Getting Kids Clutter Under Control

Many people who could have a clutter-free beautiful HomeSpace cry out with frustration, “Our kids’ stuff is all over the house and I can’t deal with it.” Kids can pose a challenge for people trying to create an organized home they love.

I grew up in a household where my Mum had us trained to put away our stuff and help out with the household chores. As the oldest son, I watched myself and my four siblings abide by her house rules and that became part of our daily routine. My mother’s house-proud dedication and my two sisters who have kids have helped me understand how to tackle the kids’ clutter.

I spent four years making a documentary film about the sexual health of American teens to help parents and the community understand the importance of comprehensive education and communication. What I discovered working on this project is that youth are not the problem; they reflect of the environment they grow up in and the education they are given. We as adults in the community have to ensure youth get the support and education they need to make smart choices. The same approach goes for kids at home. They are not the problem; they are the product of whatever education, training, discipline and examples we set for them. Putting time and energy into educating your kids with these guidelines will benefit both you and your kids later.

My Mum-Inspired Tips for Taking Charge of Kids’ Clutter:

  1. Power Purge. When it comes to tackle the kids’ rooms follow the same guidelines set out in the de-cluttering section. Tackle the kids’ toys all at once, then the clothes, then papers, etc. Get all the items from each category out on display on the bed or floor. Let them keep what they love and play with regularly, then get rid of the rest by donating them straight away.
  2. Keep toys based on the size of the storage area you have. Keep some space around the toys. Don’t allow them to fill, stuff and clutter the storage areas.
  3. Contain the kids’ things by storing them in one area in the house, preferably the kids’ rooms. Keep similar objects together in the same bin and label it clearly, i.e., soft toys, blocks, etc. (for younger kids use pictures as labels rather than words). Use open bins and boxes that wear well and are easy for kids to access. If you have kids of different ages sharing a room make sure they each have their own bins. Choose bins with a complementary style, shape and color scheme for the room. If kids play in the living room, use woven cane or natural materials so the bins look great stylistically. For kids’ clothes, keep the same garment types together when storing them in drawers and closets. A basket at the front door is a great place to contain kids’ shoes.
  4. Designate areas and times for playtime. If you have a spare room you can designate as the playroom, it removes play from the bedroom which is for sleeping. If your kids play in the living room, the toys need to be packed away by the kids (with parents helping the little ones at the start) so you can have a clutter-free adult time in the evening. Use storage bins that look good and suit the style of the room.
  5. Sort and clean as you go. When new toys arrive, remove older toys. Have a purge plan, especially around holidays. Go through the same process of bringing out all the toys to see what has to go. A change of season is a good time to check the clutter. For clothes, you might have a fun “fashion show” with the kids so they can try on clothes and see what looks great and what needs to go.
  6. Buy better, buy less. Instead of buying a stack of cheap presents consider buying a better quality gift that will last. Pass this idea on to your family. In my family we do a secret Santa for each sibling and each of my nine nieces and nephews. One higher value gift is bought by each of my siblings for one other sibling (with names drawn out of a hat), and then we buy a present for one niece or nephew. It’s a great tradition and we always get something we love that has more value and lasts longer.
  7. Teach your kids how to help early. Cleaning is a family activity, not something you need to be doing for your kids or using as a punishment. As a young child I was taught to not only put my things away after I finished playing with them but also to help with household chores like taking out the trash and washing up. These were my household family responsibilities. This is hard at the beginning but it works, and it’s well worth the effort. Using a creative story when they are young really helps. For example, “Toys have a home too and each night they need to go home.” Giving kids a chance to earn a small allowance when they are old enough is also a consideration. My sister uses a blackboard in the kitchen to list chores and offer age-appropriate rewards like pocket money, an experience or an outing.
  8. Healthy habits. When you take the extra time to engage your kids at an early age to perform simple tasks (like making their bed each morning, picking up after themselves and contributing), they will benefit from these healthy habits later in life as they take on more responsibility. Consider storing items the kids use in the kitchen, such as plastic plates and utensils, at their level.
  9. Value. As tempting as it is to buy things for kids just to shut them up and keep them happy it’s not the best long-term solution. Helping kids to value what they have is a great life lesson and aligns with the philosophy of this book. Resist the temptation to buy them everything they ask for and buy them less stuff. This isn’t about depriving them; it’s about teaching them to value what they have. This allows you to buy them a few valuable things instead of a lot of cheaper items that won’t last.
  10. Breathe. Your kids aren’t perfect so accept that messes will happen. Don’t be too hard on yourself if some days it gets out of control. At times taking a deep, slow breath is the best answer (that and a glass of wine). Just make sure the mess doesn’t stay there when the kids are done playing. At the end of the day, patiently reinforce the house rules.

This approach worked for me and my four loud, crazy siblings, and it can work for your household too. Let me know the results in the comments below as you start to give a few of these a try!

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