Seven Tips for Decluttering with Your Clutterbug

Written by NPN Guest on January 13th, 2015

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Carnival of Natural Parenting, Consensual Living, Natural Learning, Parenting Philosophies

Welcome to the January 2015 Carnival of Natural Parenting: Household Chores

This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Carnival of Natural Parenting hosted by Code Name: Mama and Hobo Mama. This month our participants have shared stories, tips, and tricks on tackling household chores. Please read to the end to find a list of links to the other carnival participants.


Seven Tips for Decluttering

Why seven tips? Because I like lists and random numbers. This is both. Hashtag: NAILED IT.

Even kids raised in minimalist households can often have trouble separating from possessions. The connection to possessions can be deep and complicated in adults, so it’s hard not to wonder if your packrat six year old is forming the neural pathways to one day be featured on an episode of Hoarders 2045.

An even more immediate concern is the impact that stuff has on your household already. More items often means more tidying up. It means more organization to find places for all those things. It means valued items often get misplaced or visually lost in the sea of toys. And have you ever tried to sneak out of a child’s room after they’ve finally dozed off when the floor is a maze of books and stuffed animals knowing that the path is a LEGO minefield?

I’m not a minimalist. I have stuff. I have a thing for coffee mugs with funny sayings. And my kids’ art work. And books. And craft supplies. But I am a declutterer. I’m a give-away-er. If I own it, you can probably just have it if you asked nicely enough. I’ve given away things we were still using because we weren’t using it that often. But my kids? My daughter had a collection of burned out lightbulbs for years, and I believe that fact alone qualifies me to write this article.

And with that, here are my tips to help your clutterbug clear their space.

First, the approach:

1. Don’t force.

Unless you really want reality show fame on Hoarders in 30 years, don’t force. Remember that your child’s connection to their items is real and it’s theirs. Throwing things away when they aren’t looking or telling them they cannot come out of their room until they’ve filled a bag with toys to donate will only cause the opposite reaction. They will become more guarded and less likely to voluntarily part with their items.

2. Stick to statements of fact rather than value.

You may think, and I agree, that the desk looks better when the items are put away. But my daughter likes her things out and likes how they look. So her three picture frames, box set of Beverly Cleary books, and desk organizer filled with pens and pencils sit on her desk. However, when the paper clutter creeps in, I say, “You have so much on your desk you cannot use it.” And then she clears it off. But her three picture frames, Beverly Cleary books, and desk organizer remain. And that’s ok because this is her space.

3. Allow for the retention of possessions, even if they are generally unused, provided there is a place for them.

Decluttering involves both removing the clutter from your home and removing the clutter from surfaces, floors, and other places they do not belong. Have your child stop and pause for a second when you catch him moving something from floor to desk to dresser to floor and consider where that item should “live.”

And now for the practical tips:

4. Find a home for everything.

Perhaps I should label this 3b, because it is regarding the home for your child’s items. This home? It doesn’t need to be a mansion. A basket for blocks. A corner net for stuffed animals. A round tin for pens. When items no longer fit their home, your child will have to make some decisions. Does she find a larger home? Where does that larger bin go? Does she part with some of the older items to make room for the new ones? Whatever happens, make this your child’s job. Just as I recommend you don’t toss their stuff away against their will, I also don’t recommend you provide them the space to keep everything.

5. Keep the organization simple.

While I think organizing LEGO bricks according to shape, size, and color is a brilliant idea, that’s impossible for my children to maintain. Years ago, a friend of mine was having trouble getting her son to pick up. She realized that the organizational bins had made it simply too much work. So she set up a bin for soft toys, a bin for hard toys, and a bin for building blocks. Sure, plastic and wood mingled like I imagine the organizational armageddon to look like, but he could maintain it.

6. Declutter as you go.

Think about it–is it easier to donate $1 in a single day or $365 once a year? It’s an easier mindblock for a clutterbug to overcome when he’s only being asked to let go of two shirts rather than five. It’s easier to pass down a single doll than a bin full.

7. Break it into smaller tasks.

Avoid it being overwhelming or time intensive for your child. You want this to be as positive and relatively easy as you can make it, especially if your child already has a hard time letting go of possessions. Don’t make it “let’s declutter your bedroom.” Make it the desk. Or even the drawer. Make it just dolls. Or just stuffed animals.


