December 1, 2021
Don’t let chaos take over. Here are some practical tips for winning the battle against kids’ clutter.
When kids’ stuff takes over your house, you can feel trapped and discouraged. And the more kids you have, the more overwhelming it can become. What can you do to manage the clutter?
The first step? Welcome it. Yes, that’s right. Embrace it. That doesn’t mean allowing your home to descend into chaos. But it does mean you need to see the beauty of your situation. After all, you have active children who love to play, and that’s a wonderful gift for both you and them. Also, your home needs to be a fun place for fostering ideas, imagination, love, learning, and play. You live in your home, and your family enjoys it—that’s a blessing.
But life can become burdensome when your space gets too cluttered. In fact, experts say that excessive clutter can lead to emotional problems and safety concerns, which are not healthy for you or your kids. So how can you get kids’ stuff under control? Here are four strategies you can use to take command of the chaos.
1. Set boundaries; make rules.
Orderliness in the home reduces stress and makes childhood more enjoyable for both you and your kids. Being trapped in a prison of clutter is discouraging and overwhelming, with things always lost and underfoot. These tips can help:
- Set an example. Kids can easily recognize hypocrisy. So if you try to train them to pick up and organize while your personal space is cluttered and chaotic, they’ll wonder why you’re making them do something that you yourself don’t do. So be sure to keep the adult rooms of the house reasonably neat and orderly—and do it consistently.
- Set some limits. For example, you could establish a rule where no toys are allowed in your bedroom—or in your kitchen. To engage with kids while preparing meals, you could set up an inexpensive play kitchen near the real kitchen. That way your kids can play near you while you prepare meals.
- Set up a “toy place.” Designate a big area rug or a corner section of a specific room as the toy place. Put the toys there, and have the kids keep the toys in that space. This makes for easier clean-up—but it can be tough to get kids to follow the new guidelines. Practical tip: Set up a reward system to help motivate kids to keep their toys in the play place—and to pick them up when playtime is over.
- Set some toys up high. Some kids’ playthings are hard to clean up or need adult supervision—such as big puzzles, magic markers, or paint sets. Put them on a tall shelf the kids can’t reach and save them for times when you and the kids can play together.
- Reset everything, every night. Teach your kids to put away all of their toys every night. This is especially important for safety reasons. For example, let’s say there’s a fire or some other kind of emergency and you need to quickly get out of your house. You do not want to be tripping over toys at a time like that!
2. Get organized.
Organization is all about creating and maintaining spaces to store things. There are many options, but the main thing is finding a system that works for you and your home. For example, maybe your kids will need to keep their toys in a bedroom closet or a toy chest. Or perhaps you could turn a bonus room or occasional guest room into a kids’ playroom, including shelves and bins for storage. Here are some helpful tips:
- Pick ‘em up. It’s important to teach kids to pick up and put away toys that they’ve stopped playing with before getting out something else. Then at the end of every day, help them do a big clean-up and put-away.
- Sort ‘em out. Try sorting toys into themed boxes, bins, or baskets that can stack or slide onto shelves or under furniture. Sort them by theme (cars, superheroes, dolls, blocks, Legos, etc.). When it’s playtime, your child can choose the activity and the toy basket. Then be sure to clean up and put away everything in that container before getting into a new one or starting a new activity.
- Make it a game. Putting things back to their proper places can be a fun game. For example, superhero action figures can “live” in a particular container. Then when your kids put them away, they’re just “putting them to bed.”
- Rotate toys. Try setting up seasonal toy containers: that is, toy collections that you put away during winter months and bring back out in the summer. They’ll seem to your kids like brand-new toys! This concept works especially well for holiday-themed toys: Put ‘em away after the holidays and then get ‘em back out during the next holiday season. Seasonal storage also helps keep toys from getting lost or broken, and your kids will love it when you unbox them.
- Streamline your clean-up. Set aside a “blanket basket” for the blankets that kids use to build forts. You can also buy an inexpensive storage ottoman to store toys when playtime ends—just open the lid and pile the toys inside. it’s an easy de-cluttering solution that makes for quick clean-up.
3. Unused toys? Donate or give away!
Over time, kids tire of certain toys. So every six months, encourage your children to practice selflessness and kindness by giving away or donating toys in good condition that they no longer use.
Giving up possessions can be difficult for kids (especially the younger ones), and you may need to set the example by giving away some items that you longer use.
But teaching kids to let go of material things will help them develop into healthy, kind-hearted adults—and will go a long way toward your de-cluttering goal. It won’t be hard for you to find a local charity that accepts toy donations. Or if you’re aware of a family that’s less fortunate than yours, you can give the toys directly to those children.
On the way back home from donating or giving, treat your kids to ice cream—or a visit to their favorite play park. Let them know that you’re proud of them for their willingness to give.
4. Teach kids to clean up after themselves.
Most kids aren’t born with a tidiness gene. They need training, so start when they’re very young. Toy clean-ups can be a key early step in helping your kids learn to live orderly lives. Here are some techniques you can use:
- Change it up. Instead of playing all the time, have your kids help you with household chores. If they’re really small, give them simple tasks to do with you—such as folding clothes, sweeping, putting away spoons, collecting trash, and so forth. Always be looking for new tasks that you can train them to handle. This impresses on kids the vital importance of work and helps build a solid work ethic—which they’ll need when they grow up and enter the workforce.
- Team up to clean up. Jump in and clean up together with your kids before lunch; then do it again before dinner. If you’re home with the kids during the day, schedule a toy clean-up right before lunch. Then have a 20-minute parent/kid clean-up session at the end of each day. Set a timer and try to beat it.
- Assign age-appropriate tasks. For example, you probably wouldn’t want your three-year-old cleaning a toilet, nor would you have your 14-year-old pick up a preschooler’s toys. But don’t shy away from giving kids opportunities to stretch their abilities and take on new tasks. Kids can often accomplish more than we give them credit for, and as they grow they need new challenges. Any mistakes they make are coaching opportunities for you—and growing opportunities for them.
- Use rewards. Let’s face it: Clean-up can be boring. And if household chores are too easy or too hard, kids will get frustrated. You may want to use a chore chart that enables kids to swap chore cards or earn “points” in return for online or TV privileges. For example: Emptying all of the trash cans in the house or de-cluttering their room earns them 15 minutes of screen time; vacuuming a bedroom earns 20 minutes. You can buy a set of pre-made cards and a chart—or you can make them yourself.
Don’t let kids’ clutter get you down! Taking a few practical steps can help you defeat chaos and restore order in your home.