Teaching Your Children to Organize: Stop Tossing Their Stuff!

Stop Tossing Your Kids Stuff at I'm an Organizing Junkie blog

If there is one thing I’m most passionate about when it comes to organizing is the importance of teaching kids’ how to organize when they are young. But the problem I see over and over again is that parents wait until their kids aren’t home to go into their rooms and start tossing things out.

This works if you never plan on having teenagers who know how to manage their own stuff and keep their own rooms organized.


It’s simple. You didn’t teach them how to do it. What was taught instead is that they’d better hang on to their things for dear life because if they don’t it will disappear on them. You’ve also taught them not to trust you. Ouch. I don’t know about you but I’m thinking that’s not the ideal we are going for here. Something else I want to touch on that should be considered is respect. In order to teach our children how to respect, we need to respect them first and I do believe that applies to their things and what they value.

Children need to know that what they say matters, that we care about their opinions and feelings and bents. It’s not only how we respect them, it’s how we gain their trust.

Sarah Mae

Now before you jump all over me about it. Let’s discuss some of your anticipated concerns.

  • it’s so much easier to just do it yourself when they aren’t around
  • your kid is a hoarder and would keep everything they own for ever and ever.
  • the kids don’t miss the tossed stuff anyway so what’s the big deal?

Great arguments for sure and I definitely agree with you on the first one. Yes, yes and yes, it is so much easier (and faster!) to organize when the kids aren’t present, hands down yes. BUT (you knew there had to be a BUT here right?) our job as parents is to raise independent kids that are going to eventually be out in the world on their own doing things all by themselves. And that includes organizing! And purging, hopefully purging. Most importantly, purging. Did I say purging?

When kids practice the art of organizing and purging at a young age when the stakes aren’t quite so high (as say an adult that has to decide to toss expensive scrapbooking supplies that they had to have and never used…ahem…yes that would be me!) they learn to trust their instincts, make decisions and know that organizing is a necessary continuous PROCESS with consequences if not done regularly.

How many adults do you know that never part with their things and instead allow this fear of letting go to keep them living in a state of stress and chaos? Maybe that’s you.

I don’t want that for anyone. And we can change this by starting with our kids…teaching them the PROCESS of how to organize and helping them to develop critical decision making skills at a young age. There are four golden rules that I think will help you do this.

Stop tossing their stuff!

Next time you are tempted to hit up their rooms with garbage bags when they aren’t home, stop yourself.  Set up a time to do it alongside them. This is something I do with my son (10) every year, the very first day of summer break. The months before school is out are busy ones and his room gets completely ignored. So last week, we tackled it together and yes it took us awhile but now we get to enjoy the summer without that mess weighing us down. It went from this (I’m sorry the pictures aren’t more clear):

bedroom before

bedroom corner before

bedroom cube before

bedroom headboard before

To this:

bedroom after

bedroom after 1

bedroom corner after 1

bedroom cube after

We took everything out of bins and drawers and talked about what was working for him and what wasn’t in such a small space. He wanted better access to his Lego so we set out to solve that problem together. This wasn’t just about cleaning up (although there is a place for that as well) but rather it was about making the space more efficient for his needs. It got him excited about what we were doing because it was going to make life easier for him in the end. He liked that. That’s not to say there wasn’t some mumbling and grumbling going on, we still had some of that, but he knows now (after years of practice!) that it will be worth it in the end. He understands that by weeding out what isn’t played with gives him more space and access to the toys he does play with.

Ask Key Questions:

For the kids who may hold everything near and dear to their hearts, you need to ask them specific questions to help them decide between what stays and what goes.

Organizing is all about making decisions and the younger children are when they learn to flex this “decision making muscle” the easier it will be for them to execute it on a regular basis.

Here are a few questions to help them decide:

When did you play with this last?

Which of these toys do you play with the least?

Why is this so important to you?

Rather than this toy sitting here not being played with do you think another child might like to play with it now?

Give them a choice between two things and ask them which one is their most favorite? I see you have two stuffed horses, which one is your favorite or would you like to keep this one or this one?

Remember it might look worse before it gets better and that’s okay.

bedroom during

Set Boundaries:

Setting limits and boundaries for the toys will also help considerably. Rather than it be a free for all, use containers to establish some boundaries according to the space you have available. For instance, have a designated bin for Lego and when the Lego bin is full, tell your child that they get to choose what they will let go of in order for the lid to close. It completely takes away the power struggle because it empowers them to control the outcome but within your boundaries. It really works!

If your child likes to keep random treasures they have found, designate a treasure box for them for such things. When it’s full they have to make some tough choices about what stays and what goes. It forces them to evaluate what’s really important to them rather than just everything being of equal importance.

