De-Cluttering with Kids

When people decide to move towards the minimalist lifestyle or even just de-clutter they usually feel pretty motivated and in the end pretty happy with the results. Many people with children really struggle with getting rid of the clutter when it comes to their kids.

He rarely plays with stuffed animals. He chooses to keep Raphael (he built him) and get rid of Flubber (a hand-me down from Mommy)

He rarely plays with stuffed animals. He chooses to keep Raphael (he built him) and get rid of Flubber (a hand-me down from Mommy)

Children seem to accumulate so much stuff. I have some friends who have never really bought any clothes, toys or other items for their children yet their kid’s room is so filled it’s exploding to the rest of the house. All of the stuff seems to come from family and friends whether it’s gifts or hand-me downs. If you aren’t constantly cleaning out it can really get out of control. Especially since toys like matchbox cars, legos and barbie pieces seem to reproduce each night when we go to sleep.

Through trial and error, I’ve learned some good methods when it comes to my son and keeping his stuff de-cluttered though we still have a way to go and it will continually be a process.

It used to be easy. He used to be so young he wouldn’t notice if something just disappeared. Then he got to an age where he realized it had disappeared but his attention span was so short that when he didn’t find it immediately he moved on. Well…things aren’t so easy anymore!

I’ve found 2 pretty good strategies that seem to work well with him that I’d like to share:

1.) One thing in, one thing out– My husband and I use this method, particularly with clothing but we’ve decided to use it for our son as well. If you get something new, that means something must leave the house. The stipulation with him being a child though is that what leaves has to be mommy or daddy approved. For example, you want a new huge $25 dinosaur… no you can not get rid of that broken kids meal toy you just found under your dresser.

The first time I tried this I was actually really surprised at how well it went. We were out and about and he was surrounded by toys. At this point in time it was rare for him to ask for anything but he found a robot-car-dinosaur toy that he really wanted. At the time he had a big stationary bike in his room that he never used and I had been begging him to get rid of it. I told him that if he really wanted that toy I would buy it for him but the bike had to go as soon as we got home. He agreed. Some women nearby overheard the conversation and laughed and said that it would never happen. Well clearly they didn’t know I meant business :).

When we got home I reminded him of the deal and he helped me carry the bike out! From now on that is always our rule. He knows that the majority of the time we will say no to something new but every once in awhile we want to treat him and this is our way without things getting out of control.

2.) Clean Out Days– There are several times throughout the year that we have clean out days. During this time he knows that we, as parents, are cleaning out as well so it’s setting an example and he knows it’s something everyone in the family is participating in. He also knows we are moving towards living with less and the benefits of doing so but this is something that has to be done in that process.

His clean out days come before Christmas and his birthday, knowing that he will be getting some new things. Consignment sales are really big around here and I’ve gotten into being a consignment seller so he knows we will do some clean out days before the sales as well. So he basically has at least 4 big clean out days a year.

The method I’ve found works best for him at his age is to give him choices. I will let him do some sort of electronic device for about 20 minutes and during that time I will go in his room and set out items in pairs. When I’m ready he comes in the room and we go through each pair. He has the choice of which one to keep and which one to get rid of. *Note: I learned the hard way to never assume you know what they will want to keep. One time I put 3 junky toys vs a really nice, expensive, educational toy, thinking I could finally get the junky toys out and he chose to keep those. Live and learn :).

A lot of times I pair like items so let’s say we somehow got out of control with puzzles and we have 10 puzzles but really need/want to keep 5. I will pair up 5 sets and half will go. Sometimes he also seems to have a lot of big toys (usually loud too) they might not be similar but if I’d like to see them gone I pair them up together and I know at least one will be gone, tricky I know! The reason I think this strategy works the best is that it is his stuff and he has the choice of what stays and what goes. It’s his stuff so that’s important that he feels the ownership of the decisions. He’s even surprised me sometimes and said he doesn’t really want to keep either of the choices so they both go (and no that doesn’t mean I let him keep another one down the line, so freebie!)

If you follow both of these you’ll really start to get control back of your child’s room/area. It may take awhile but with kids they need time with this kind of thing if there isn’t an immediate need for everything to go. What kind of tips do you have for de-cluttering with kids?


The Road Not Taken by Robert Frost


4 YR Homeschooling 1st Quarter


  1. We do “one in, one out” and it has to be comparable sized items, too. I haven’t tried a true “clean out day”. That may be in our future!

    Spartan Kiddo also knows that if a toy breaks, it’s trash. Just yesterday he was playing roughly with Bullseye and a leg broke off at the joint. It was irrepairable. He brought it to me, I told him we needed to throw it away, and he said “I know”. Boom. Plus, if he throws a toy, it goes in the trash (at my discretion 😉 ).

    • kristy

      The kiddos clean out days feel SO good :). Yes we have the same rule with toys breaking as well. He’s good too about letting things go pretty easily. Glad we’ve started it young because I imagine it could get harder!

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