And what of the collection of burned out lightbulbs? After three or four years, my daughter finally threw them away. When she told me she couldn’t believe she collected lightbulbs, I responded that people collect all sorts of things. Her reply? “Mom, burned out lightbulbs? Seriously?” I knew she’d come around. Now, about that plastic bead collection . . .


Charlie, one of the amazingly awesome authors at Three Blind Wives, is an east coast transplant blooming where she is planted in Kansas City with her husband, five children, and all of their stuff. Her current favorite mug says “#muglife” on it. Charlie’s proudest achievement in the world of decluttering is that you can open her craft closet without risk of avalanche. Probably.


Carnival of Natural Parenting -- Hobo Mama and Code Name: Mama

Visit Code Name: Mama and Hobo Mama to find out how you can participate in the next Carnival of Natural Parenting!
Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants:

  • Seven Tips for Decluttering with Your Clutterbug — Do you have a child with hoarder tendencies? Help them declutter before the Legos and stuffed animals take over your home. Charlie of Three Blind Wives, guest posting at Natural Parents Network, offers some expert advice.
  • Chores, Chores, ChoresLife Breath Present talks about how her family divides chores, and how Baby Boy joins in to keep their home clean and running smoothly.
  • Of Toddlers & Housework — Holly at Leaves of Lavender talks about some of the ways she lets her not-quite-3-year-old son help out around the house.
  • Whistling While We Work: On Kids and Chores — Dionna at Code Name: Mama realized recently that she often feel resentful when she carries more than her share of the household load. And so several weeks ago, she brought a laundry basket upstairs and had the kids start folding. Thus began a regular series of household responsibilities for her kids.
  • The 4-Day Laundry Plan — Becca at The Earthling’s Handbook doesn’t machine-dry all of her cloth diapers, but she stays sane while also working full-time outside the home. She’s sharing her tips!
  • Chores Don’t Have To Be Drudgery — Jennifer at Hybrid Rasta Mama discusses how she gets the whole family motivated in the daily care and maintenance of maintaining a home. After all, chores do not have to be drudgery.
  • Morning Chores and Weekly Chores — Kellie at Our Mindful Life can get anything done, so long as she gets her morning chores – and her weekly chores – done!
  • A place for everything and everything in its place — Make it easy to tidy up by having just enough stuff for the space you have. Lauren at Hobo Mama talks about this goal in her own home and gives tips on how to achieve it in yours.
  • Cleaning With Essential Oils — What essential oils could add a boost to your cleaning routine? That Mama Gretchen has a round up of what you might like to consider!
  • Montessori-Inspired Sweeping Activities — Deb Chitwood at Living Montessori Now tells how her children helped keep their house clean and shares ideas for Montessori-inspired sweeping activities.
  • 9 Natural Cleaning Recipes for New Mamas — Dionna of Code Name: Mama, guest posting at Mama & Baby Love, shares recipes for safer, natural homemade cleaners that parents can make with ingredients they trust. Leave a comment on the post for a chance to win a copy of Homemade Cleaners – a book packed with tons of natural cleaner recipes!

Photo Credits

Modified with permission from Nana B Agyei via Flickr Creative Commons

7 Responses to Seven Tips for Decluttering with Your Clutterbug

  1. Life Breath Present  

    What a great post of ideas on de-cluttering. I think I might need to keep some of these in mind for Hun. Baby Boy does good (for now) to help in cleaning up his few toys around the house….and those blocks he received fro Christmas 🙂

  2. Dionna  

    Great list! My main complaint about my kids’ toys is that they are all so . . . full of little parts. The legos, duplos, train tracks, hot wheels tracks, blocks, little people, play food, little ponies, etc. etc. etc. We have bins/boxes for everything, and we generally keep everything clean. Heck, they even play with most everything. But it’s so many small things all the time!!

    Big sets like those also make it hard to part with anything. Is that me? Or am I projecting that on the kids? How do you get rid of a few trains or train tracks, or alternatively, get rid of the whole darn box? I actually tried to do that the other day, because of all of our sets of toys, the trains see the least amount of play. But after the kids had agreed to at least put them out in the garage (in case we ever have a #3), all of a sudden they both wanted to PLAY with the trains. So there they sit in the toy room. Until the next time I get a hair to put them up.

