In many families, October through early January brings a wave of excess candy, food, toys, books, and clothes. Right before the holiday season is an ideal time to declutter as it cuts down on post-holiday overwhelm. Here are some tips to introduce children to the idea and help them help you to help themselves!
Stop the flow of stuff by bringing less in. Choose to gift children experiences over items for their birthdays and holidays and ask family and friends if they would be willing to do the same. Practice turning down freebies yourself and make sure children also know that it is perfectly okay to smile and say, “No, thank you.” when they don’t actually want an item being given out whether it is at the dentist’s office, a store, or a birthday party. Don’t give in to every new toy request. Teach children to thoughtfully consider purchases and avoid buying two of the same toy when it is an item that can easily be shared among siblings.
Lead by example: If children witness their caregivers thoughtfully thumbing through their things and setting aside NICE clothes, shoes, bags, books, impulse purchases, etc., that they no longer use or love and participate in dropping those items off for donation then the concept will not be foreign to them when it is their turn. Talk to children about how sometimes we think we will need or use an item but it later turns out that we don’t and the options that we have to pass items on while they can still be of use to someone else. In many households, children already know that most things can be ordered from Amazon; let’s make it just as common for kids to know that most unwanted things can be donated to GoodWill (or any resale, charity, or thrift store), if they can still be used.
Choose an uninterrupted period of time to declutter and organize. If the child is old enough, let them participate but don’t ask, “Do you still want this toy?” or “Do you still play with this?” Instead, ask, “Can you pick out some toys to give to other little girls and boys who don’t have as much as us?” Choice can be both empowering and overwhelming, so choose two similar items at a time and asking which the child prefers to keep and which one they are ready to give away. But remember, don’t put the emphasis on keeping and if they want to give away an item that you feel they should keep, try to honor their choice. If the item in question is an heirloom or you have a very good reason for keeping it, discreetly remove it from the room and put it in a designated area for like items.
While they are making decisions, discourage children from dumping their unwanted toys on their siblings and encourage them to truly let them go instead (unless, of course, the sibling has a real desire and use for the item). When a child says every item is a keeper but you know there are items that are no longer used, loved, or played with, do some executive decluttering when the child is not present. To be on the safe side, if you have the space, you can seal a box with items you are confident will not be missed (much) and wait a month or so before donating it in case the child mentions the item specifically and expresses a wish to use or play with it.
Once decluttered, make it easy to maintain organization by having a designated place for games and puzzles, another for stuffed animals and dolls, and another for outdoor toys, etc. Label storage containers and bins with words for readers and pictures with or without words for non-readers. Help children avoid overwhelm by limiting themselves to one or two bins at a time and completely tidying those before taking out one or two more. Tidying up after play helps build routine, responsibility, and respect for belongings. Toys and games that don’t linger on the floor last much longer and can be enjoyed for years to come and then passed on to another family when the time comes, rather than having to be discarded due to being broken or having lost pieces or parts.
Decluttering and organizing are lifelong practices that help us focus on the things we really need, use, and enjoy and when we teach our children how to declutter and organize, we teach them to prioritize people over things and that – is the greatest gift we can ever give them.