It was the day after Christmas when I realized I’d been doing it all wrong.
Over the past few years, I decluttered my kids’ rooms when they were at school. Though they always appreciated how organized their room was when they returned home, I still felt like I was managing the clutter rather than truly minimizing it.
So on December 26, I decided to try something new: Instead of working around them, I was going to work with them to clear the clutter.
“Guys, what do you think about going through your rooms today?” I asked. “Let’s take out the toys you don’t want to play with anymore and pass them on to someone who would really love them. Plus, it will make it easier to find a home in your room for the toys you got yesterday.”
To my surprise, my 5-year-old was enthusiastic. As she rummaged around, pulling out all of her Little People toys—a house, car ramp, barn, zoo, four bins of blocks, and three castles—I was a little surprised. Little People have been in our house for at least the last decade, and as our third and youngest child, she’s been on the receiving end of a lot of the toys.
“Are you sure you’re okay getting rid of these?” I asked her.
“Yep,” she said, nodding. Pointing to another big toy, she added, “That one, too.”
As we sorted through bins and reorganized her closet and toys, I sent a few quick messages to friends to see if they could use the items. By the end of the day, the toys were packed up in my garage, waiting for their new owners to pick them up.
“Okay, buddy,” I said, conferring with my list as we closed up her closet doors and surveyed her organized room. “The car ramp and zoo are going to Jasmine, two of the castles are going to the kids rooms at church, the blocks are going to Ruth, and the Aurora castle is going to Evie.”
Her face lit up. “My friend Evie?” she clarified. I nodded and she looked proud. She loved hearing where the toys would go after they left our home.
It was in that moment that I realized I’d been doing it wrong. I thought I was minimizing the pain of getting rid of my kids’ previously beloved items by secretly removing them while they were at school.
But I’d forgotten that the simple joy of giving isn’t just for adults—it’s for kids, too. My daughter wasn’t concerned that she was going to miss her toys; she was simply glad that her younger friends would get to enjoy them.
As parents, we think that by getting rid of something we are taking it away. The truth is, that by involving our children in the decluttering process, we are giving them the opportunity to understand the joy of sharing something with others.
Decluttering with our children is a simple way to foster generosity. When we give something away—be it our time, expertise, money, or useful items we no longer need—we live out the generosity Jesus demonstrated during his time on earth. Though giving away items is just one way to foster generosity in our families, it can be a good first step. As Proverbs 11:25 reminds us, “The generous will prosper; those who refresh others will themselves be refreshed” (NLT). When we actively seek to bless others through our actions and words, we often find ourselves feeling the reflected glow of happiness that comes as a result of giving to others.
If you’re ready to start decluttering with kids, here are a few tips to get you started:
- Consider timing. The day after Christmas or a birthday is a great time to declutter a child’s room because they are focused on making room for their new toys and are more inclined to purge items they no longer want.
- Tackle one section at a time. Don’t feel like you need to pull everything out all at once. Choose a drawer or section and analyze items individually, placing them in Keep, Donate, or Trash piles. (A caveat: My children have a seemingly endless amount of crafts they can’t bear to get rid of. Take these out of the room and deal with them separately rather than getting bogged down while trying to do a larger overhaul.)
- Take your cues for reorganizing from your child. One of my long-term goals is for my child to maintain the system we put in place after we have finished decluttering. Because of that, we worked together to “find homes” for items she kept: Dolls and art supplies she uses daily were placed in drawers within easy reach, while Polly Pockets and puzzles she doesn’t play with as often were positioned higher up in her closet.
- Once you’ve removed toys, clothes, and other items from the room, brainstorm a list of people or organizations who may benefit from the items you no longer need. Knowing that their no-longer-used toys are going to younger cousins, friends, local churches or child care centers can help ease the sting of loss and help put a face to a name. Although we often give to general donation places, I like to start with people and places my children know.
- After you’re done purging items and have reorganized the items that remain, go on a “tour” of the room. When my daughters are able to tell me where everything in their room belongs, they take ownership of their belongings and are more likely to maintain the room’s cleanliness.
A career in journalism set Kristin Demery up to publish her own stories of living this wild, precious life. She now is an author of five truth-telling books, including the latest 100 Days of Kindness, and part of a trio of writers collectively known as The Ruth Experience. Kristin served as a newspaper and magazine editor and her work has been featured in a variety of publications, including USA Today. She still works behind-the-scenes as an editor for others while writing her own series on kindness, friendship, and living with intention. Find more from Kristin at theruthexperience.com.