Conquering Kids’ Clutter

By Catherine Shahan Bromberg

Let’s face it, children are a housekeeping disaster. Parents acquire an astounding amount of junk – starting around the time the pregnancy test comes back positive. There are how-to books, the baby’s first 107 teddy bears and boxes of hand-me-downs from so-called “friends” desperate to clear some space in their own overflowing homes.

Getting Started
4 simple steps you can take towards achieving a clutter-free home
Then, there is the dizzying array of time-sensitive paraphernalia – all essential for baby’s safety and development during whichever crucial three-day time period parents have just missed. It only gets worse when kids become old enough to learn the concepts of “mine,” “more” and “shopping.”

When faced with the frightening truth, what can typical, clutter-bound parents do, aside from lowering their standards for neatness and order?

Parent, Heal Thyself

According to the experts, the place to start is with a long, hard look in the mirror.


“Kids have 75 percent more toys than they need,” says Don Aslett, a cleaning expert, father of six and author of numerous de-cluttering books, including Not for Packrats Only.


“And where did they get those toys? Basically, the blame for kid clutter is not the kids, it’s the parents. And, of course, the grandparents. We spend full time coming up with things for the kids.”


“We’re convinced that people just haven’t distinguished between their wants and their needs,” says Alice Fulton, who along with co-author Pauline Hatch wrote the clutter manual, It’s Here ... Somewhere. “Children seem to be interested in everything. Last month, it was the popsicle stick collection, then it’s stickers. We accumulate stuff and then one day we’re buried and wonder why.”


 “We live in a space poor, but thing-rich society,” she says. “Children are a lot happier with discipline and order. We need to calm things down for them and get into simple environments that they can maintain. It’s really unfair to ask a child to go in and clean an overloaded room. They don’t have the experience. It’s impossible.”


Consult Your Child

ONT-SIZE: 10pt; FONT-FAMILY: Verdana">The best way to handle kid clutter is to involve children in tidying up their living and play spaces. Once children are old enough to express preferences and opinions, parents should help them get started, but leave key de-cluttering decisions to the kids themselves.

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ONT-SIZE: 10pt; FONT-FAMILY: Verdana">“Everyone through their own autonomy needs their own stuff,” says Fulton. “But it also has to be a reasonable amount for children to be responsible.”

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ONT-SIZE: 10pt; FONT-FAMILY: Verdana">Aslett suggests a regular purge when toys start overflowing their assigned space. During these sessions, Aslett recommends throwing out any toy or game with missing or broken pieces. Then, let the child select what will stay and what will go to charity. Adults will undoubtedly need to bite their tongues as some of their favorite toys end up in the “donation” pile. But the end result will be more space and children who know how to keep clutter out of your life and their own.

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ONT-SIZE: 10pt; FONT-FAMILY: Verdana">“If children develop experience keeping their own things in order, as time goes on,” Fulton says, “parents can turn more and more to the kids for household chores.”

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Bursting Closets

ONT-SIZE: 10pt; FONT-FAMILY: Verdana">Clothes are another major cause of youngsters’ clutter. One way to keep children’s clothing manageable is to emphasize quality over quantity, Fulton says.

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0in 0pt; LINE-HEIGHT: normal">“You’ve got to get real choosy about accepting hand-me-downs. Take only the very best quality, and keep nothing that requires ironing,” she advises “Hang anything considered dress clothing, and put play clothing in drawers. Kids need very few dress clothes before they’re teenagers.”

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0in 0pt; LINE-HEIGHT: normal">Fulton also suggests keeping a trash bag and a charity box wherever you do your laundry. After washing, you can inspect clothing for stains, lost shape, holes or tears. Clothes that are beyond hope should be thrown away on the spot. Others can be donated to charity or taken to a consignment shop.

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0in 0pt; LINE-HEIGHT: normal">“I know people who have funded family trips or refurnished rooms with the money they’ve gotten from consignments,” Fulton says. “One woman re-carpeted all her bedrooms. You can really do well.”

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0in 0pt; LINE-HEIGHT: normal">Personal Preferences

0in 0pt; LINE-HEIGHT: normal">While a few things should always be disposed of, such as duplicates or broken items, both Fulton and Aslett acknowledge that everyone has different de-cluttering needs. People have different personalities and value different things.

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0in 0pt; LINE-HEIGHT: normal">Aslett recommends clearing out what he calls “the uglies,” – guns, war toys, etc. – getting things off the floor and finding a place for all of the “things that enhance your life,” including collections.


“But you need to be careful with collections,” he cautions. “Collections are fine as long as kids are interested. But parents don’t do that. They want to keep it alive, the same as it was when the kid was 5.”


Role Models

The bottom line for keeping your home clear of kid clutter is to set a good example. Limit your own junk, as well as your children’s. If the task seems overwhelming, you can always get in touch with people like Aslett and Fulton, who run businesses specializing in helping people cut down on clutter.


“The average home is 1,600 square feet,” says Fulton. “When we’re hired to get rid of clutter in a home, we usually end up hauling away 40 to 45 full, 30-gallon sized trash bags. People are amazed.”

Catherine Shahan Bromberg is a freelance writer and clutter battling mom.

From United Parenting Publications, August 2005