Mini-Minimalists: 11 Ways to Cultivate Clutter-Free Kids

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As a woman of "a certain age," my life is rapidly transitioning from bottomless mimosa brunches and birthday weekends in wine country to baby showers and 1st birthday parties.  

And while I'm not yet a parent myself, it's been impossible not to notice all the products targeted at and constantly given to new parents and kids.  

In the world of families, the proposed "solution" to problems is almost always more/bigger/fancier (crib, stroller, house, toys, etc.).  And of course kids are so darn cute that we are all more than willing them 10x the things they would ever need.  Heck, I've seen babies in utero who already have more possessions than the average adult and houses where every room is brimming with toys. 

Given that parents are pretty much the busiest folks on the planet, it can feel miraculous to keep their own bedroom and adult spaces clean, forget the time or bandwidth to constantly do battle with their children's clutter.  

But what if, rather than being producers of continual clutter, your kids helped keep your home tidy and clear?   

The thing about kids is that they would often rather play with a wooden spoon or the box a toy came in.  Sometimes they open one present and play with it for weeks, ignoring the 20 other wrapped gifts in the corner.  Children know and are totally comfortable expressing their preferences (just ask a group of 4 year olds their thoughts on school/airplanes/music/broccoli if you don't believe me).  They are sensitive, empathic, generous and are excited by giving to others in need.   

Kids already have the hearts and minds of minimalists, they just need some help gathering tools. 

11 Tools for Cultivating Clutter-Free Kids:

 

1. Lead by example.  

You don't need to be Martha Stewart or a perfect minimalist to model good behavior for your child.  If you struggle with clutter yourself, take a few minutes to let your children know that you are focusing on honing down your things.  Let them watch you as you process and declutter some of your own items.  Share with them the benefits of having the house being clutter-free: it's easier to maintain, you'll have more time for spending with them, you can try out new hobbies together, the mornings before school will be smoother, etc.   If you're a tidy parent with messy kids?  All the more reason to talk with them so they can understand the intentionality behind your simple space.  

 

2. Let their room be their own. 

It's important to give your kids a feeling of ownership and mastery over their space.  When they know that their space is their own, they're empowered to make meaningful decisions and keep only what inspires and delights them.

 

3. Make it a game. 

Set a timer for 5 minutes and see if they can declutter a toy bin.  Or make a chart where they get a sticker for each small bag of toys they donate.  Whatever you decide works best for your kids, just keep it light and make it fun!

 

4. Designate a home for everything.

 Decide where the things that your kids do love and want to keep will be permanently stored.  It's helpful to place things in containers, e.g.: all legos in a certain bin, all animals in another.  This makes clean up very clear for kids to do on their own as well as signaling to the child when it's time to declutter again because the bin is too full.

 

5. Release your own biases.  

Children will surprise you with their clear preferences and natural penchant for simple living.  Often its actually the parent who struggles when the child clears.  For example, we worked with a parent-child duo and found that for nearly every toy or garment the child wanted to donate, the parent had a reason to keep it, such as: "You love this!  It was your favorite toy for all of kindergarten!"  "But you brought this with you everywhere last year!"  "Not this one, it was a gift from your grandma."  It's crucial if you are going to involve your kids that you honor their decisions.  Just do your best to be aware when these thoughts arise and try not place them on your kids.

 

6. Involve your children in the donation process.  

Bring them with you to donate items to Goodwill, a shelter or a higher-need school.  Let your child see how their generosity positively impacts others.

 

7. Be ready to be very impressed.  

Kids as young as 3 really do understand the idea of letting go of things "for the other kids who don't have as many toys."  Starting at 7, some kids can do an excellent job of decluttering their room on their own.  No matter what age, if you assist your child in the decluttering process, you'll get to hear their thought processes and learn about their value systems as they decide what stays and goes.  Their depth and self-awareness will blow you away.  And you can be damn proud for raising such a thoughtful child!

 

8. Encourage mindful consumption. 

The best way to keep order is to be far more selective about what you allow into a space to begin with.  Teach your child how to politely refuse items they don't care for by doing so yourself.  Show them how you care for and maintain items that are important to you encourage longevity.  Encourage them to invest in things they care about (whether this is their allowance or their Christmas list) and shift focus from quantity to quality.  

 

9) Use birthdays and holidays to your advantage. 

There tend to be a few times a year when children are inundated with new belongings.  Solution: declutter in advance.  The night before Santa comes or the weekend before a birthday party, sit down with your child and ask them, in light of the new things that will be coming into their lives, what they're ready to part with?

 

10) Change the way your family celebrates, aka: stop clutter before it enters the home.  

Bea Johnson of Zero Waste Home does a remarkable job of this with her two sons.  She throws them parties but asks guests to give her sons experiences rather than "things."  Start this in your own home and then encourage others to get involved.

 

11) Solidify the habit.  

Create a donation area somewhere in your home that your kids all have access to.  Encourage them to place items they no longer want or use in the bin.  Let them know that it's natural for them to evolve and outgrow certain things.  Once the bin is full, you can bring it to your chosen charity together.

 

What has worked for you and your family?  How do you maintain your home with kids?  What are tools you've come up with to keep clutter at bay?  Where do you wish you had more help?  

Please share in the comments below!