How I Approach Decluttering With My Kids

I hope you all had an awesome weekend. This weekend The Girl and I worked in her bedroom.

Eventually I’ll do a post on her whole room, but holy cow, it’s amazing how far she has come in the last year. I just went back and looked at the pictures of her bedroom before we started and it made me itch. And then wonder how in the world I let it get that bad. I really need to work on the guilt, because looking at the evidence of all of this is horrifying.

Decluttering With Kids

When we started trying to get a handle on all of the stuff, I knew I didn’t want the kids to come home one day to find that all of their belongings had disappeared. I didn’t think that would be good for many different reasons.

  • I didn’t want them to lose the lesson of how to determine what they wanted to keep and what they did not need or use.
  • I wanted them to do the work and have some ownership over the process.
  • I also felt that if I swooped in, I’d both be “rescuing” them from the work and I worried there would be a resulting trust issue.

Maybe I’m overanalyzing it, but that was my thinking.

I didn’t do any research before we started, these were just my thoughts on the subject. I knew from my own experience that things needed to be sorted into keep, donate and recycle/trash. I gave both kids those guidelines and we got to work.

At first, they told me everything was a keep. So I gave them both space limitations and some instructions. “From this section here, you can keep everything that fits into this bucket.” I made sure the bucket was big enough that they felt like they got to keep a lot, but it was still a stretch.

At first they whined. Incessantly.

This is going to take forever.

But I play with it all.

I want it.

Over time, as we continued editing, they got better at it. But it took time. A lot of time.

The Girl

The Girl is naturally more of a packrat. The Boy isn’t as bad. This weekend I realized how far she has come.

The Girl misplaced her iPod Shuffle (a gift from her grandparents). I’ve helped her find that sucker at least five times already. I issued a new APB for it. After getting zero responses, we tried to find it in her room. Our mission was a bust. It’s still missing.

But, in the process of looking for the iPod, we cleaned out the toy box in her room and another bucket. (My uncle built the toy box for me when I was three years old. It was pink and white, but my parents had it repainted when I was pregnant with The Boy. Now it is in The Girl’s room.)

We sorted everything into keep, donate, recycle and trash. You’ll be happy to know the least amount of stuff went to the trash. It really didn’t take long at all since she’s such a pro at the process now.

The toy box before:


The toy box after:


There are two containers with school related art work that we will need to go through later (one is the big folder and the other is the plastic bucket). The remaining items in there are a mini-refrigerator (a gift), a soccer backpack, and some ZuZu pets.

Then we went through this bucket:


All that remained after were three American Girl dolls, a pink tote and two purses (inside the tote).


We never did find the iPod shuffle. She ended up using my old iPod. But first, I wiped it clear of songs (my taste in music involves some colorful language), struggled with iTunes until I figured out how to reload the Nano with The Girl’s songs.

I’m really, really proud of her. And I told her as much.

How do you all approach decluttering with kids? Any suggestions?

7 Responses to How I Approach Decluttering With My Kids

  1. Aside from our 2 year old, we do it with them, for the reasons you mentioned, and also because my husband did not enjoy when his mother would go through his room without him and get rid of things. It is very important to him that our kids make the choices, not us.
    In January, we made a 2 week family challenge where there were experience prizes if we could each get rid of x number of things, plus the same number of things belonging to the whole family. So, for 50 items, we would go out to ice cream, for 100, we would go somewhere special as a family, for 150 we would do both, etc. (We made a rule that 10 small things like papers or silly bands equalled 1 item, because I have no doubt that I could easily reach the count on papers alone). It was a pain to track, but the kids loved it and were highly motivated. I’ve been pursuing minimalism for years, but it was still embarrassingly easy to reach our goal of 150, which for our family of 5 meant 750 items. We’re planning to do it again in a few weeks, because we’re going to have a garage sale before putting our house on the market, and I really want to get down to what we need and love before we face moving.

  2. I think you were very smart to have the children do their own decluttering. It would have likely resulted in a lot of bad feelings and it was a lesson they needed to learn on what is important to them. I recently decided to eliminate the toys that I had in my apartment for the grand children. They didn’t play with them any more. Art and crafting are their favorite activities when we can’t be outside. I took the basket of toys outside and let them decide. They will be 5 in a couple of months, I was so proud of them. They had no attachment to 99% of the items in the basket, many of them were deemed to be for younger children. My home feels much more like my home now, what we kept fits in a small drawer in a nightstand keeping it out of sight.

  3. Nice work – photos are the best for showing progress! I think it’s great to get your kids on board, though I have no memories of my mother’s decluttering in my childhood (and she’s ruthless!)

  4. I think by having the kids do it they learn something from it also. Good job and great work!

    I love reading your blogs I’ve gotten a lot of them.

  5. I’m working on decluttering my son’s room, because all the clutter was making him ADD. Have you noticed your kids behavior is changing, or the family dynamic is changing with the decluttering?
    (When we were on vacation, with only a few clothing items and a few toys to play with, my son’s VERY MILD symptoms disappeared. Please, I’m not suggesting this for everyone, just looking for your experience.)

  6. We have two kiddos, an 8yo girl and a 2yo boy. Obviously, I do all the decluttering in regards to our son’s things, but our daughter is responsible for decluttering her belongings. We have been making some decisions about simplifying our lifestyle and so have been leaning heavily towards buying an RV to live in for a few years. When my husband and I talked to our daughter about this, she got very excited about our “RV adventure.” We’ve shown her photos of just how “spacious” her personal space would be if we did decide to RV. She had done really well about making decisions about her things before, but I have been so proud of her decluttering efforts lately.

    We just went through all her clothes and toys this past week (papers and keepsakes will come soon), and she is making great strides. Her clothes all fit into less than 1/3 of a standard closet, with loads of room to spare. As far as her toys go, she has a handmade baby doll crib that stores her Bitty Baby and American Girl dolls (1 of each) and all their accompanying items (with the exception of the AG horse) in its drawer, a small plastic horse grooming box that holds all of her smaller toys, and a small-ish (roughly a foot square) box that holds all of her dress-up clothes. She also has fewer than 10 stuffed animals (I didn’t bother to count…hehehe!!) that mostly reside at the foot of her bed or in the closet with all the rest of her toys.

    This hasn’t been the fastest process for us, but I am so proud of what she has learned along the way. She come up to me a few months ago and made the observation that when she has fewer toys, she plays with them more and takes better care of them. “When I have less toys, I’m less disrespectful, aren’t I?” Out of the mouth of babes. With fewer things, and the knowledge that Mom and Dad aren’t going to run out and replace a toy that’s been mistreated, she’s taking better care of her things (more respect for her things) and lost a sense of entitlement that had been creeping into her attitude (more respect for us parents and the hard work that goes into providing the family’s money). At first I thought I was going to be depriving her of something if I made her slim down her things, but I’ve come to realize that I couldn’t have been more wrong. Not only are there fewer things to maintain and clean, but attitudes have been improved along the way, mine included.

    Keep up all your hard work – it’s definitely worth it!
    Now I’m off to go work on decluttering my own belongings. 🙂

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