In big organizing sessions, I often recommend that parents send their children elsewhere for the day. Getting rid of things can be hard for adults, even as experienced and emotionally developed individuals. For children, the experience can be WAY too much and involves way too many emotionally charged decisions at once.
This does not mean, however, that I don’t think children should be involved in the decluttering process – they just have to be eased into it.
Here’s a couple of things to try when it comes to easing your child into the process.
Set the Stage
Tell your child what’s up. “Our house is so crowded! We have new things coming in all the time, but not a lot of things going out. I’m getting rid of some things so that our house feels calmer and is easier to clean up for all of us.”
Letting your children know what you’re doing and why can add purpose to the process – even if they don’t like it.
Model The Process
Have your children watch you choose to get rid of things. Talk yourself through the process out loud.
“Look at this shirt! I can’t remember the last time I wore this shirt, can you? It’s a shirt that I used to like, but now it isn’t really my style. Plus, my body’s changed a little bit and I don’t like the way that it fits anymore. I’m going to donate this shirt so that I have more room in my closet. It’s crowded in there!”
It’s easier to do things when we have observed them being done properly.
To start, choose 3-5 things to get rid of. Watching you do a full clean out might be overwhelming to your children at this step and they may think they have to do the same right away.
Start With One Thing
After decluttering a few things of your own, tell the child that it’s their turn.
“I got rid of a few things to make space. Now we’re going to do a little bit of decluttering in your room. We’re doing this because it’s been so hard to clean up, and having less things will be easier.”
Tell them that you’ll be getting rid of one toy. Brainstorm with them what the toy might be. What haven’t they played with in a while? What toy is a “baby” toy – made for children younger than them? What might be broken or unusable?
If they can’t think of anything, choose two things that fall into these categories. Ask them to choose ONE to get rid of.
If they can’t make the decision, do it for them. Make sure it’s something REALLY obvious that they don’t care about – for example, an infant toy that is not at all sentimental.
They might throw a fit. They might get upset and cry. They might beg you to keep it.
This is the heartbreaking part. No, we don’t want our children to be uncomfortable or unhappy – not at all. However, having too many things in life can be crippling – as an organizer, I have seen cluttered houses stress people out beyond belief. This little bit of planned discomfort now is very good practice for later on.
Empathize with them. “You really don’t want to get rid of a toy. I totally understand. It can be hard to get rid of things. I feel upset that you’re upset, but your room has so many things in it that I’m afraid that there won’t be room for new things in the future.”
Muddle through the discomfort – theirs and yours. It’s not easy, but it’s necessary.
Prepare for Next Time
If the process is hard now it can only get easier. Try again in a week or so with another thing. They may have not liked the decision the first time around that you made, so they may be more willing to make a decision the next time. Or, you may have to make the decision again for them, but it’s easier and with less emotion.
We want what’s best for our children. Always. As a parent, you decide what is best and what works for your child and family. This is not the only solution – however, I am hoping to bring a working solution to something that can sometimes feel impossible.