What My Kids Taught Me About Decluttering

favorite toys - colorful wooden blocks

Maybe you've made some headway decluttering your own belongings – your clothing, shoes, books, grooming items.  And you can usually clear a few other areas without too much consultation – excess linens, duplicate kitchen items, the contents of junk drawers.  Even removing some unloved wall art or the sagging old couch crowded into the back bedroom may not require discussion or debate with other members of your family.

And then there's the kids' stuff.

Outgrown (but still in good shape), torn, and stained clothing is (hopefully) something you already donate or discard, and your kids don't care.  But once children hit the age of 4 or 5, you realize that you need to have a little respect for their belongings.  Those millions of toys scattered over the house won't tidy themselves, but if you cavalierly discard some of them you're going to get some pushback.  So you need to involve the kids, and teach them to declutter.

Here's how that might work:

Sit down at the table with a little snack and talk about it first.  Tell them they're going to throw all of their toys in a pile on the living room floor.  Make it sound fun and free-spirited (but not destructive).

They (and you) may be surprised at how gigantic the pile is.  Go ahead and marvel over it.

Put a "YES" card on one side of the room and a "NO" card on the other.  Tell them, "Keep the things you love and get rid of the rest."  DO NOT comment on their choices, even though you will probably find this hard.  (Very hard.)

Here's the amazing part:

When my kids did this, there was very little hesitation.  They knew what they cared about and what didn't matter.  If they loved it, they kept it.  If they didn't love it, they didn't.

While watching them I realized that we adults attach so much emotion and baggage to material objects.

  • If I get rid of that thing my mother-in-law gave me, will she notice and hate me?
  • If I get rid of that thing my mother loved, will I forget her?
  • If I get rid of these things, did I waste all that money?
  • What if I get rid of this thing I never use and then need it someday?
  • What if I get rid of so much my space looks empty and inhospitable?

Children have the bliss of not considering any of this.  So while I thought I was "teaching" them to declutter, they actually taught me:  It's all just stuff.

That stuff I bought because I thought it would make my life better or take care of my problems, but now it's sitting at the back of a closet?  Did it do what I hoped it would, or was it always unnecessary?

That stuff I think I treasure because (if I happen to look at it) it reminds me of my past or of long-gone loved ones?  If it's just sitting in a box somewhere down in the basement, maybe it's not such a treasure after all.  And what I really love and value about my parents or grandparents is what they taught me, the stories they told, and the fun times we shared.  Those things live in my memory.

The other stuff?  It's all just stuff.

So that first time, my kids got rid of three or four bags of toys (some to donate, some to toss).  The remainder fit comfortably on the shelves in their playroom, and the whole space felt lighter and easier to manage.  They played with the same toys they always did, but they didn't have to dig through extraneous stuff to find their favorites.  It was better.

My kids spent less than an hour decluttering and reminded me to stop over-thinking it.

If I love it, I will keep it.  If I don't love it, I won't.

Photo by La-rel Easter on Unsplash


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