I’m so excited to share with you that I recently started a Q&A column on the blog! Here’s how it works – you email in to ask me any housekeeping question you have, and I’ll answer it. About once a month, I will choose one question & answer to share on my website so we can encourage others who are going through similar situations.
And, to make this month’s question even sweeter, there’s a special offer you won’t want to miss at the bottom of this post. I know you are going to love it, and it’s only good through January 30th so definitely take a look!
Today’s question is all about kid’s clutter:
Q: “I am wondering if you have any advice for moms with small spaces and lots of kids. I feel overwhelmed by stuff but we have 5 children (4 small ones are still at home) and we home school. I feel like I can’t throw their stuff away but I’m tired of moving around it. And, because we have a small space, the living room & dining room is also the play room, school room, and family living area. I would appreciate any advice!” – Amber
Homeschooling in a small space can feel overwhelming at times, especially when there are several little ones underfoot! I’d like to encourage you to give yourself lots of grace. You have quite a bit on your plate, and the investment you’re making in your children now will pay off huge in the future.
One thing in particular that you said really jumped out at me:
“I feel like I can’t throw their stuff away.”
I think you just stated a very common feeling many of us have had – we have a tendency to think that if we get rid of our children’s possessions, then we’re not honoring their work on a project or their enjoyment of a particular toy. We may worry someone will be upset with a choice we made, or that we might need an item in the future. So we hold onto things.
But, really, when we sort through our children’s belongings and choose what to keep, we’re honoring their space, their time, and their creativity, as well as teaching them important life skills.
Keep in mind that organizing kid items can take some time, so try not to get discouraged if you’re not completing tasks as quickly as you hope.
When you do sort through your children’s belongings, I recommend pulling everything out of one small space. For example, take everything out of a toy box. Then, select the items you’re going to keep and put those back in the toy box. Everything else that’s left on the floor should be tossed or donated.
How To Choose What To Keep:
1. Think about playtime vs. clean-up time.
If your children spend 10 minutes playing with something and it makes for an hour’s worth of cleanup, the toy is probably more work than it’s worth. Get rid of it.
2. If it’s broken, get rid of it.
Free yourself from the dozens of things you’ll fix “soon.” Just throw it into the trash. Let it go.
3. If it has missing pieces, use your best judgment.
You could designate a “missing pieces” box for now, and see if you come across the pieces while you’re decluttering your house. If you don’t find the pieces within the next month or so, get rid of the toy.
4. Set limits.
When the bookshelf is full, it’s full. Don’t cram books—get rid of some instead. Likewise, when the toy box is full, it’s full. Don’t let your kids keep stuff next to the toy box. Instead, get rid of the things that aren’t the top favorites so everything can fit neatly into the designated space.
5. If they probably won’t miss it, donate it.
Sometimes a child enjoys and uses many toys regularly, so simply asking how often they use it isn’t always enough. There are plenty of times when kids become interested in playing with a toy only when they rediscover it in the bottom of their toy box. The better question is, “Will my child really even miss this if it is gone?”
6. If you’re holding onto it for a younger sibling, give it away.
Necessary items like cribs and car seats don’t count, of course. But, if you’re holding onto Johnny’s toy or Suzie’s doll for Betsy to grow into, then go ahead and donate it! This may seem wasteful at first, but think about the plethora of items that likely come into your house every single birthday and Christmas. Little Betsy will receive plenty of new toys to play with, without Johnny’s old items taking up space.
How To Organize The Things You’re Keeping:
1. Use zip-top bags for organization.
This is not the prettiest storage method, but it’s cheap and efficient. You can put Legos into gallon-size bags if your kids don’t have very many of them (otherwise use a tote box). Lacing games or finger puppets can go into another. Divide art supplies into yet another bag.
Real-life example: On our art shelf is an art supply basket. Inside that basket is a bag for crayons, another bag for colored pencils, another bag for stencils and stickers, another for scissors, and so on. This way, my kids can grab supplies quickly on their own as well as put them back easily.
2. Utilize over-the-door clear shoe holders.
These are great for keeping art supplies and other small items organized!
3. Be okay with knowing that you may make a mistake.
You may accidentally get rid of something your children would have liked to keep. Don’t let a fear of that paralyze you.
4. Take the time to find a good system for your family.
For my family, we generally need to declutter our schoolroom (which doubles as a playroom) once every quarter. This takes anywhere from two hours to a solid day to accomplish each time, but doing so keeps the room under control in between declutter sessions. I encourage you to try quarterly decluttering sessions in your own school/toy area to see if that helps.
When Your Kids Want Something Back That You’ve Donated:
As much as I’d love to pretend it’s never going to happen to you, the reality is there’s a possibility your child may want to play with something you’ve donated.
Do not, I repeat, do not let a fear of this stop you from having an organized home! (2 Timothy 1:7)
In all the dozens and dozens of van-loads full of items my family has donated over the past several years, there have only been three items in those bags that my children have missed.
Here’s how to handle those situations:
1. Give yourself grace.
Realize that it’s okay to not do everything perfectly.
2. Remind your children that you’ve thrown some items away because most of the pieces were missing.
They will generally understand that keeping things clutter-free allows them to now have toys with little pieces that aren’t getting lost all over the place.
3. Encourage them to get creative.
Your kids may be able to figure out how to create their own version with supplies you have on hand. And, who knows – maybe they’ll even like their homemade version better than the original!
4. Be respectful of your child’s feelings.
Say something like, “I’m sorry I accidentally got rid of something you enjoyed. I did my absolute best in trying to organize your space for you to give you a fresh start. Tell me what you loved about that item.” Doing this will show you care about their feelings and it may help them let go of the item.
You May Also Enjoy:
- How to Organize School Papers & Other Mementos
- How to Conquer the Living Room Mess
- Tear-Free Ways to Get Kids to Clean
- When Your House is Just too Small
- How I Decluttered My Entire House in Six Days
- 7 Simple Ways to Begin Living a Clutter-Free Life Right Now
If You Wish You Could Have Even More Cleaning Help:
Have you ever felt like you’re just one step away from flat-out crazy? Just when you get one closet decluttered, you find another closet door that won’t shut. Or when you finally get your inbox empty, another stack of papers comes in the mail.
Or, maybe I’m the only one who’s ever had those problems 😉
But, if you’ve ever started feeling desperate, wondering how to find the time to develop a system that works for you, how to squeeze in more decluttering, and how on earth you can get your family to participate, then I think I have something that can help you: The Conquer Your Clutter Super Bundle from the Ultimate Bundles team is available until Monday, January 30!
This bundle is a curated collection of 38 eCourses, printable planners, and eBooks – including my eBook, Chaos to Clutter-Free – to help you organize your life, created by people who’ve learned how to conquer all the different types of clutter (physical, mental, digital) in their own life, and they want to share what they’ve learned with you.
The combined value of the resources in the toolkit is over $650, but you get EVERYTHING for 95% off!
Worried you won’t know where to start with all the great resources? Don’t be! Inside the bundle you’ll find a handy Getting Started Guide so you can take action right away.
I hope this Q&A session has your wheels turning and that you’re feeling motivated and ready to declutter your kids’ spaces! If you have any additional tips for Amber, let us know in the comments!
P.S. Remember to take advantage of the Conquer Your Clutter bundle deal before it expires on Monday, January 30th at 11:59 PM EST!