Having children multiplies clutter in your house to the nth power. Toys, clothes, school papers, dioramas of the solar system, tiny action figures, the list goes on. It started out as your house, but somehow it’s been taken over by the kids and their stuff.
You can reclaim your home from kid clutter by following seven simple rules from life coaches and family counselors:
1. De-Clutter in Manageable Bits
When you look at your chaos-filled house, the idea of decluttering it seems overwhelming. So don’t. Instead, take 30 minutes a day to put one small part of your house in order — the junk drawer, your shoe rack, your kids’ art supplies. After a week or two, you’ll start seeing a big difference in your home.
2. Save the Best From Each Child
Your child will bring home a virtual Louvre of art projects and worksheets almost every week, says Debi Silber, MS, RD, author of A Pocket Full of Mojo: 365 Proven Strategies To Create Your Ultimate Body, Mind, Image, and Lifestyle. You may feel like the Grinch when you toss some of it, but the alternative is to end up a hoarder. Silber suggests tossing rote worksheets and other generic stuff right away. But save standout artwork and star projects in a file box in your kitchen or den, one file box for each child.
“At the end of the school year, go through the box and decide what you really want to keep, then put it in a plastic bin in the attic or the basement with a label on it for with a name, age, and grade,” Silber says.
3. Color Your Children’s World
If you have more than one child, color code easily misplaced or disorganized things by the child. For one child, a blue bath towel, lunch box, and toothbrush. Red for another. Green for another. “That way it’s easy to know what belongs to whom, and who needs to put something away,” says Silber.
4, Thumbs Up, Thumbs Down on Kids Old Toys
Involve your children in choosing when it’s time to get rid of toys, sports equipment, and other stuff.
“I’d bring a trash bag into my kids’ rooms and they’d sit on the bed, and I’d hold up something and they’d give me a thumbs up or a thumbs down,” says Silber. Thumbs down means it goes in the trash bag for donation (or the actual trash, if it’s in poor enough condition.)
If your child’s a pack rat and clings desperately to every toy, Silber suggests this trick: every so often, pack up a box with the items you know they’ve lost interest in. Stash it in the garage or the basement for six months. “Then, tell them, ‘I’ve been cleaning out your room, and there’s a bunch of stuff in the garage. Want to take a look before I give it away?’” she says. “Most of the time they’ll say no.
5. Use the Right Organizers
You don’t have to buy out the nearest office supply store, but a few carefully chosen organizing items can help keep the clutter from overtaking your life. Silber’s go-to choice: the over-the-door shoe bag. Hang it over your child’s bedroom door or in the playroom as an easy place to stash small items like hair accessories, stickers and beads, and art supplies.
Jessica Hupf, MA, a marriage and family therapist intern in private practice in Westlake Village, Calif., recommends the tried-and-true three-ring binder. “Moms can drown in paperwork,” she says. “Work, school, household bills, and so on. Get a bunch of three-ring binders and a hole punch and go through and separate it all: a binder for each child’s school papers, a binder for bills, one for home projects, and so on.”
6. Change Old Patterns
Does this sound familiar? You spend an entire weekend decluttering your junk drawer or the hall closet, and then a month later, it’s even more cluttered than before?
Stephanie Somanchi, PhD, an executive life coach who has worked with Nike and U.S. Bank, suggests taking some time and figuring out your daily rhythms, so you understand why a particular space keeps getting cluttered. “If your go-to behavior is to drop your keys and mail on the kitchen counter, you’ll continue that clutter pattern every time you clean it all up,” she says “Figure out how to change that pattern: have a mail sorter and a set of hooks by the kitchen door, or come in a different door and go straight to your home office.”
7. Ask Why Before You Accept Clutter
The final key to decluttering, Somanchi says, is asking yourself why you’re keeping some of the stuff that is crowding your floors, closets, halls, and drawers. “Is your junk drawer huge because you’re thinking about ‘What if I need this mismatched set of screws someday?’” she asks. “Or are you keeping every single thing your child ever put a crayon to because you’re afraid it makes you a bad mom to throw something away? Think about why you’re keeping something and if it really makes sense in your life.”