Sunday, February 19, 2012

Declutter with Kids : A Strategy : Cleaning Out the Toy Closet

Declutter with the kids, not for them.

In talking to a neighbor mom just a few days ago I was reminded of the wisdom in this.  She had  Freecycled1 a bunch of her child's stuffed animals a few years ago.  He still brings it up to her, "do you remember when you got rid of my stuffed animals?!"  By simply asking them to make the choice you are giving them control.  You are telling them you trust and value their Judgment, a word on that later, and teaching them to make decisions. And do you know that feeling of success you get when you make that decision while clearing some space? You are sharing that feeling of success!

All those valuable, positive emotions verses the negative emotions you would feel if someone came in and just got rid of your stuff.  You might feel someone tricked you, pulled out the rug while you were not looking.
An overall feeling of loss, loss of trust, loss of control, loss off stuff.  That all equates to wanting to hold on to stuff to stay in control.

We are in this state of purging right now.  It is spring, and there is also a motivating consignment sale for children's paraphernalia.  I have taken the road of asking for the children's input. There are pros and cons of including your family in decluttering.


  • done as a family, promotes working together
  • values the child's input
  • teach valuable life lessons 
  • promotes trust
  • motivations to 'get it done' while everyone is there
  • takes some decision-making weight off of your shoulders


  • you have to wait until everyone is home, and sometimes, cannot finish before someone has to leave, for me this is probably the biggest sticking point
  • everyone has to agree on what goes and what stays
I suppose my choice is obvious, please comment if I have missed any salient points and I will add them.  Below I will try to outline what strategies I have utilized in decluttering with the children, first I will list the strategy, and then I will expound upon them.

  1. let them see you decluttering areas that do not involve their things to set a good example, be sure you 'seem' to be having fun!  And show them the difference you have made.
  2. Set a time
  3. Explain what your objective is 
  4. Help them set a goal
  5. Keep it positive and fun,
  6. try to refrain from imposing your choice

1.  Let them see you decluttering areas that do not involve their things to set a good example, be sure you 'seem' to be having fun!  And show them the difference you have made.  This is modelling the behavior you want to see, and getting important things done.  It is hypocritical to ask them to keep their things to a reasonable, tidy quantity if you are not doing the same.  The reasons they should do it are the same that you should.

This modelling was the impetus behind my emptying the cabinet over the fridge, see this post

2.  It will be very important to set a time to tackle a specific area, as you will want to be sure everyone is home.  We have to schedule around work, sports, social and school events.

3.  Explain what you want to achieve and why.  This can be tricky with children, who might just think that if the toys don't fit in the closet, why not just keep them in the laundry baskets, it seems to work just fine...
So you might need to convince them, selling points would be explaining if they no longer have some of the items, they will never have to pick them up again!  Making room for new things, and room to play, as well as having a tidy house to have friends over.

I recently allowed the children to watch a short clip on Youtube as to what could happen to a house if everyone in it chose to keep everything and never put things away.
We watched How Clean is Your House-Blame The Kids

I was nervous letting them see it.  We don't watch much TV in our house in the first place.  On top of that was the thought that they could maybe take away the idea that I should be the one doing everything, although they already have that idea, who knows where they got it.  When it comes to their things though, I think they very much want to have a say, but as far as the day to day chores go they would be quite pleased to have me do it all.  Overall I think it really inspired them to want to keep a clean home, and importantly to reduce the amount of stuff they have to take care.

In the future, should the need for further motivation arise, I will show them The Story of Stuff
It is a great video about stuff and what its true cost is.  I will probably introduce this to them either for an Earth Day Project or when I get to the point where I am asking them to start Refusing Stuff.

4.  Help them set a goal.

So they will know that there is going to be an achievement, they can succeed.  We just cleaned out the toy closet.  So the goal was to reduce the amount of toys to a 'reasonable number' and so that the door would shut!  We had been discussing what a reasonable number of dressing up outfits would be and first decided 2 each, after all you can only wear one at a time.  Then once we removed them all from the closet and tried to make decision, they wanted 5 each.  But there was concern if they would all fit in an organized manner. So 3 was agreed, but in the end there were 4 each.  As the goal was to reduce, and we had a huge bag leaving, and to have it be organized, they all fit more than comfortably.  So a compromise had been reached and the goal achieved.  It is good to model this flexibility and reasoning, we ask it of them all the time, when suddenly they are at the bank on the way to a birthday party.

5.  Try to keep it Positive and Fun.
This activity will be what you make it.  Every moment of childhood is precious.  With that in mind, it is useful to have an adult partner in this activity, so if you become frustrated they can bolster the positivity while you regain perspective.  This happened with shelves of games, they were on the top three shelves and then shoved in on top of things on the other shelves.  So we knew we had to reduce.  But how to agree?!

Make it a game.  We made it a voting game. Everybody had a say, "put your finger on your nose if you want to give this game away!"  Inevitably there were times when the vote was decided.  Often-times though, the odd man our would see the dissension and simply change their vote-yes, a little peer pressure.  But what good is a game if no one wants to play it with you? Sometimes we weighted voting power.  If someone had a special attachment to an item even though everyone else wanted it to go  (often when it was a specific child's toy, when most toys are 'for sharing') it was put in the 'Thinking Pile.'  If there is enough space they ultimately make the decision to keep or not.  Interestingly, they often had decided that they didn't really want it, they just didn't want other making the decision to get rid of something that was specifically theirs.

We brought humor to the table by asking, "if you want to keep this game (a known favorite) pat your head while touching your nose....all right and rub your belly too!"  It was great fun watching them try to rub their bellies with their feet!

6.  Try to refrain from imposing your choices.  This can be hard.  And really, isn't it our job to guide our children's decisions?

I wanted to empower my children, to let them feel in control of their surrounds by involving them.  Their choices are often not what we would choose.  There is a bit of balance involved in this act.  If I know that they are not going to use it I will try to help them see this, so that they are still making the choice.  I have found that an effective way to do this is keep having them look at the pile of games and ask, "if I was going to play 1 game with you right now, which one would you choose?  Not this one? If I was going to play another, which would it be?"  This worked.

daughter posing at MOM's Tree house for sale photo
There are some instances when they tell you they are done with a toy that you are not ready for them to be done with.  Perhaps it is a toy you love, or spent a lot of money on, you have to let them let go.  I know, it's hard.  We just sold this tree house, I was so sad , i had been hanging on to it, unplayed with for months, even thought they kept telling me they were done.

 I loved it.  I liked looking at it, arranging the furniture.  All visiting children were drawn to it, but not mine, they were done.  Other parents always complimented it...
Now that it is gone they don't miss it and they have taken some old toys out of the closet and set them up in its place.
This set up was played with more in 1 day than with that tree house had been played with in months.

Here is the outcome of our efforts!  Now we can put away some of the things that formerly did not fit!  Look at all that space.  I wish I had taken a before picture, there was no space, literally packed.

We got rid of a big bag of costumes
and stacks of games - about 20 of them, along with some other miscellaneous things.  some Instruments and infant toys (we were keeping them 'for company').

1.  Freecycle is a great Yahoo Group where you can connect with locals to give away useful items that are not worth selling.

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