10 tips for decluttering with children - Gate House

By Susan C. Pinsky

March 20. 2012 6:00AM

10 tips for decluttering with children

As a professional organizer I have been in many homes where "things" are over-valued; clutter is everywhere, embarrassment and the resultant isolation from friends and family is entrenched, and yet the mere idea of throwing something away is cause for resentment and high drama. The family culture implies that letting go of an item is an unbearable deprivation. Yet as it turns out, the inability to let go of stuff is the true deprivation–depriving the children in these homes of space, light, easy movement, beauty and time with friends.

Spend mere seconds in one of these homes and you are reminded--immediately and profoundly--that the ability to let things go is of paramount importance to our children's well being and future happiness. For their sakes we must teach that every item is ephemeral--a balloon--it comes into our possession for some period of time and then gracefully retires from our lives.

But of course, the devil is in the details--how exactly do we go about teaching our children to let go easily and routinely? These ten quick de-cluttering tips are a road map to raising children who can be sanguine about letting go, while teaching parents how to curb the rampant acquisitions of modern life--stopping clutter before it starts.

The crib mobile goes the minute the baby can stand up and grab it, the crib, layette set and crib toys go the minute the baby is switched to a bed, etc. If your youngest is a toddler, retire all the infant toys to another home or donation bin. Remember that reduction is a maintenance chore that must be done regularly.

Touch every possession and ask your child "keep or go?" The lesson? That maintaining a comfortable space means routinely challenging every possession for its current relevance in their lives. No matter how little they choose to donate (and even if those items are too shabby to donate and will ultimately be thrown out), praise your child for his generosity to those less fortunate. Let him see that charity gifting is an important part of your family values.

Even if it reminds you of their babyhood, was knitted by grandma, or given to them by a deceased relative or favorite friend.

Put it in an opaque bag and put it in the front seat of the car so it can be dropped at a charity next time you go by. DO NOT keep these items visibly lingering about the house, do not give them to a younger cousin, nor sell them in a yard sale to a neighborhood child. Even a previously unwanted toy, in the hands of another, will seem to gain in value. Don't torture your child by making him constantly confront "seller's remorse."

It is not fair to force a six year old to make a decision about every fast food figurine, party favor plastic worm, broken crayon or other worthless bit of junk that comes through the door. (Obviously, this does not include valued or favorite toys.)

Put your foot down and mean it. Ask them to provide experiences instead--baking, gardening, playing catch, making paper dolls from the newspaper. You want your children to be excited by –and remember: doing things with grandma, not getting things from grandma.

It is more fun to wish for a toy, plan for it, and maybe even do some chores to earn money to purchase it, than to just have it dumped in your lap where it immediately starts to lose value and all glamour. In other words, don't rob your child of the joys and excitement of anticipation–the best part of any acquisition.

That is, eight guests for an eight year old (half that number if it is a sleep-over). Stick to this rule even if the venue makes you pay for twelve. And one birthday party is enough–avoid holding the family party and the friend party and the playgroup party, etc.

Starting around age nine the number of toys decreases while the expense of individual toys may increase. While you are at it, limit gift exchange to a mostly vertical model. So exchange with your grandparents, your parents, your children, and your nieces and nephews below the age of 14; cut down on exchanges with adult extended family members. The idea is to limit the stuff and expense so that funds can be directed to charities, and families can substitute experience and tradition –cookie baking, caroling, tree trimming, etc. (Make an exception for those adult family members who may be isolated and whose only gift may be yours.)

Your child should see that tossing and donating is part of your daily routine. Items that are going to charity should not be tucked in a closet in a pile called ‘to be donated' where they will just add to the clutter. Instead they are immediately put in the front seat of the car-–where they will irritate you. The thought “I have to get this cr@P out of the front seat of the car!” will motivate you to plan your route to go by the charitable drop box or trailer. Your child should be as familiar with the sight of a bag of donations on the front seat–and the commensurate stop at the charitable drop box--as he is with the trip to CVS. And don't add an extra burden to your schedule by controlling the destination of each item so that it goes to the ‘perfect' home. Drop most or all of it in the most convenient charitable drop box and be done.

Susan Pinsky is a professional organizer who specializes in ADHD and chronic disorganization. She is the author of "The Fast and Furious Five Step Organizing Solution" and "Organizing Solutions for People with ADHD." Susan can be heard on radio and television nationwide as a frequent speaker on organizational issues. She is the owner of “Organizationally Yours” Professional Organizing Services and currently lives in Acton, Mass, with her husband and three children. You can learn more about Susan and her organizing methods at Organizationallyours.com or contact her directly at organize_you@comcast.net