How to Teach Kids to Declutter

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How to teach kids to declutter: The Homeschool Sanity Show podcast

Hey Homeschoolers! Today's topic isn't a lesson kids can learn in a traditional school, but it's an important life lesson for homeschoolers. Just watch one episode of Hoarders for motivation. But before we jump in, I would love to invite you to join me on Periscope. Every Tuesday afternoon at 1:00 p.m. Central, I record the podcast live on Periscope under the handle Psychowith6. I get to chat with many of my friends who I've gotten to know through on Facebook. It's a great place to get encouragement and advice even if you never do a live broadcast yourself. I would love to meet you there.

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The Teaching Tip of the Week

The teaching tip of the week is to use games to teach. Veteran homeschoolers like me will tell you that they wish they had played more educational games and used less formal curriculum. I have a super popular list of Free Grammar Games you can find at and a new list of Valentine's games to play with kids. These are perfect for family or co-op fun. But my guess is you have lots of games that are educational or ideas for games that you haven't used. This week, play some games to have fun learning together.

The Organized Homeschool Challenge of the Week

the Decluttering Challenge

How to Teach Kids to Declutter

Now for today's topic. Why does teaching kids to declutter matter? Too much stuff isn't good for kids.

  • It's distracting. If you have a child with ADD, clutter isn't what you want.
  • It's anxiety-provoking. Your child wonders if he will be able to find what he needs.
  • It's guilt-provoking. Your child feels bad that her belongings aren't being cared for or used.

You may think your child doesn't care, but he does. An unaddressed problem with clutter is likely to cause emotional, financial, social, and academic problems in adulthood. You may be convinced it's important to teach your child to get rid of excess stuff, but maybe you aren't sure how to start.

#1 Start young. The younger your child is when you teach the skills of sorting unused, unloved belongings the better. Decluttering is painful for some personalities. We need to introduce it matter-of-factly the way we would a required shot. Yes, it's painful, but not overwhelming, and it's necessary. Talk about the importance of removing excess belongings with your little ones. Motivate them to give things away by talking about children who don't have toys to play with. Show them a video of needy children receiving toys.

Make it fun. Toddlers will enjoy throwing things into a giveaway box. Preschoolers can count a number of cars to keep in a box.  Put music on and reward your child for decluttering. For example, you could say, “After we are done sorting toys, we can play a game together.”

#2 Declutter frequently. The more frequently you declutter, the less stressful it will be for you and the kids. If decluttering is done just once a year, your child may build resistance to it. Make it a part of your routine or something that you do seasonally. Decluttering clothing is great for this. Regularly remove stained, torn, outgrown clothing so kids learn that it's normal to let go of things. Explain that we don't give away items that aren't good enough to wear or use. We don't give away socks or underwear. Instead we buy new socks and underwear to donate to needy children in our area.

The most important thing we can do is parents is model frequent decluttering. Every time you shop for clothing or household items, make a point of saying that you need to give away or throw away the same number of items. If your children see you refusing to get rid of a t-shirt you haven't worn in ten years, you'll have a harder time getting them to release items. Do you need help with your own decluttering? I recommend FLYLady's website and the book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up.

#3 Teach limits.

Parents who struggle to enforce limits with their children in general are most likely to struggle with limits when it comes to clutter. I understand wanting to respect a child's feelings about their belongings, but understand that most of the worst hoarders have been enabled by the same understanding family members. You may be confused about what constitutes appropriate limits.

Obviously, we don't take a security object away from a young child. Most children will toss these aside when they're ready. Some of us adults still have favorite pillows or the like and this is fine. But we can't allow our children to consider everything a security object — every treasure, gift, craft, paper, toy, clothing item. Allowing them to keep everything without limit will damage them much more in the future than the temporary pain of being forced to let go of them.

If you suspect that your child has an underlying anxiety disorder, listen to that episode of The Homeschool Sanity Show and talk to your doctor or mental health professional. Otherwise, adopt these guidelines:

  1. Never allow your child to keep garbage. Trash should be put in an appropriate receptacle immediately and should be emptied at regular intervals.
  2. Use bookcases, drawers, and toy boxes to define what children can keep. If it doesn't fit, something has to go. Compare items and ask your child to choose which she loves most until the least desired items are selected.
  3. Work together as a family. Use the method of sorting belongings on blankets and allow children to coach one another in this. An older child may say, “You never play with that!” encouraging a younger child to give it away.
  4. Provide solutions to pain of letting things go. Take a picture of your child with the item and have them write about their experience with it. Make a blanket out of old, beloved clothing. Remind your child that you can always replace items that she regrets giving away. Explain that removing things makes room for new things and provides the space to enjoy them. Finally, give your child a maybe box. Put items into it that your child is uncertain about giving up. Date the box with a timeframe in the future you both agree to (a month, three months, six months). If the child hasn't missed the item, you'll have permission to give it away. [click]

Action Steps

Start young. If you have a cluttered teen on your hands, don't worry. You can still teach your child to deal with excess belongings. Declutter frequently. Start today! Give your child a bag and have her collect 11 items to give or throw away. Teach limits. Start with one limit this week that will be the easiest to enforce. Clothing is a good option. Whatever fits comfortably in a drawer or closet can stay.

This episode has been sponsored by The Organized Homeschool Life: your week-by-week guide to homeschool sanity.

Have a happy homeschool week!

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Author: Dr. Mel

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