Holistic Living

Winning the War on Kids’ Clutter

Guest blog by Julia Barker:  Julia is Malta’s first professional organiser and specialises in the world famous KonMari method. She works under the name Zen With Julia and coaches her clients in their homes to create tidy, uncluttered and peaceful spaces that stay that way.

Today she’s talking about a topic close to many of our hearts following a busy season of Christmas giving …

Winning the War on Kids’ Clutter

As a Tidying Consultant, the question I’m asked the most often is ‘is it REALLY possible to keep one’s home uncluttered with children around?’. In short – yes, it is. It’s not something that happens overnight though – never has the phrase ‘slow and steady wins the race’ been more appropriate. One day will not turn clutter into clear – not for more than a few days at any rate.

Tidying up one’s own things can feel like a big enough challenge, so it is usually with a heavy heart that parents approach the task of cajoling their little ones to regain some order in their bedrooms / playrooms. A new year is always a good time to approach this chore as the weather is cold, the outdoors is uninviting, and resolutions are still at the forefront of the mind.

Read on for my 7 tips on how to enjoy a more serene and sustainable tidying experience, even with children or babies around.

Involve them from the start. Tidying someone else’s items can’t be a unilateral declaration of war (though it can feel that you are declaring war on their mess!). It’s more productive to make it a joint effort. ‘We need to do some sorting out as space is a little short and you received lots of new toys’ will be much better received than ‘most of this junk will have to go’. Talk through why they can’t keep everything and let them decide which good cause to send discarded items to. Getting rid of things is so often seen as a negative act, but you’re more likely to have success if you reframe it as passing things on to people who will benefit more from them. Agree with your child which charity or organisation you’ll send items to, and if possible, take them with you to do the drop-off. Let them see the whole process.

Even small children can identify what they do or don’t use, and its never too early to give responsibility for keeping their space tidy.

Prepare them. ‘Right, let’s get rid of some of this stuff’ would have me clinging on to armfuls, so remind them a few days in advance, then on the morning, then 20 minutes before starting. ‘I’m really excited that we’re going to tidy your clothes today and pass some on to raise money for x charity’. Nobody likes THAT sort of surprise.

Remember that their timescales are shorter than yours. 5 hours will be a lifetime to them! 20 mins daily over a month will be much more efficient than one long session, most of which will feel like you nagging them to hurry up and stop wasting time.

Be flexible (quietly) about where the time goes. Using the KonMari approach means collecting all items from one sub-category (e.g. Fiction books) in one place. This is called using the Power of the Pile and can be pretty terrifying to an adult. But to a child it will probably be thrilling to see all toys, for example, in one place. They’ll find things they’d forgotten about and will probably want to leap onto the pile and play, so give clear guidelines. ‘Take ten minutes (use a visible timer if your child is too young to understand time) to enjoy these and then we can begin to joy check them’.

Help your child to understand that some items bring more joy than others. When the items from one category have been piled up, ask your child to pick something they really love, i.e. something that sparks joy, from the pile. Focus them on the feeling that gives. For me it’s a warm fuzzy feeling somewhere around my heart and a sense that all is well with the world. When they pick up each item after this, ask them to consider whether it gives the same feeling. If not, it’s time to pass it on to someone who will really love it. Don’t focus too much on how many things are discarded. This isn’t about minimalism or reducing by a certain %, but it is about teaching your child, and learning yourself, how to be more selective about what we choose to surround ourselves with. In a world where we are surrounded by so much ‘stuff’, the value of being selective about what to have in your life is huge. You may need to explain that joy can come not just from looking colourful or wearing one’s favourite character, but also from being neatly presented for school (for school uniform) or coming away from a messy play session with favourite clothes clean (for playtime ‘grubbies’).

Don’t panic if shelves or cupboards are left empty. This is fine. Reiterate to your child that this is fine. There is no need to buy more ‘stuff’ to fill them. You may choose to relocate redundant furniture to other parts of your home, or use them to display your child’s most treasured items (in my sister’s case that would have been her ‘fossil collection’, the highlight of which was a ‘dinosaur tooth’ found on a Yorkshire beach …..in retrospect it was probably a horse’s tooth). Art projects, badge collections….. once their space is tidy let your child have their say on where they store their stuff. Help them with any moving around, obviously. Normally I don’t like using labels (my feeling being that if you’re a fully functioning adult with a normal amount of possessions, you shouldn’t need to be reminded what’s in a box every time you need to look for something) but children may need a bit of extra help to be independent. A label maker will make this quick and easy.

Stop using the phrase ‘tidy your room’. As a child did it not feel like an endless prison sentence to be told to do that? Go by categories instead. So ‘please put these clean clothes neatly in the drawers’, or ‘straighten up your books and those in the living room bookcase today please’. Ensures there is a joint responsibility for communal possessions (living room books) but also that your child has some responsibility for their room. ‘Tidy your room’ is so vague – a 6 year old’s standards will be very different to yours. They will probably think they’ve done a brilliant job of lining up their stuffed animals in colour order, but all you will see is the clutter under the bed and fighting to burst from the drawers! Giving specific instructions (and perhaps even drawing up a list to be used on a rolling basis) definitely improves the chance of success.

Interested in tidying your home or office the KonMari way? Marie Kondo’s bestselling book, The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up, can be purchased here.

If you are ready to get started and require an in-home consultation, contact Julia on julia@zenwithjulia.com or 99630725 to arrange a one-off tidying lesson or full tidying festival.

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