How To Declutter With Kids

The following is a guest post from regular contributor, Emily R. at My Love For Words.

As a mother, I’ve come to the conclusion that all children (or at least all four of mine) are little hoarders. Out of all the rooms in our house, I’ve organized and reorganized our toy room the most, and after some fights over toys and lots of frustration I had an epiphany… we had way too much stuff!

How to declutter with kids! at I'm an Organizing Junkie blog

That is, unfortunately, a picture of our basement and not even all of the toys in our house. I wish I could say, “We have four kids,” and have that excuse our piles, but the truth is we have a problem with excess. I was spending more time arguing about and organizing toys than I wanted to, and the kids seemed overwhelmed by too many choices. That’s when it hit me; we don’t have an organizational problem that can be fixed with baskets and bins. We have a stuff problem, and the only way to handle too much stuff is to get rid of a lot of it.

Our toy situation is still a work in progress so I don’t have any pretty after pictures to share just yet, but I have learned some tips for how to declutter with kids.

Go Slow & Have Respect

I tend to be an all-or-nothing girl. If I start a project, I want to get it finished as quickly as possible. When I see a pile of toys it’s easy for me to quickly sort them into keep and donate piles, but I have to remember that it’s not as easy for my kids. Part of this is because they seem to be natural little hoarders, but it’s also because they are emotionally connected to a lot of their things.

Have you ever helped a friend declutter or clean her house only to think, “Why can I do this so easily at her house, but it’s so hard at my own?” This is partly due to emotional connection. We aren’t connected to our friend’s things so we can make decisions about and discard them easily. Our own homes, however, are another story. Just about every item has a memory attached to it even if it’s just the memory of how much money was wasted when it was purchased. These memories and emotions can make it a lot harder for us to make decisions and can sometimes cause us to become completely paralyzed.

Now imagine you’re in that state. You’re surrounded by a ton of items all of which feel extremely important to you. You’re feeling overwhelmed, paralyzed, and not capable of making a decision about what to keep or get rid of. Imagine there’s a frustrated giant standing over your shoulder breathing his hot, stinky giant breath all over you saying, “Just get rid of something! All of these things can’t be important to you. You have too much junk! How’d you let things get this bad. You need to take better care of your stuff!” How do you imagine feeling now?

Sadly, I think this is how we can sometimes treat our kids (except hopefully without the stinky giant breath). We can become so focused on finishing a task and wanting them to move on our timeline and according to our abilities that we end up forgetting they’re kids and they might not be capable of that yet.

We need to give kids the respect and grace to go through their things at a pace they can handle, even if it feels slow to us.

Choose what you want to keep

One simple change that I made that has made a huge difference in how my kids handle decluttering is changing my wording. When I’d say, “What do you want to get rid of?” my kids would usually have a really hard time choosing anything to part with. Broken toys? Things they hadn’t played with in years? It didn’t matter. They wanted to keep everything they saw, and I get that. I have a hard time with that too because even the wording says, “You’re losing something.” and no one likes to have something taken away from them.

When I changed my words to, “What would you like to keep? What are your most favorite things?” my kids were suddenly able to get rid of a lot of stuff! Honestly, sometimes my inner hoarder struggled with their choices because I almost felt like they were getting rid of too much, but when we frame things in a positive light it’s a lot easier to evaluate our things based on what we really love and want to keep.

Make it fun

Kids will do just about anything if they think it’s fun. Let them toss their toys into donate boxes like they’re basketballs or challenge them to races to see how quickly they can choose a certain number of items to keep. If you’re able to turn decluttering into a fun experience they’ll be much more into the process.

Share the benefits

Just saying, “We have too many toys” won’t sway any kids to declutter. However, if you can explain why the process will benefit them they may be much more interested in not only decluttering but accumulating less in the future.

After countless arguments about toy clutter, I finally told my kids that one great reason to get rid of toys they no longer like or play with is because they’ll have fewer things to put away. With less stuff they won’t end up making huge, overwhelming messes. Things won’t be left on the floor only to be stepped on and broken, and because things will be more easily put away they’ll be able to find their toys when they want them.

I’ve also told them that there are a lot of kids out there who don’t have a lot of toys, some with no toys at all. If we donate toys they no longer want or use, another child can enjoy and use them instead. Children have very giving and loving hearts so they’re usually more than happy to give up toys so other kids can enjoy them.

Regularly declutter

It’s taken me years to finally accept this, but decluttering toys will never actually be a done job. As long as you have kids in your house, you’ll be decluttering toys so checking in on a regular basis is a good idea. Constant maintenance will prevent things from getting so out of control that you end up feeling overwhelmed again.

I hope you find these tips helpful the next time you have to tackle to toy monster, and if you’re looking for more decluttering tips and guidance, I’d love to have you stop by my blog. I’m currently writing my 31 Days of Decluttering series, and I’d love to have you join me. I’m focusing on small areas and tasks that will add up to make a big difference in our lives and homes.

I’d love to know if toys are a problem in your house just like they are in mine? What are your favorite tips and tricks for encouraging kids to declutter?

Emily R

Emily is a wife and stay-at-home mom to her four children. She’s currently sharing the good, bad, and ugly in her journey to creating an organized and decluttered home on her blog My Love for Words. She also shares recipes, crafts, home decor ideas, and thoughts on life and motherhood. When she isn’t blogging, she can be found reading, cooking, or homeschooling her kids.


Filed under: Clutter Control, Emily R., Guest Bloggers, Kid Stuff, Purging


4 Responses to How To Declutter With Kids

  1. 1
    Alice @ Mums Make Lists says

    Oh my have I got a little hoarder – she even saves chocolate wrappers! Totally agree with the going slow and making it fun – have also tried to tie decluttering in to going to our local Oxfam charity shop and so emphasising how much she is helping children who are really struggling by giving away some of her own stuff and that has really helped.

  2. 2
    Susie says

    I love the way you turned the question on its head. My children are 10 and 8 years old. I have to smuggle out ‘crap’ like a Mexican drug Lord (seriously). After I read your article, I gave my kids the task of going through ONE drawer and seeing what they wanted to keep. I was pleasantly surprised at the 8 items my son chose not to keep, and the small bag of ‘stuff’ my daughter chose to give away. It was a small amount when I consider the fact that I could cheerfully have thrown all of it away ????. However, it’s a start and we’ll plod on. Thanks for your lovely article.

  3. 3
    Stephanie says

    I love the what would you like to keep question. Sometimes I tell my kids when they get something new, they have to choose 2 things they want to donate. I have also asked them is there something special you want, you can earn money to buy the item by donating some of your toys you do not play with the earn money to buy something new, like .25 for small item .50 for medium .75 for large and $1.00 for XL items. This seems to work well too.

  4. 4
    Jessica says

    We are currently on the hunt for a house while staying with family, unfortunately it’s taking a longer than we thought so we have obtained more toys than I would like. So we have toys in they’re toy drawers, a bin with extra toys and I’m not how many in our storage with our other things. I can’t wait to work on decluttering the toys when we get everything out of storage. I know there’s some they’ve been asking for but they are in another state. Fingers crossed we can get things decluttered as we unpack. Thanks for the tips.


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