Decluttering with Kids 101

January has brought an influx of storage container displays in stores, and organizational posts on Pinterest. It must be time to get organized for the new year! Decluttering, organizing, simplifying–these words and what they entail excite me to no end. Even if you’re not a nerd like me and don’t enjoy the act of decluttering (not just re-arranging your stuff, but actually purging it from your life), surely you can appreciate the results.

Unfortunately, we as parents may be on board with dejunking our stuff, but getting our families to join in the decluttering revolution often proves difficult at best. Since each child continually accumulates their personal arsenal of clutter–our best dejunking efforts are buried before we know it. You’re nodding, aren’t you? I know, I know. I get it. 😉

What if instead in addition to staging an all-out assault on our kids’ spaces when they’re at school (so there are no protests when things they haven’t looked at in six months magically “disappear,”) we teach our old-enough kids how to declutter their own spaces so they’re working with us rather than against us? I’m on board, and with several side-by-side teaching lessons, my eleven and nine-year-olds are on board too. It can be done!

First things first. Truly decluttering a space is a skill that has to be learned through, well, practice and experience–just like any other skill. You’re obviously going to need to do it with them once, twice, maybe even five times before the process described below will start to be intuitive.  Since their excitement level towards decluttering their room, might not match yours (at all), you might find it best to pitch it as a way to spend some one-on-one time with them.

Below, is an eight-step process you can walk through with your child to teach them how to remove their clutter and–this is keykeep it from accumulating over and over again. You can intentionally hit on the following mini lessons while the two of you work side-by-side.


  1. State the purpose. “We’re doing this because…” (fill in the blank with your personal reason for attempting such a feat). Possible answers…because we want more space, because we can bless others’ lives by donating stuff we don’t use, because we want to make room for stuff we love, because I’m bored and can’t think of anything else to do right now, because your room is gross ;), etc.
  2. Re-purpose two bags or boxes with the following labels: Trash and Donate. Explain that for the two of you to have truly decluttered (not just re-arranged the crap in their rooms), these bags/boxes should be full by the end of your dejunking adventure. Better yet, make them a challenge to fill up more than the original boxes!
  3. Have them look around their room, open their drawers, swing open their closet, and decide what to keep, rather than what to throw away.
    • Keepers: Keepers are items that get used frequently, make the child feel happy (like reeeeally happy), or serve an important purpose. Designate a temporary place in their room for these “keepers” (on the bed, in a corner, etc.). You’ll come back to this blessed pile of belongings.
  4. Sort everything that didn’t make the “keeper” cut into one of two boxes–Donate or Trash. Take one section of their room at a time (closet, under the bed, chest of drawers, nightstand, etc.) and have them go through each and everything they own to decide whether it can be donated to someone else, or should be trashed. Encourage them to be ruthless–if they haven’t used it in a couple months, they should free up some space in their rooms and pass it on to someone who’ll use it more (with the exception of seasonal items). Here are more specific explanations to help you on your way:
    • Donators: Donators are items that may have been useful, beautiful, or important to the child at some time, but are no longer fulfilling those roles. They are in decent shape and could be put to good use in someone else’s home, or could make someone else happy if you let them go. Put these items in the “Donate” box or bag and don’t look back.
    • Trashers: Trasher items are literal garbage, or simply stuff that is broken, missing pieces, or in terrible overall shape. If you’d be embarrassed to drop it off at the Goodwill, then it’s trash! Bag it up and take it out.
  5. Find a permanent home for Keepers.
    • Remember that large pile of “keepers” you’ve likely been working around? It’s time to deal with it. A big part of keeping our homes and rooms uncluttered is returning everything to its “home” after use. Ever heard the phrase, “a place for everything and everything in its place?” Go ahead and repeat that mantra while you work to help your child find appropriate and permanent homes for each of their keepers. If you’ve done a thorough decluttering job, you should have a butt-load (if your’e unfamiliar with that term, it’s a lot) of new space and therefore new “home” options.

OPERATION: KEEP THE CLUTTER AT BAY (The following tips below are taken from the most recent minimalist book I devoured–The Joy of Less by Francine Jay.)

  1. Introduce the “Gatekeeper” theory. Inform them that you are the gatekeeper of your home, and they are the gatekeeper of their personal space (own bedroom, own part of a shared bedroom, etc.) As the gatekeeper, they’re in charge of putting everything that wants to come into their space through intense screening: Will I use this all the time, or will it collect dust? Does this make me feel happy? Is this something that will shortly end up in the “Donate” or “Trash” pile? Do I have the space for it?
  2. Teach the “one in, one out” principle. When something new comes into their space, something else must go out. If they get a new pair of shoes, it’s time for an older pair of shoes to find a new home. If they receive several new toys for their birthday, make room for the newbies by donating less-used toys to someone who’ll enjoy them. (I like to go through the decluttering process with my kids before their birthdays and again before Christmas to make space for coming newbie items.)
  3. Make a convenient “drop spot” where they can place future “donators.” If you want your kiddos to keep unnecessary, unused, or unloved things out of their spaces (and therefore yours), then make it easy for them to shed these items. Designate a box, laundry basket, or tote as your permanent “Donate” box, put it in a visible and accessible location then encourage them to use it! (Mine is a big plastic laundry basket near the entry of my garage–we walk by it about seven hundred and nine times a day.) When your box fills up, load it in your car and drop it by your local Goodwill.

Once your kids can complete the dejunking process on their own, you can break the process up into smaller chunks (closet, nightstand, chest of drawers, under the bed) and put one chunk a week on their chore charts so by month’s end they’re done! If you’re looking for a chore chart that’s specifically made for monthly chore rotations, you’ll want to check out our free chore chart. Then of course you can learn how to implement a family chore system with monthly-rotating chores by reading our book, Time Well Spent. You know, if you’re into the chore thing. 🙂

Happy dejunking!

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