Are you wading through toys each time you go in your kid’s room? Do you have mountains of laundry yet your kids have nothing to wear? Are you ready for a major cleanout but getting started feels so daunting?
Figuring out how to declutter a child’s room can be challenging. But you can get to a better place, and I’m here to help.
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This is an area that has previously caused me much grief. There’s so much mess, but do I really want to battle the kids over it? I know it needed to be done, for all of our sakes. With four kids of varying ages, STUFF accumulates.
I always struggle with do I bother to involve the kids or do I just wait until they’re out of the house and make things disappear. Though it might be easier in the short-term to do it on my own, deep down I knew the right thing was to try and involve them in the process. (Plus my kids are getting to the age where they start to notice and ask questions if things go missing.)
I’m pleased to report the Konmari process went better than expected. Here is the process I followed, what I learned, and how you can bring your kids along in starting to apply some principles of minimalism. Help them learn to be thoughtful about their belongings and maintain a space that makes them feel good.
Get Your Child on Board
Getting your kids on board is the most important step when you want to declutter their room. I recommend you start tidying your areas of the house first. That way, the kids will start to get familiar with the process as they see you going through it with your things.
When you’re ready to help them tackle their space, have a conversation with your child. You can use these elements as a guide and adjust to your situation and child’s age:
Assess the situation (the lead-in)
“You know how it’s hard for you to find things or it takes you a long time to clean up?”
“Remember when mom almost tripped and fell when she came into your room last week?”
Connect mess to feelings
“When I can’t find things, I get frustrated.”
“I don’t like to spend so much of my free time cleaning when I could be having fun.”
“Having a mess around all the time makes me feel bad.”
“Remember how your toy got broken because there was too much stuff on the floor?”
Give them a WIFM (what’s in it for me?)
“By going through your things and keeping the items you really like, you’ll spend less time straightening up.”
“You’ll be able to have more friends over for a playdate if your room isn’t always a mess.”
“You’ll be able to get ready for school easier if everything has a place.”
“Things can pile up over time. By going through them, you’ll have space to enjoy the things you really like.”
Make it clear you’re in it together
No matter the age, the Konmari process is a big job, and the child will at least need some guidance.
“We’ll go through your things together to make your room more tidy.”
Our family had a specific goal in mind. Our whole-house purge was leading up to our first family yard sale, and we had decided to put any earnings toward our family vacation fund.
Talking to the kids about this, along with the general goals of tidying, helped get them on board. You could also use the concept of donation to show that the things given up could help others.
Follow the Konmari Process
Clothes are the first and easiest category. Most kids don’t have much of an attachment to their clothes. I gave each kid a laundry basket and told them to fill it with ALL their clothes.
Everything from their dresser, floor, closet, hamper, bed, etc. went into the basket. Include shoes, hats, and anything that can be worn on the body. Make a big pile for each kid.
I think a good goal to aim for is around two weeks of outfits, in case you get backed up on laundry. This means about 7 bottoms, 12 tops, underwear, and socks, and 5 pajamas.
Even though I felt like I go through the kids’ clothes regularly and switch them out by season, I was surprised by the amount of clothes. No wonder they were all over their room!
Start by weeding out anything that’s stained, ripped, or too small. From what’s left, ask your kids to pick out their favorites until you’ve reached a reasonable number.
As I mentioned in my whole-house tidying post, I found the Konmari method of folding did not add enough value for the effort. We have a folding board, which my kids find fun to use. But honestly, if they put their clothes in their dresser themselves and the drawers close, I’m pretty happy.
The footage of Marie Kondo’s kids folding in her intricate manner is adorable, but I’m a realist. This is not an area I get hung up on, especially with a pared down wardrobe.
Take a similar approach with books. Piling them all in a big pile showed me I had gone overboard with the book buying. I often picked them up at yard sales or our public library’s annual sale. I figured, the more I had on hand, the more avid readers my kids would be. I wanted so much for my kids to be book lovers like me that it came out in my spending.
Books were always all over my kids’ beds, on the floor, falling off their shelves, and in their closet. We went through each one, and I asked “do you like this one?” and “do you want to keep it?” My kids (ages 8, 10, and 13) were actually very good at identifying which ones brought them joy and which could be passed on.
