Use these tips from a professional organizer to teach kids to declutter their bedrooms and learn to let go of toys they no longer need.
Hey Mama, it’s time for some real talk. Your kid is probably a hoarder. Yep, I said it, the H word. And don’t you dare get offended because you know it’s true. I know it because ALL kids go through the hoarding phase at some point in their lives. They want to keep every single little thing because it all has value.
Today I want to calm your stress over the Clutter Dome that is your kid’s bedroom by explaining WHY kids want to keep everything, including trash, and what you as a parent can do about it. I’ll also cover the most common things they beg to hold onto and how you can coach them to part with them. Are you ready? Let’s dig in!
Why Kids Hoard Stuff
There are a number of reasons why kids want to hold onto anything and everything, and while I can’t pinpoint your exact child’s reasoning, I can tell you the common themes I’ve found when I work with children.
1. They bought it with their own money.
Kids don’t have jobs, nor do they have a recurring income like we do. Meaning money isn’t always constantly being replenished. When kids have money to spend, it’s way more special than it is for us grown ups.
That quarter they used in the machine at the grocery store that resulted in a bouncy ball may mean nothing to you. But they don’t know when they’ll get another quarter, and the ball was purchased all on their own.
2. It reminds them of a special memory.
Kids are VERY sentimental. That bowl of rocks on your son’s nightstand may just be some dirty rocks to you, but to him, they’re a reminder of the hiking trip where he, for the first time ever, made it the whole way without having to be carried. Those rocks are a trophy, of sort, of the day he felt like a big boy.
3. They don’t REALLY know where donated toys go.
When I work with children, and I first ask them how they feel about giving away their old toys, every single one of them say they don’t want to. Why? “Because they’re mine!” They say. Then Mom jumps in and says “but it will go to someone less fortunate than you.”
Sorry Mom, but that phrase doesn’t cut it. Kids don’t comprehend things like poverty and homelessness. They just hear that some other kid that they don’t know is getting their toys. And that doesn’t feel good at all.
4. YOU made them feel like they have to keep everything.
Yes, YOU. Kids learn habits from you, whether you choose to acknowledge it or not. Every time you make a big deal about something, it becomes a big deal.
Example: Aunt Emma gives your child a sweater. The ugliest sweater you’ve ever seen, and the scratchiest sweater your daughter has ever worn. Every time Aunt Emma comes to dinner, you make your daughter wear it. While it seems like you’re teaching your daughter to be grateful, you’re actually teaching her that you MUST keep and use items that you don’t want.
In a minute I’ll go over how to address these four reasons, but first let’s list some real life examples so we’re all on the same page.
Examples Of Things Kids Don’t Want To Give Up
- Happy Meal toys
- Birthday cards
- School papers and artwork
- Toys and games they’ve outgrown
- Stuffed animals
- Gift bags
- Party favors
- Used stickers
- Broken toys and art supplies
- Souvenirs and mementos from trips and experiences
- Actual trash (that they’re saving for upcycle projects)
How To Get Kids To Part With These Things
1. Talk WITH your kids, not TO them.
No matter the age level, it’s so important to talk with your children about their belongings, how to store them, and that it’s ok to let things go. Yes, you may have spent $200 on a robot your son played with twice. And yes, you may be annoyed that it didn’t get used. And yes, YOU may want them to keep it solely because of the cost.
But giving your child the freedom to say what he loves and what he doesn’t is such a wonderful gift of independence. Allow him to feel free to talk about his feelings towards his stuff without judgement from you. And if that bowl of rocks on his nightstand is something he feels strongly towards, you HAVE to put your own feelings aside and respect his.
2. Create A Temporary Bin For Cheap Toys
Cheap toys are classified as the things you get in favor bags, happy meals, prize boxes at school, and coin machines at the store. They tend to pile up in every kid’s room because they’re so inexpensive and accessible.
When I work with children, I give them one box, typically a shoebox, and I let them decorate it into the most awesome treasure chest they’ve ever seen. Then, we pile up all the “cheap toys” from all over their room. Once they’ve all been gathered, I ask the child to go though and select the ones they truly feel deserve a spot in their Treasure Chest. The leftovers get donated to our local schools and homeless shelter.
I explain to the child that this Treasure Chest can only hold what will fit inside with the lid on, so any time they encounter a “treasure” that won’t fit inside, they need to remove something less valuable so it will fit. The removed toys will be donated or trashed as necessary. And the child learns the basics of prioritization and putting value on material items.
3. Enforce The “Library” System
This is something I did with my son and it worked so perfectly! I had him go through each category of his belongings (toys, games, trinkets, stuffed animals, dart guns/light sabers) and establish his “starting lineup” for each group. These are the favorites that he plays with most often.
Then, he chose his “supporting cast.” Those are the toys that can be used to make his starting lineup more fun. For example, he chose his top ten favorite action figures for his starting lineup, then he chose five more that can be used as “bad guys” or “audience” toys.
What’s left is considered the “bench.” The benched toys got put into large totes, (they must be opaque, not clear!) and your child helps fill them up. As you’re filling, you explain that the benched toys are going into a Library of extra stuff that doesn’t need to take up storage and play space in your room.
These toys can be accessed at any time over the next three months by asking for the specific item by name. BUT your child is not allowed to look in the totes. He can ONLY get something by asking from memory.
At the end of three months, whatever is left in the totes has obviously been forgotten, so the tote should be taken directly to the donation center of your choice. Don’t open the lid, don’t go through it one more time, just let it go.
We created a new library two times a year. Once before Thanksgiving and once right after school let out for summer. I even took it a step further by making him a library card, which he loved! He would hand me the card any time he wanted to check something out, which made it really fun for an impromptu Librarian voice from me, which sounded more like Mrs, Doubtfire.