Teaching children to fight clutter

Today we welcome Mandi Ehman to share her tips on helping kids learn to battle clutter.

If you’re committed to living an uncluttered life, you probably want to pass those same ideals on to your children as well. Here are five methods we have used (and continue to use) to teach our four children the value of uncluttering and organizing:

  1. Model good behavior: It’s no secret that children are greatly influenced by their parents’ actions. “Do as I say and not as I do” just doesn’t work, and it’s not enough to try to teach your kids the value of living an uncluttered life if you’re buried under a pile of stuff yourself.
  2. Share your struggles: That said, I firmly believe that kids learn more from watching us struggle and overcome than they do from living with the impression that we’re perfect and have it all figured out. Let your kids know when you realize you’ve bought something that is a waste of time, money, and space. Let them see you wrestle with the decision to give away certain items. And let them watch you walk through the process of deciding what to keep and what to sell or give away.
  3. Get them involved: Although it’s easier to unclutter without children underfoot, it’s important to involve children in the process. No one likes to have their stuff thrown or given away without their permission, and if you regularly involve your kids in the process, you may find that it’s not nearly as bad as you expect.
  4. Set limits and let them make the choices: Everyone has things they hold onto that don’t make sense to outside observers, and it’s important to give children freedom to choose special toys and knick knacks of their own — within limits. Set concrete limits on toys and doodads and let your children decide what to keep and what to give away within those limits. My girls each have a special container next to their bed with miscellaneous doodads that don’t belong anywhere else. They are allowed to keep whatever they want as long as everything fits in the box. This gives them control of the decisions so that I don’t have to play the bad guy.
  5. Don’t wield uncluttering as a threat or punishment: If you want to give your children the tools they need to live an uncluttered life, it’s very important that uncluttering not be used as a threat or punishment. Threatening to throw away or give away their toys if they don’t clean their room doesn’t do anything except make them hold onto their stuff more tightly. In our home, uncluttering is always handled matter-of-factly and never with negative connotations. If I feel the need to take away certain toys to handle behavior issues, they’re packed up and put away for a specific period of time.

What methods do you use to teach your children the value of uncluttering and organizing?