By Mandi, Contributing Writer
Even the most organized person will fall under the weight of too much stuff – a lesson I learned the hard way a few years into married life and motherhood – and instead of just inspiring my children to be organized, my goal is to show them the value of living a simple life without clutter.
I wouldn’t necessarily call us minimalists, as we don’t stick to strict rules about the number of items in our home or what we do or don’t buy; however, we are careful to only keep the things that we truly use and enjoy and to evaluate purchases through this lens before we spend money. And, yes, that means my kids have fewer toys and clothes than most of their peers, but I don’t think they’re suffering!
Because we want to pass these values on to our kids rather than have them revolt the minute they move out of our home, we’re very intentional about the way we treat “stuff,” and I want to share a few of those strategies with you today:
Keep Them Involved in Decisions
Although it’s easier to de-clutter without children underfoot, it’s important to involve children in the process. No one likes to have their stuff thrown or given away without their permission, and I still give my mom a hard time about the coloring books she threw out one year without telling me!
Most importantly, by involving kids in the process, you’re helping them develop those decision making skills as they think about what to keep and what to give away. Use these 10 decluttering questions to help encourage conversation as you go.
Set Objective, Physical Limits
Everyone has things they hold onto that don’t make sense to outside observers, and it’s important to give children freedom to choose special toys and knick knacks of their own — within limits.
My favorite way to give my kids freedom within a reasonable framework is to designate a box, bag or other container for specific toys. They can grow their collection of Little People, Hot Wheels or cheesy dollar store toys as long as it fits within that defined space, but once it begins to overflow, it’s time to de-clutter the extras.
This not only gives them control of the decisions so that I don’t have to play the bad guy, but it also reinforces the idea that saying yes to certain items means saying no to others.
Embrace the One Toy In, One Toy Out Rule
A strict interpretation of this rule says that whenever kids receive a new toy for their birthday, a holiday or make their own purchase, they choose one of their existing toys to give away. Because I’m not a great rule follower, we don’t follow this rule with precision (although I know families that do!). However, we always do a big clean out before Christmas to make room for any new toys, and we’ll often do one in the middle of the year as well.
We keep our toys in a defined space (smaller toy sets in a wardrobe in the play area and the bigger toys in their bedroom closet), and we are careful to limit the toys we own to what will fit comfortably in these two spaces.
Make Cleaning Up a Family Affair
Involving kids in daily clean up is a great way to give them a realistic picture of the time cost of stuff! There will obviously be times when they’ll want to keep out an elaborate Lego village they’re building or another project that’s in progress, but for the most part we clean up each evening and everybody participates. Toddlers and preschoolers are so eager to help, so we use that as an opportunity to build good habits right from the start.
I don’t expect my children to be perfect little organizing machines, and like any kid, they page through toy catalogs with wide eyes as they dream of owning every single toy. Our goal is not to force our decisions on them but to help them build good habits and give them opportunities to see the benefits of keeping our home uncluttered and neat.