  3. Holly S

    Honestly, these are great ideas for EVERYONE. Clutter is a constant problem around my place, and I love a lot of these ideas. And maybe if I can implement them for myself and my husband, it will trickle down to my toddler? It’s worth a shot! 🙂

  4. Becca @ The Earthlings Handbook

    This is such a big problem for us! Our son is 10 and just loves to have STUFF–the collection of burned-out lightbulbs does not sound at all bizarre. We let it get out of control for too long, so that the living and dining rooms were overrun with his stuff; now it’s mostly just his room, but we have to be constantly vigilant over the downstairs!

    I think your advice is great, but for the hardcore clutterbug it does seem to be necessary to take things away from time to time. When my son was 4, he wanted to save every interesting scrap of craft materials from preschool, IN HIS SHOES. He never complained about walking on the stuff, but obviously there is a limit on what can fit into shoes, and he wasn’t willing to accept that or to part with anything. So I began emptying his shoes into the trash every night after he was asleep. He never seemed to notice! It was like he needed to “save” the stuff but didn’t actually have a plan for it. I was concerned about his mental health, but the phase passed after a few months.

    More recently, we told him that because he was not using the table in the living room to do crafts as intended, but was piling randomness on it two feet deep and doing crafts on the floor, we cannot have a craft table anymore; we needed to use that table for eating with our holiday guests, and then we would fold it up. We set a deadline for clearing the table and putting away all the things. He did quite a bit of it but then said he was done. We stated clearly that we would deal with the remaining stuff as we saw fit and NOT keep all of it. He agreed and went to bed. One of the things I found when I finished clearing the table was a toy laptop computer he received as a gift when he turned 3, so that’s 7 years during which we told him probably 70 times to put that away, stop leaving it on the floor, etc. He’s had ample opportunity to use it responsibly and never did (and it makes annoying noises!!!) so I finally took it to Goodwill. So far he hasn’t noticed, but when he someday does, we will explain that he chose to give up control of that pile of stuff, and he had plenty of opportunities to take care of his laptop that he chose to ignore. Sometimes, consequences catch up with you.

  5. Lauren Wayne  

    See, this is the post I needed today! We have a hoarder-in-training here, so it’s a challenge.

    My seven-year-old LOVES stuff. We have honest-to-goodness hoarders in our family, and when we visit their house, his reaction is “This is AWESOME!” His favorite SpongeBob episode is the one where SpongeBob saves every piece of trash until his entire house is filled, and our son wishes we could do the same. Way to be aspirational!

    We do some decluttering with him and some behind his back. For instance, he wants to save every piece of junk mail that I want to recycle. I let him have it until he puts it down and forgets it, and then it continues on its way to the bin. I like the idea of saying, “You have so much space, and then it’s full, and you have to do something about it.” I worry, though, that he’ll choose overflow. We’ll have to give it another go. Thanks for sharing your tips!

  6. Stephanie  

    Great points! I am super duper organized, and even a little OCD if I am being really honest, and my 5 year old is the exactly the same as me. She can not stand messes. I remember when she was like 18 months old, she would go over and fix the door mat if it was crooked! My point being, this is an easy part of life/parenting for me, so it’s hard for me sometimes to articulate exactly what it is I do naturally without thinking about it when other mamas ask how I stay so organized. This is will be helpful reference for me to share, thanks!

  7. Marcy Axness  

    These are wonderful practical ideas! I think this is one of those (many) times when you have to know your particular child. My daughter (now 23) always *really* appreciated it when I would spend an entire school-day (i.e., with her away at school) razing a layer or two from her room and beautifying it in the process.

    With stuff that was “iffy” (as in, she might miss and want it back) I kept it in an interim staging area in the garage for a few months before tossing it. I don’t think she ever missed a thing! I would do this once or twice a year for her, and she was always SO grateful and delighted. And relieved! And of course in between she would clean & organize her room herself.

    I think it made a strong impression on her, and to this day she remembers it very fondly. I also believe it helped shape her adult anti-clutter aesthetic.