The Konmari process helped me adjust my habits going forward, and we will be making more trips to the library instead of purchasing books.
As you can see, the tasks are getting a bit harder. But by now, my kids had started to get used to the process of how to declutter. They had accepted that we were getting rid of some things and it was okay.
We used the same approach as the books, and they were able to tell me when they weren’t into a certain style of toy anymore. For example, my 8 year old had outgrown his Paw Patrol toys and was ready to pass them along to another child to enjoy.
I made it clear that we were not keeping toys that were broken. Where there were duplicates (do we really need three stretchy caterpillars?), I urged them to choose their favorite.
For the tougher categories like toys, if you’re having trouble making any traction with your child and you really feel a cutback is in order, you could try giving them a specific sized container to fill with their favorites. Or you could ask them to choose a certain number of items that they can pass along to make another child happy.
With my kids, I did not try the Konmari method of thanking items before getting rid of them, but you certainly could. This might help a reluctant child to feel a little better about the process.
I put stuffed animals into their own category. I swear they multiply like rabbits! Our kids love them. They love them so much that my husband put a ban on any more stuffed animals entering the house. In each of my kid’s rooms, they have a basket for stuffed animals, which was clearly overflowing.
Oh my, how to declutter all their cute fluffy loved ones? Because they have such a hard time letting go in this area, I pointed out the overflowing container and prompted them to each choose three stuffed animals that could move on to a new home.
You would have thought I asked them to cut off a finger. I pointed out that they had so many, there’s no way they could give each one love and attention.
This was a baby step. I don’t expect my kids will love stuffed animals forever, so I just wanted to reign it in a little bit to help keep the house in order.
Miscellaneous and Sentimental Items
Kids love to keep trinkets. A random dice they found on the playground. A note someone gave them in first grade. A special rock (cough: gravel).
As long as these aren’t causing a big problem or getting seriously out of control, I try to give them some freedom here. I help them identify a space in their room where they can keep the special things they choose. My son loves his special cabinet. My daughter has display shelves and part of her bookshelf devoted to this.
Still, we went through these and asked about each item, “does this feel special to you and make you happy?” I also felt it was important to let them know that even if someone you love gave an item to you, it’s okay to get rid of it if you don’t enjoy it anymore. I know I needed this permission, and it was one of the most freeing things about using Marie Kondo’s system.
Take time to tell your child how proud you are that they helped and went through this process of tidying! Ask how they feel about their room now. Even if everything didn’t go as smoothly as you hoped, take time to celebrate all you accomplished together.
What if your child is not ready to Konmari?
I feel it’s important to give each child some ownership of their space (within reason). Some kids have a harder time than others letting go. Honestly, every person has a different preference and tolerance for things in their physical space.
Just because I feel minimalism will make me happier doesn’t mean this is right for everyone. I tried to keep this in mind when involving my kids. Though I hope the decluttering process will show them a healthy way to shape their surroundings and avoid excess, they should have some control in their own space.
My oldest daughter in particular loves to have her room filled with things everywhere. I still struggle with this, and going into her room can give me anxiety. By talking to her about it and really listening, she’s been able to tell me that having her room this way feels good to her—comforting.
She still went through the tidying process, and I gave her leeway to make her own decisions. While the result may not look like my ideal, I was really proud of her. She got rid of clothes she doesn’t wear and was ready to part with some toys she’s had for a long time.
It took her many years to get to this point, and we’ve had battles before over her “mess.” In telling you this, I hope you will try to be understanding with your kiddos and find a healthy balance.
Some kids may not be ready to participate in the Konmari process and may need to come to it in their own time. The last thing I wanted to do was turn my kids into hoarders because their mom forced them to get rid of their most precious belongings as a child!
You can also start to have some control of what enters your house on the front-end. After all, you control the purchasing power. A “one in, one out” policy can be helpful.
Your Turn to Declutter
Teaching your kids how to declutter is a great life skill.
Have you tackled The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up with your kids, or are you ready to take the plunge?
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Good luck mamas!