Excess and Limitation: Decluttering With Kids

I’ve taken up decluttering as a hobby. I’ve been picking away at our neglected collections, abandoned interests and best intentions for a few years now. Whatever the reasons may be for the length and the depth of our junk infestation, I’ve come to enjoy the occasional bursts of priority checking and clearing of space that I get into. I know I’m not alone, many of my friends are regularly working on that same stuff, and decluttering challenges are never hard to find going around online.

Kids things are often a struggle. It’s never easy to declutter someone else’s stuff; it’s not ideal. We have a good idea of what our kids really love, what they really need, and what is just crowding them and complicating their lives and their play. But they don’t always agree with our assessments, and they might not be inclined to volunteer to part with a bunch of their things.

Alright baby, let’s get to work!

Some people share stories of encouraging their children to give to less fortunate kids, and all the adorable ways that works out. Others recommend doing it when the kids are out of the house, hoping they either won’t miss anything, or will get over any disappointment soon enough.

I get caught between my ideals here a bit, because I am quite deeply set in the radical notion that kids are whole people, deserving of respect, to the extent that it seems like an injustice to take away their things against their wishes. I want my kids to be able to make their own choices, even when I would have chosen differently.

But I also know that as their parent, I’m responsible for their environment. I’m responsible for how enriching or how stressful their surroundings are for them, and for their father and I. I know it’s on us that they are able to accumulate so much. I can’t help but feel responsible that they cling to too many toys. I wonder if I’ve not been showering enough attention on them. Perhaps I’ve not been providing enough outlets for their curiosity and creativity…

At any rate, I know I have to suck it up and be the adult and do something when their stuff gets out of control. Periodically getting snappy because I’m sick of cleaning it up, and they can’t handle it on their own, is not really fair for any of us. I want to teach them to respect things, to care for the items that they find meaningful and not take them for granted, and that is hard when the loved things are buried in the mayhem.

But it still doesn’t feel right to me to make a habit of doing it behind their backs, or openly going against their wishes and tearing things out of their toy boxes¬†for their own good.

Now as I’m trying to run a home built around respect and boundaries instead of power and rules, I’m putting the focus on how much space we actually have for things. If it doesn’t fit, it can’t stay. That’s it.

We started with their stuffed animals the other day, I set a number as the max limit for each of them to have. As they went through picking their favorites, if they hit the limit number and still wanted more, they had to take out something they had already chosen to keep to add anything new in. I let the number adjust a bit when they got stuck. but both my 6 year old and my nearly-4 year old ended up with about what would fit in their respective bins and gave up quite a few to the donate pile.

For their books, I aimed to fill just one shelf and we went through every book together, taking out the ones that neither of them liked, regardless of whether their dad or I loved it. They wanted to keep a lot, but I felt good knowing I was actually going to let them get rid of things that they weren’t really into.

The rest of the toys is taking some time. I’ve gone through and removed what is basically trashed already – I’m a long time foe of Mcdonalds and Kinder Egg toys whenever I am in an organizing mood. And I trashed a lot of things that were just worn out, broken, unable to be used anymore.

Instead of piling all their toys in boxes to rotate on shelves and in the closet, I’ve actually pulled out a big bin that I am storing “extra” things in. So whatever we can’t fit into their bedroom shelves, into their day to day life and play, is ending up in there. This is the place where eventually I may pull long forgotten things from to go to the thrift store finally, or from which I will pull something old out to delight them when it feels novel again. Even without much storage space here, at least it is out of sight. There will be no more climbing closets to pull out everything in sight. No more dumping out half a dozen boxes to play with one thing and leave the rest scattered on the floor.

Since Christmas is also our birthday season, and our relatives are so generous and perhaps indulgent with our kids’ gifts, I still feel kinda buried in new playsets. About half a dozen sets with little pieces and figures, too new to know how loved they really are. I plan to keep most of these tucked away, with only one or two within reach at a time, to be switched when they ask about something else.

We’ve also got dozens of coloring books, activity books and similar crafty things. I got a storage cabinet for our living room to at least have a place for the bulk of it, and I periodically go through to remove finished coloring books and things that they don’t seem to care much about. But again, with a large influx of new things we haven’t really gotten to know yet, that stuff is a bit in limbo right now.

There’s still more things around than I would like, and it’s tricky to find space for it all. But I have this sense now that we are working on it together. I’m not fighting my kids to “give me a break” from the mess. And they don’t have to fight me to defend their property. I feel pretty content knowing that we are figuring it out together, and I’m glad to be teaching them some long term prioritizing skills rather than just forcing them to go along with me whenever I am in a purging mood.

We’re learning not to get mad at each other for not cleaning up enough, or trying to force cleaning up too much. No sense in blaming each other for what this house will or won’t hold!

Do you declutter, or feel like you should? Let us know how you feel about it!