Respect their Choices:

When you first start out with this process and having them make their own tough choices, you will more than likely be met with resistance. Expect it but stay firm. I promise you this step gets easier and easier with practice. You might not always agree with what they want to keep but remember your favorites don’t need to be their favorites.

It will be hard not to question every little decision they make especially if you have hoarder tendencies yourself. There will be times you disagree with their decision but please try not to turn it into a big issue. It’s all part of the learning process. If you are constantly reminding them that “oh are you sure, Grandma gave you that?”, they will start second guessing everything and eventually shut down from fear of making the wrong decision or upsetting you.

You empower them to make these decisions themselves alleviating potential power struggles. It’s your boundaries and limits but their choice what stays and what goes within those boundaries.

At 10, my son has gotten really good about parting with stuff, so when he said to me that he’d really like to keep his Geronimo Stilton books, which he absolutely adores but no longer reads, I agreed but asked him if we could put them away in his closet for keepsake. We found a container and space in his closet to do that for him. It made sense to me because they really were a favorite of his and we had the space up and out of the way.


bedroom closet before


bedroom closet after

Everything has to be evaluated and re-evaluated on a case by case basis. We’ll look at this choice again in a year and decide if this is still something that makes sense for him to keep. If we didn’t have the space however a compromise would have been necessary regarding how many he could keep.

I have been using these tactics for years, my kids are now 19, 16 and 10, and it makes me so happy when I see them, all on their own, add things to our donation station.  Whether it’s out grown clothes or toys no longer loved I am thrilled they don’t have a paralyzing fear of getting rid of something.

So next time you yell at your kids to go clean their rooms or are tempted to rush in with garbage bags and do it for them, ask yourself whether or not you have taught them the necessary organization skills needed to get the job done. It is possible and it is definitely worth it in the long run, I promise!

Have a great day today friends.

Related Posts:

No excuses, you don’t have to be born with an organizing gene

Organize any space with my organizing PROCESS


Filed under: Before and After, Clutter Control, Kid Stuff, Purging, The Organizing PROCESS


10 Responses to Teaching Your Children to Organize: Stop Tossing Their Stuff!

  1. 1
    Jacqui says

    How young did you start doing this with them? And how did you deal with keeping things for younger siblings (baby toys, learning toys etc)? I haven’t purged any of my daughter’s things (she is aged 3) but I have put a bunch of toys she has outgrown into the loft. She has a short attention span so I know if she sees something she will want to play with it, even if it is only a teething ring or something!

    • 1.1
      Laura Wittmann says

      When kids are small like your daughter, you know what toys do and don’t get played with. The ones that don’t get played with but that you want to hang on to for future children, it’s fine to go ahead and put up and out of the way since you aren’t technically getting rid of it. Children have a natural tendency to want to hang on to everything (don’t we all!) so as she gets older in the next couple of years it’s good practice to start asking her direct questions to choose between two items to keep and to let go of just to start getting her use to the idea that we can’t keep everything. As they get older and get more and more things, it really becomes necessary to weed things out especially to make room for Christmas toys and birthday toys which your daughter can totally be a part of.

      • Jacqui says

        That’s great, thank you so much!

  2. 2
    Hilda says

    I LOVE this post Laura! I’m a big believer in kids learning to prioritize how important their things are so they can learn to let go of what’s less special and appreciate what is extra special to them. My kids often say everything is special, but I remind them of Peter Walsh’s saying that if everything is special, nothing is special. They’re getting better. It’s SO hard to not add my opinions when they are making decisions, but I really want them to learn how to make these choices and build up their decluttering “muscles” so they will be able to do it on their own when they’re older. I’m happy to hear it’s working for your older kids… that reinforces that it’s worth the effort now :)

    • 2.1
      Laura Wittmann says

      So worth the effort Hilda, glad to hear I’m not the only one that does this, yay!

  3. 3
    Brenda says

    This is a great post! My son and I do this every summer too. You’re right that it is a bigger mess at first while you sort. It is important to do, because as an adult, I have a really hard time getting rid of things. I hope my kids won’t since we do this every summer.

  4. 4
    Crystal says

    Hey Laura,

    I love the questions you say to ask your child. It is so important for them to clean their own room. So glad you wrote this post. And, your son’s room looks great!

  5. 5
    Daria says

    I will definitely be sharing this with clients. Most want me to come over when their child is away so we can get rid of their stuff. Teaching kids to part with their items and organize is definitely harder than tossing their stuff but the end result is worth it. You are absolutely right. Loved this post!


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