuff—children are rapidly growing and changing and so it makes sense that their clothes, possessions and environments need to change as well. Yet throughout this cycle, I’ve found maintaining a clutter-free environment is important. Not only does an organized space bring me great joy and contribute to my sense of peace and well being, I’ve noticed it does the same for my children.
When my children aren’t sleeping well or when they’re feeling overwhelmed, I often find that clutter clearing and organizing their room will improve the situation. The process of clearing and rearranging my children’s rooms grounds and centers them. I also believe this practice supports their self-evolution. When they develop and change, it helps to have their environment support, reflect, and match that change. I will never forget when my then six-year-old son articulated this idea for the first time. We had just come home from a vacation and he actually begged me to help him clear and organize his room. He told me, “mom, I was dreaming about changing my room while away it was bothering me so much.” As it turned out, he really wanted to clear out all of his preschool toys. Being away, trying new things and meeting new people gave him a new perspective and he realized he had indeed moved beyond his preschool years and outgrown many of his toys. So when he got home he wanted his “outer world” to match his new “inner world” and we set about clutter clearing his room… like mother, like son!
In order to avoid spending too much of your precious time and energy “picking up” while still giving your children the gift of peaceful surroundings, consider the following suggestions.
Sixteen tips to organize and clutter clearing your children’s toys:
1) Have less toys: Easier said than done, I know! Clearly, the less you have the less you have to care for. I guess it requires finding a balance that most likely varies from parent to parent and child to child. Certainly some cherished toys and objects come to represent and remind us of the magic of childhood. I certainly remember (fondly) the room I grew up in and a few cherished objects are such powerful triggers that they will instantly bring me back to a childhood moment. However, too much stuff renders the rest meaningless and the things that we unconsciously bring into our children’s lives detract from our children’s ability to distinguish true value. I work to find a balance between my desire to be a minimalist and a purist (if it were up to me all toys would be made of healthy materials like wood) and the other extreme of having an overloaded environment that results in my kids having too much stuff and too many choices.
2) Rotate toys: Keep toys in clear plastic bins in the garage or store them in a less-used closet. You and your child will then only have to manage half the volume at a time. My husband and I keep extra toys in a storage unit—now we no longer go to the toy store—we go to storage to pick out “new” toys!
3) Find a home for everything: Make sure you have a place or “home” for each toy and remember that you and your child are more likely to put something away if that home is easy to reach as well as clean and spacious.
4) Get your children in the habit of putting things away: Start early teaching your kids to put back what they take out. When they are young it may be more work for you to encourage them to do so, but eventually they’ll get in the habit and you’ll have a real helper.
5) Have great storage: Shelves lined with open bins seem to work best for me.
6) Store like with like but, don’t over organize: Putting all the toy cars in a bin is easy – but separating the vehicles into cars, trucks and motorcycles goes overboard and you’ll be less likely to clean up. The idea is to be able to clean up easily and not think about it. Also keep in mind that these kind of organizational divisions may make sense to us, but for our imaginative kids, why not put a dump truck with the play food?
7) Put toys in a new place: I am sure you have noticed that as soon as you pull out a long forgotten toy to give away your child will want to start playing with it. By giving it a new context it becomes more desirable. Give old toys a new look by putting them in a new place.
8 ) Store for siblings: An older sibling’s toys make a great gift from the older sibling to their younger sibling. Only store things that are in good repair and meaningful, and clean them before you store them.
9) Swap toys with friends: This is a great way to buy less stuff.
10) Create a “small, unknown pieces” box: Keep a clear plastic box and label it miscellaneous pieces for all those bits and pieces that belong to some toy, but you can’t quite place. Sometimes those little pieces you can do without, but other times they actually serve an important purpose! It always amazes me how my children know exactly what they are and where they belong—and sometimes—they are just what you need to make a toy work. Keep this box out of the way so you don’t have these small pieces in your day to day—your kids will let you know if something is missing and then you can take it down and let them rummage.
11) Take a picture: My children have a much easier time giving things away if I offer to take a picture of it. I once had to do this with outgrown sneakers! I also photograph a great deal of artwork and schoolwork so I can get rid of the bulk of it.
12) Make a “Things I want to give away” box: Get an opaque box and label it “things I want to give away.” I find this particularly useful for younger children who truly need some things cleared for them. This is a great box to put away unwanted gifts, small items from birthday parties, doctors’ offices, etc. If after a period of time they are not missed—dump or donate.
13) Buy quality toys: Look for tried and true, well-made, healthy toys that will have longevity. Bikes/balls/wooden play kitchens/train tables and train sets/Legos, dolls, and blocks are examples of some things that can go the distance if you choose high quality.
14) Use the library: we recently moved and I was embarrassed to realize we had so many boxes of children’s books that I could open a bookstore! While some are cherished and I wouldn’t part with, many were unnecessary impulse purchases. I seemed to think that books had a pass because they were educational and were a purchase that did not warrant scrutiny, but after a point they were adding to the clutter.
15) Teach your children that a clutter free space feels great: I never force my kids to give things away. I model to them the benefits of a clutter-free space by clearing my own clutter and by giving them the gift of a clutter-free room, so they will then experience how good it feels and will be motivated to create it for themselves. I provide the opportunity to let go of things by periodically asking my children if there is anything that they are done with or don’t need anymore. The answer from my four year old is always “no” as it used to be from my nine year old when he was four. Now my nine year old easily gives things away. I am pretty sure that if I had forced the issue he would be more likely to hoard. Instead, I let him get there on his own primarily by creating a clutter-free and organized environment for him. Occasionally I would say as I was clearing, “doesn’t it feel good to have a fresh space?” I also would say “you can keep whatever you want the idea is to love everything you have.” Now he wants that feeling and will ask me to help him go through his room.
16) When my kids were really little I did give things away that I was pretty confident they would not miss. If I were uncertain, I had my blue opaque plastic bin in the garage labeled “things I want to give away.” At a certain age, I think around four, I would not give things away without asking with the exception of broken items, outgrown clothes, and little “junk” toys from doctor’s offices etc.