Friday, August 17, 2012

Gentle Decluttering With Children

I have to admit, I have not been gentle at times with this. I have an amazing daughter who happens to be my little artist. She also happens to be my number 1 helper and can accomplish some pretty amazing stuff (like doing laundry from start to finish with no help--although she appreciates the help). But...there is one thing about artsy children...they are A BIG MESS!!!

Future episodes of Hoarders with Abby as the feature flash through my brain sometimes when I walk past her room. That isn't a joke. Stop laughing.

First I tried getting rid of it for her, which worked great from age 2 to 6. Then she grew an opinion. My children are very much free-thinkers! I can see my parents cringing right now. Free-thinker can equal a lot of talking back. (Working on it Mom). Then I tried doing it for her. Simple, but frustrating when it goes right back to huge mess in two days. Next I tried taking a whole day or two, sitting in her room making her do it all with just instruction. This was my longest experiment in how to declutter/organize her room. It usually ended the day in a ball of tears and frustration with both of us feeling guilty and overwhelmed. These were among my not-so-proud moments.

Then I found it! LAAAAA. We've been doing this for a month now with slow, steady progress. And it's not overwhelming her. And it's really improving. And her room's looking better.

So, I wanted to share with you all what we've been doing.

  1. I fill a small container with her random stuff, starting with the floor, and have her carry it to a cleared off space that we can work free of stressors.

  2. We spread the stuff out on the surface where it's in plain view and easy to see everything there. I stop her from looking through it just yet.

  3. Next, I tell her a little disaster related story that starts something like this: "Oh my goodness, Abby! I just heard on the news that a flood is going to happen TODAY!! (She smiles and rolls her eyes). We've got to get out-of-town NOW and we only have a little trunk to carry everything that's precious to us. Out of just the things on the table, what would you quickly grab to save?"

  4. I let her scramble to pretend save a few items. This takes longer then it should, so I remind her that we have to hurry-the flood is not going to wait for us.

  5. We put these items aside and I continue the story. "We've escaped and we're all okay-thank goodness. But...(dramatically) we come back to find that everything we own is destroyed. (Sigh) It's just stuff, but there are a few things you're really disappointed that they got ruined. What are these things?"

  6. I let her scavenge through her "drowned" items. (She talks to herself out loud while she circles the table). We put these items with the others in a separate place.

  7. Now, there are the left-over things still on the table and she's a little worried. She knows I'm about to ask her to get rid of them. "What if there's a Barbie shoe in there or a card from Grandma that I forgot about cause I can't see it?" So, I reassure her that you will see everything as it goes--but quickly. I set up a small trash bag at the end of the table and instruct her to quickly swipe each separate thing into the trash. If she sees something that is really important, she can rescue it. I open all paper and envelopes, etc, to make sure they are all very visible and herd them close to her as she goes. This takes meer seconds. We go super fast and there's a bag full of trash when we're done.

  8. She throws away her trash, carrying to the garbage herself as I tell her how proud I am of how much she got rid of. "Wow, Abby! Look at all that trash. You really got rid of a lot. That's good."

  9. Now we have the good stuff left. We take a little time to really put things away in their homes. If they don't have one, I instruct her where a good for-now home will be until we can organize things a little better. Papers are put aside for the next step.

  10. I give her some files and labels to file each and every paper left. If it's important to her, I tell her, then it must have a home. She loves her new files, by the way. I gave her a file cabinet, hanging files, and folders with labels. (Some children need a very small file, but this child is my artsy girl and needs a full two drawer file cabinet that doubles as her night stand).

Well, that's it. We put that all away and we were done. Period. We didn't go back and do more in her room. Nope. Her room was still a mess and we left it that way. Every day she has a chore that says Tidy Bedroom. When her room is this bad, that just means pick up 50 items and put them away. Now, however, a few weeks later, that means for her to return her room to the way it was the last time we did a decluttering. It's not perfect, by any means. But it's better!


  1. This is a great idea Tabitha! I wish I'd read it yesterday son & I just decluttered and organized his desk and craft supplies today. He did well but I would have liked to have purged more. Next time I'll try your way :) Thanks for sharing!

    1. Thank you, Hilda! There are still times I go back and just declutter an entire room at once, but we really do get rid of more when we do it in small chunks regularly. -Tabitha

  2. I enjoyed your story. Thanks for sharing this tale from your family life. Good to hear how others tackle the issue with the "messy ones".

    1. Thanks! I'm also curious. If there are better ways out there, I'd sure like to try them. Do you have any posts on the subject?

      Thanks for stopping by! It's nice to meet you. -Tabitha


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