simple tips to help cut kids' clutter from #simplify101

November and December are by far the busiest months for my family and me. On top of the normal holiday merriment, BOTH my children have their birthdays. Not only does this test my time management abilities each year, it also challenges me organizationally. By the time December 26th (finally) arrives, my kids’ rooms and closets are literally bursting at the seams, overflowing with birthday trinkets and Christmas treasures. Yes, it’s an organizer’s greatest nightmare!

On December 26th, while everyone else was flocking the Christmas sale isle, I was perusing the storage and organizing section of Wal-Mart looking for the perfect solutions for my kids’ closets. I’m pleased to say I successfully conquered both closets (and lived to tell about it!) Here are some tips and strategies that worked great for my kids, Collin age 6 and Kailea age 4.

Tip #1: Have a goal for getting organized.

I’ve found with my kids, “Mommy’s losing her mind with all this clutter” isn’t a terribly compelling motivation to clean up. Create a goal your child can understand and relate to. For my kids, helping other children was very motivating. A local Children’s Charity called to say they were going to be in our neighborhood just as we were getting ready to organize their rooms. (Lucky me!) My kids were both very excited about giving their things to children who didn’t get many new toys for Christmas and kids who needed clothes to wear. By having a set time for the pick-up we had a deadline, fueling our motivation even further.

When you set out to tackle your kid’s room or closet, call charities in your area to see if they’ll pick up your items. Also, consider adding an incentive for your child by promising a special treat like a trip to the ice cream shop or a movie rental.

Tip #2: Use a simple sorting system.

One by one, I picked up items off the floor and cleared out the closet. I held up each thing and simply asked my kids “yes or no?” The “yes” items went into a keep pile, sorted by type. (Cars together, dolls together, etc.) We put “no” toys, books and clothes into a bag for charity. (Collin was so into giving his things away, he even wanted to wrap them!)

With your child, set a target number of “no” items. Get really excited when your child hits the magic number. Remember to keep the enthusiasm going during the process by saying things like “just ten more and we’ve reached our goal!”

Bonus Tip: Keep some sentimental items for yourself.

If your child really gets on a roll, he may put some things in the “donate” bin that you’re not quite ready to part with. Get a keepsake box for yourself. Set a limit, either quantity (keeping only a certain number of items) or space (say to yourself “I’ll keep things in this bin only and when it’s full, I’m done”) to make sure your keepsakes don’t get out of control. It’s best if your child doesn’t catch you pulling things out of the donate bag. (We wouldn’t want to stall progress, now would we?)

box of child's artwork

Tip #3: Tackle the project in steps.

If your child’s room looks like Collin’s did, you might be tempted to tackle it all at once. (Or not at all, in which case give me a call. ;) ) Unless you’re willing to do a lot of the work yourself (or your child is an organizer in training), consider spreading the project out over several days. You might start with the floor on day one, the book shelf on day two, and one shelf of the closet on day three, and so on. Whether you organize your child’s room in one step or over a series of days, be sure to take lots of fun-filled breaks with your little one. Play with some of those long lost toys you’ve found under the bed or have a nutritious snack to fuel your energy.

Tip #4: Group toys based on how your child plays.

In our house, Lego’s are “toy garbage.” Collin uses Lego’s with his garbage truck so it makes sense to store these toys together or at least near each other. In a nutshell, ask your child what makes sense to him or her, then honor it (even if it doesn’t make sense to you.)

Tip #5: Keep your child involved.

Collin was putting his matchbox cars into a car carrier with compartments for each car. This is great, but very time consuming. I asked him to imagine he had cars all over the floor of his room and it was time to clean up. Would he rather dump the cars into a large bin or put them one by one into the car carrier? He chose the bin. Having had a say in the decision, he’ll be more likely to put his cars away.

Organizing Kids Online Class from

Tip #6: Let your child do the tasks he enjoys most.

Collin is learning how to write, so he wanted to make his own labels for his bins. I resisted the temptation of “perfect” labels and instead let Collin make them. Involving your child in favorite tasks is another way to give him ownership in the process.

Tip #7: Label, label, label!

Once everything has a home, use labels to show where everything goes. I started to say, this will make clean up a breeze, but we are talking about kids and cleaning bedrooms. I will say this: by labeling where toys and clothes belong, it will disarm your child of the classic “I don’t know where anything goes” excuse. Have you heard that one before?

labeled storage bin

Tip #8: Focus on progress.

Make a big deal out of all the progress you make along the way. Try really hard not to focus on how much there is left to go through or do. Comment often on how much is done, all the great decisions your child has made and so on. You can also encourage him or her by saying things like “look what we found” or “look how much we’ve gotten done already.” Keep it upbeat and fun!

Tip #9: Keep large items in the toy box.

Putting only larger items in your child’s toy box prevents smaller toys from sinking to the bottom (a.k.a. never-never land.) Another option is to group smaller toys together in containers before storing in the toy box. Toy boxes seem great in theory, until you have to go on a hunt for your daughter’s missing pink Barbie shoe. I can guarantee you it will be on the very bottom of the box. (And when you do finally find it, the shoe will be the only item left in the toy box.)

Tip #10: Store toys strategically.

Keep favorite toys in reach, allowing your child easy access for play and clean up. On top shelves (those out of your child’s reach), store things you’d like to supervise your child while using, such as:

  • Games or puzzles requiring adult assembly.
  • Fragile or keepsake items like china tea sets and collectible books.
  • Toys with lots of tiny pieces you would rather not have mixed with other toys with tiny pieces.

organized storage cubicles

Tip #11: Make sure your child understands the system.

You may have noticed I didn’t mention Kailea much in the article. Well, truth be known, organizing isn’t exactly her thing. I did a lot of her room on my own. This made it even more important for me to tell her exactly how I had organized everything and show her where her things go. Since she can’t read, I labeled her toy containers using packaging from her toys. I showed her the labels and asked her what she thought went in each bin or drawer. By going through this process with her, she now knows exactly what goes where. The other day I asked Kailea to clean her room. She said “Mommy, I don’t know where everything goes.” I told her to get started on her own and put away everything she could by herself. When she got as far as she could, THEN I would help her finish up. Before she knew it, she had put EVERYTHING away, on her own. Talk about proud! She was absolutely beaming.

I hope you enjoy similar results when Organizing with Your Kids! Just remember, have fun and don’t forget the ice cream!

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Aby Garvey is a creative organizing expert and simplify 101’s founder. She has created 14 online organizing classes, which she has been teaching since 2007, helping thousands of people around the world get organized. Aby loves to help people create positive change in their lives through her online classes and organizing eBooks.

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