Teach Your Kids How to Declutter (and Get Excited About It)

It’s a fact of life: kids make a mess. Teaching them how to declutter and stay organized isn’t an impossible task, though; it’s a learned skill which needs regular practice. And in the process, they gain valuable skills they’ll carry with them through their whole life.

That doesn’t mean it’s easy. Every child has their own way of doing things, and learns at their own pace. Most adults aren’t even as good at organizing as they should be! The good news is that teaching your kids how to declutter is easier than it might seem. By regularly performing a few simple declutter and deep cleaning activities, you can teach them how to stay organized for life.

how to declutter
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Isn’t decluttering just cleaning?

No, decluttering is not the same as cleaning. This is an important distinction to make when teaching kids how to declutter.

Cleaning comprises tasks like vacuuming, dusting, and wiping countertops—things that need doing regardless of how much clutter there is. Decluttering, on the other hand, is more an act of organization: putting things where they belong in a way that makes finding them easy, while getting rid of unused items that take up space.

Of course, while they may be separate tasks, they go hand-in-hand. Cleaning can’t take place without decluttering first. It’s hard to dust or vacuum around piles of toys littered on the carpet.

In many cases, younger children can’t participate in deep cleaning, since it involves chemicals and heavy appliances like vacuum cleaners. But you can connect the cleaning experience to the act of picking up their toys and decluttering, to pull them into the process. Kids need to understand that decluttering is the first step, and that cleaning comes after.

Power tip: Use Evernote to save a detailed list of where your kids’ things will live once you’ve decluttered, such as a breakdown of the best places to tuck all their favorite toys. You can even take photos of the toys in their homes and store them in your note as a visual reminder.

Introducing charitable donation

One of the most important parts of the decluttering process is learning how to let go of things that may have sentimental associations, but are no longer relevant to your life. As with any of these lessons, adults can often prove just as bad as kids at this—though adults have fewer excuses. Kids are still learning and can find it difficult to part with toys they have outgrown and no longer play with.

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Decluttering presents a great opportunity to set up a donation box to take to Goodwill or a similar charitable organization. Explain that the items will go to a new home with a new family, and not simply get thrown away. That’ll make it easier for kids to surrender those outdated treasures.

Power tip: While your kids learn how to declutter by setting aside donation piles, keep track of the items in Evernote. Meticulously itemizing what you drop off will prove valuable at tax time, as charitable donations can be a handy tax deduction. Instead of scrambling for receipts at the end of the year, keep tabs on donations as you go.

Let them lead a garage sale

If enough items in your “to go” list are still functional and sellable, you might consider holding a garage sale to let the neighbors take them off your hands. If you take this approach, involve the kids in the organizing process to make it a family activity. Have the kids pitch when it comes to organizing and labeling items, setting prices, putting up signs, and other such tasks.

how to declutter
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The more you can encourage them to take the lead—especially older children ready for some responsibility—the more enthusiastic they’ll be about decluttering. Besides feeling connected to the process and helping out their parents, they’ll find a good lesson in parting with unneeded things. (And for older children, it might even mean a little pocket money after the sale—which is a strong motivator for learning how to declutter.)

Incentivize decluttering

We all know how hard it is to get a child to do something they aren’t profoundly interested in. In cases like these, it may not hurt to offer them little incentives for learning how to declutter effectively.

Garage sales can bring extra spending cash for older kids, but these incentives needn’t always involve money. You don’t want to confuse decluttering with chores or similar tasks that might merit an allowance. Instead, look for little benefits that you can dole out as a reward for decluttering. Perhaps free, yet fun, perks, such as getting to choose what to watch on movie night or extra time with a video game. Ask your kids what their ideal free reward might look like, to get ideas. They might provide some very interesting answers.

Power tip: Organize decluttering and similar tasks with a customizable Chore Chart template. Use this template to set up reminders for kids to declutter and track their progress towards any rewards, marking steps forward with emojis and images along the way.

Start the life lessons early

Children are often eager to help around the house, if you just ask them—and sometimes even if you don’t! While this can result in a lot of added work for busy parents, you can also use this drive as an opportunity to get them started on lifelong habits. Give their enthusiasm a direction, spice it up with a bit of fun, and you can ensure your decluttering lessons stick with them for good.

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