A source of much family friction is the state of a child’s bedroom or playroom. Parents get exasperated at the state a child’s room is in, whilst the child seems to be oblivious to the mess they’re surrounding themselves with. Let me assure you, no child actively wishes to live in a chaotic mess, they just can’t figure out an easy, do-able, alternative. Having a cluttered room is actually detrimental to their health both physically and mentally, not to mention the stressed out parent that thinks it all falls on them. It may that as a parent you decide to close the door and refuse to enter but then you worry about what is festering in there without your intervention. Most of the time children cannot tidy because they simply don’t know how to, or feel overwhelmed and lost on knowing where to start.
One way to make the room easier to tidy is to declutter using the steps below, and this can have a massive impact on how a child can keep their room tidy which in turn will create a more harmonious household too!
WHAT NOT TO DO
First of all, let me tell you how NOT to declutter – do not, no matter how tempting it is, try and sneak toys out without their permission or knowledge. This breaks down trust between you and can mean that in the future they feel overly cautious about letting go of items. Some clients with hoarding disorder state that they believe their problem started when a parent would throw out their treasured possessions and this would cause them great anxiety. By teaching them how to decide between what stays and goes, you’re teaching them a valuable skill for when they mature and will really come in handy when they (eventually!) leave home, or even if they come back as an adult.
GIVE THEM THE POWER
One of the hardest things for a parent to do, yet one of the most essential, is that the child needs to have the power and final say in the decision making process about their things. You may wish that they keep the expensive ‘worthy’ toy bought by a cherished relative, but they may choose to keep MacDonald’s plastic tat instead. Unfortunately unless it’s an actual heirloom that you wish to keep forever, you need to be the one that has to be OK with their decision and let it go. By giving them the power and the final say, you’re helping them realise that it’s OK to make their own decisions, and the consequences of that, you’re showing trust in their judgement which will help their self-esteem , and you’re helping them practice decision making, which is a really vital skill that is often overlooked.
CATEGORISE AND DESIGNATE SPACES
To break down the task, to help them tidy and to help narrow down what stays and what goes give categories of toys distinct areas to ‘contain’ them. So for example give shelves, drawers, units or boxes very specific roles. One category per storage area. This will mean if a certain category (for example cuddly toys) starts to overflow, it is visual and should not encroach on other spaces. When it starts to overflow then you can help them decide on what stays and what goes to keep that category in its designated space. If a category is majorly overspilling but is a new ‘favourite’ then if they wish to take over another space they must decide what other category they must cull to make the space available. They will learn that everything is a trade off, comparing one item for another and working out which is the most favourable to keep, which is more important to them and allowing them to let go of things that they gave now grown out of, or weren’t really wanted in the first place.
Containerise wherever possible! So use shoe boxes, Kallax units, Zip lock bags to keep things separated. Try not to make the categories too small though – if it needs thinking about and its mega specific ids won’t put them back into those categories. So you might have a box that is just ‘cars’ or ‘dolls’. Try not to have lids to close – this is another barrier to kids putting things away. When putting things away it must be very simple and easy, as the motivation isn’t there.
When you have a category to declutter, as them to look at each individual item and decide which is their absolute favourite, then second, then third, etc. Once the best ones are ‘safe’ now is the time to cull. So you have space for 10 items, you have 5 favourites, but 14 items. Which are the 4 you like the least, ok these are the ones to go…
Decluttering shouldn’t be a punishment, but be seen as something positive. A way to achieve this is to create pride in their room, so as a reward something like choosing a new colour scheme, bedding, item of furniture is often a good incentive. Another incentive which really works is by emphasising that the items they let go will be going to a good home. Usually the angle of explaining that some children have no toys at all, and it’ll help these children out to pass them on things they no longer love, gets children’s consciences going and they let go of much more stuff as they really want to help someone less fortunate than themselves. Another incentive is to make room for the influx of presents at birthday time, or for when Father Christmas comes – he can’t bring presents if the room is already full of old stuff ;)
CYCLES OF INTERESTS
You will notice as your children grow that they will have cycles of interests. So one month it might be a slight obsession with paw patrol, the next it’s PJ Masks. At the end of every new interest encourage them to let go of the old stuff, by doing this it makes it a much less traumatic experience to do little and often.
