No one wants to be a declutter dictator in their own home but it's incredibly frustrating when you are working really hard to create a beautiful and organised space and the rest of the family just aren’t playing ball. Working out a way of getting everyone involved with the decluttering and organising process is key if you want the home you have been envisioning for yourself. Over the years I've worked out a number of ways I am able to get my daughter and even sometimes my partner into the decluttering and organising process without them really knowing about it. As many of us will be aware, the easiest way to get someone to do something is to make them think it was their idea. And I've definitely used this strategy as part of getting my family involved in the process. In the end, we all benefit from the house it gives us so I'm okay with a little bit of clever deception. This aside, here are some of my top tips for getting the kids (or other housemates) involved in decluttering.
1. Make it look fun.
If you moan and groan every time you are decluttering, organising or tidying it is unlikely your kids will think it's fun or enjoyable. You might not always feel like it but if they are able to see what you are doing, put a smile on your face, dance along to some music and make it look like a good experience. You can hide in the bathroom for a good old cry if you need to. But this isn't the image we want to be portraying to the rest of the family. If they see decluttering as a bore, they will feel it in their bodies as a bore. We want them to be feeling joyful at the idea of doing what you are doing.
2. Let them see the benefits for themselves.
Openly talking about all the ways in which decluttering is benefiting you is a great way for them to start seeing how decluttering would also benefit them. Praising the fact that you are able to find what you need quickly, that you have more free time, that your clothing is not wrinkled when you get it out of your nicely organised wardrobe, that you have more money because you haven't been buying so many things. etc. are all clear benefits. People seeing you happier, calmer and lighter in your decluttered environment is likely to inspire them to take on the decluttering challenge too.
3. Talk about where the items are going.
The idea of a toy of my daughter's going off to the land of nowhere seems quite painful. Thanks to Toy Story, our kids are even more attached to these inanimate objects. But when she can picture another little human getting joy from the toy she finds it much easier to let the item go. We will often talk about it going to someone that hasn't got any toys or going to a charity shop where the charity will make money from selling the toy on. We also talk about how the toy is sad because it's not played with any longer and how it deserves to have some fun. How much detail and the picture you paint for your children will depend on you, the age of your child and their awareness of the world around them.
4. Make it a regular thing.
We regularly declutter in our home. It's become a little and often activity and therefore doesn't seem so daunting to my daughter. She's only losing one or two things at a time instead of half her room because she hasn't decluttered for four years. If you have a lot to get through, you might need to break it into categories and just deal with it one at a time. For example, just working on books or Barbies, or summer clothes. Then give them a good breather. Before you move on to the next category. Nobody wants to feel like they are losing half their stuff. Even if they have four times as much as they actually need to start with. We also do deeper declutters before birthdays and before Christmas. We talked to our daughter about the fact that Santa won't think she needs anything if there isn't any space as well as the fact that other children might not get as many toys if we don't give some on. Although we actively ask her friends to not do presents for her birthday and opt for charity donations instead. My partner and I, along with our close family, will do her gifts. And we use this as a chance for her to make space for the new items that she is asking for. Even at just five years old, she already is aware that we do clutter before Christmas and before her birthday. Decluttering to make space for something new is a great incentive. And you will also find they are less worried about the fact that you are decluttering more than they are likely to get. Once the new items have arrived. they will be so excited by them that they will forget how many things got decluttered to make room.
5. Keep It Simple.
Asking a child whether or not they want or use something is a very complicated question for them. As soon as you hold up the item, it suddenly becomes the best thing they've ever seen in their entire life. However, if you give them an empty box, and say they can only keep what fits inside, they will suddenly become a lot pickier with which items are their favourites. Once the box is full, they need to make a decision of whether to keep the next thing and remove something from the box or let the next thing go.
You could also group this into categories. For example, we have a cupboard for arts and crafts. If it doesn't fit in the arts and crafts cupboard and it's an arts and crafts item, then something has to go. It doesn't matter if there is space in her toy box or if there is space in her wardrobe. If it doesn't fit within its designated area, then something needs to go. We do the same with her bookshelf. This is the only place she is allowed to store books. She has one shelf for library books and then two shelves for books she owns. It's in a small bookcase that is made out of an old CD unit so you get the idea of how small the shelves are. This allows her some control over what she keeps because she knows that once her shelves are full. If she wants a new book. She has to choose which one she wants to let go of.
For certain items, it might be better to have a specific number that you allow. For example, Lego sets Lego doesn't take up much space, but the maintenance of keeping lots of bits together so you are actually able to make the stupid item in the picture in the first place. It's a nightmare. You could choose to limit the number of kits your child can own at one time. And if they want a new one, they again have to decide which one they want to let go of. It's a great way for them to learn to prioritise what matters, which is an amazing life skill in lots of areas.
A side note on storing toys while we are here. You need to make it simple and easy for your child to put things away. Thinking carefully about where their toys are stored, where they play with their toys and the containers you use to store them in is very important. Lego is the only thing that we keep in our sitting room. It means the pieces aren't getting muddled in with other toys that have small parts and it's also contained in a chest that while my daughter can open on her own is a little bit tricky. So we are usually asked to help. This means that we know when the sitting room will need a little bit of extra tidy up time before the evening. Another important one to make trickier to get into is arts and crafts. Having arts and crafts in a sealed box is a game-changer. We do not want small hands, getting into paint five minutes before we have to leave the house for great aunt Sue's wedding. Unless there is a specific reason we don't want them having easy access such as paint. I usually would opt for storage without lids. That tiny extra step of lifting the lid can be the difference between a tidy and a messy bedroom. With a few exceptions, I would opt for fairly broad categories. We have one space for books, one space for arts and crafts and then one space for Lego. The other toy boxes are just mixtures as long as they are in a box they are in the right place.
6. Don't question their decisions.
It can be really hard when they are ready to let go of an item that you have a lot of sentimental attachment to. Do not question it in front of them. Instead, choose whether you are happy to let it go or you are going to rescue it before it reaches the charity shop or gets sold. Pop it into a memory box that is out of sight for your child so that it doesn't accidentally end up back in circulation. You can do a similar thing if you think they are letting go of a toy that they are actually still very attached to. Maybe a friend has made them feel like it is too babyish. Or you know they are underestimating how often they play with it but whatever you do, don't criticise their decisions in front of them. You want to be empowering them to make choices for themselves. And if you start putting doubt in their mind about one thing, they will start having doubt over everything that they are considering.
I hope you have found this useful, and that you now have a few tools for getting your children involved in the decluttering process. I think it is incredibly important that we teach our children good habits and boundaries around things not only for how our homes look but for how they choose to spend their money as they start to have pocket money or earn for themselves. I believe that learning to prioritise the things in your space, and what you declutter is an important foundational step to good money management further down the line.
If you want more advice, support and encouragement on your decluttering journey, why not consider signing up for the private membership A Happy Lifestyle Club among the many courses resources, challenges and community spaces. Within the membership is my full declutter and organised course
where you learn to create the home of your dreams. Full membership costs from as little as £12 a month.