The bane of most parent’s life to keep tidy is craft stuff! The main reason for this is that every item that you’d normally let go ‘could be useful’ in crafting. Try not to do this, although I know for some parents, especially creative ones themselves, that this is hard. Crafting is as much about adapting and imagination as it is materials – so if they don’t have the right thing to make something, their imagination will kick in and they WILL find an alternative! Try to categorise craft as much as possible, and keep in one place – ideally somewhere that YOU can reach but they can’t. No-one wants to come back from doing laundry to find a living room covered in glitter or the dog covered in paint!
To make any room look instantly better the more surfaces that are clear the better. Usually in kids rooms surfaces get cluttered either because the items don’t have designated homes, or the child just doesn’t know where to put them… more than likely they are ‘little bits’. Even little bits can be categorised and popped into a shoe box or a pouch/bag and given a storage home.
When your brain makes split second decisions, (such as where to put something), something that aids the process is by seeing a visual. So wherever possible use visuals to label shelves, boxes and categories, ideally a picture and a name. You can do this with marker pens, transfer sticky labels, normal sticky labels or get the kids themselves to create the label – get them invested at the beginning!
KEEP SOME SPACE SPARE
If a drawer is already jam packed, a child will struggle to fit more in, and psychologically it creates another barrier to putting things away. Aim to get all storage areas only ¾ full, to give room for things to go in and out with ease.
CREATE A MEMORY BOX/FILE
As times flies so quickly, as parents we get inundated with things we feel we need to keep. Once again, containerising is the way forward. Whatever system you use to decide on which items to keep, a memory box or file is always a nice addition to either your room (when they’re little and may draw on things!) or in their room when they’re a little older and can pop their own treasures in.
When decluttering try to do it in small steps, not full blown sessions. Pick a small category to start and finish in a small amount of time – ideally when you and them are not tired! Decluttering and making decisions, especially emotional ones are very tiring. The whole experience needs to be uplifting and positive to keep the motivation going, and to get them feeling happy about doing it again. When it comes to tidying up, a fully wrecked bedroom can look totally overwhelming to start tidying when you’re an adult let alone a child. Even a child with minimal possessions and a totally organised toy box can feel like they don’t know where to start. In my house, I help my daughter tidy by first sorting the items that need putting away into smaller piles of their category. By breaking down the chaos and clutter into bitesize ‘put away chunks’ she feels once again in control. It usually only takes me 5 minutes to sort them into categories with her, and then she can be left to put them away by herself.
LEAD BY EXAMPLE
Pretty self explanatory really! If a child notices your bedroom is cluttered and untidy, they may wonder why they can’t have the same. If the dining room next to the play room is a mess, they can then go clutter blind in their room and not notice any mess either. Living in an untidy home means they will not notice when they drop things on the floor, as it’ll blend in with everything else and so will see no reason to pick it up. Similarly if the room is messy and full of toys they will tend not to cherish what they have, as there’s always something else to play with.
HAVING LESS EQUALS HAVING MORE.
Scientific studies have shown that children with less actually play more, and find it easier to play. So don’t be afraid to be really ruthless when you both go through their things. When a child has less, they use their imagination more. They find it less overwhelming to decide what to do, you may notice they’ll say “I’m bored” less often too! They will also look after their things much better and you will be giving them a really good start in life. A study suggests that giving kids too many toys stifles their creativity. Researchers found that the toddlers playing with four toys engaged in more creative activities than did the toddlers that had 16 toys to choose from* University of Toledo, USA.
So there you go, 15 ways to have a tidier child’s bedroom! I hope this has given you food for thought. If you need any help with this, or need suggestions on storage, pop over to my FREE Facebook community HERE to get support from me and others on their decluttering journey. If you’d prefer private 1:1 support I am offering limited video consultations, priced at £30 per hour between now and September.