De-cluttering with Children

One of my goals in being a more frugal person is to cut down the stuff in my house to only the things we use and love. I started with the master bedroom, and managed to clear out a lot of space. Since it’s spring break, I decided to tackle Liz’s room Monday.

I grabbed my trusty copy of It’s All Too Much! (which I highly recommend if you struggle with clutter), and headed into Liz’s room. For those of you who are newer to my blog, Liz is my 10 year old daughter. She’s a great girl, but organization is no one of her strengths. She must take after her mother. :)

I was skeptical as to whether the It’s All Too Much strategy would work with Liz. She’s very sentimental and tends to hang on to stuff. We’ve been through the deep de-clutter of her room several times, and it never seems to last, but I was willing to listen to Peter Walsh. These are the steps we went through.

Write Down the Purposes of the Room

I sat down with Liz on the bed, and together we made a list of everything she does in her room This is what we came up with:

  • Play with toys
  • Use the computer (only with the door open)
  • Read
  • Sleep
  • Get Dressed
  • Listen to Music
  • Do crafts
  • Do homework

Create Zones for Each Purpose

Part of our problem before was that we didn’t have any specific zones laid out for each of the activities Liz did in her room. Craft supplies were kept in the living room, so she’d march back and forth between the rooms. By the time she was done, I was missing the tape from my desk, and there were scraps of paper all over her floor.

So we moved the bookshelf between the desk and the bed, since that’s where she reads. We took an extra plastic cart and set it up next to her desk to hold craft supplies. We put her toy shelf next to the biggest open space in her room for playing. And we moved everything that wasn’t clothing or shoes out of the closet.

Limit the Amount of Stuff to the Space You Have

This was also a huge problem for Liz. She just had too much stuff. My children are the only grandchildren on both sides of the family, so they get a little spoiled on holidays and their birthdays. Liz had too many toys for the space she had.

I set up her shelves and told her the only toys she could keep were the toys that fit on the shelf. And I held my breath. I put a huge box in the hall, and she started throwing her toys into the give-away box. It was truly amazing. My daughter, who hates to get rid of anything, was suddenly motivated to rid her room of stuff when I gave her a limit as to how much she could own!

I think I had a bigger problem with the stuff she was giving away than she had. I was the one who had special memories of the toys, and I hated to see them go. But I bit my tongue and let her make the decisions. And in the end, her toys fit on the shelf with room to spare. And she knows that when she gets new toys, if they don’t fit on the shelf, she needs to get rid of something.

I have to say I’m very proud of my daughter. She was a trooper and didn’t complain much at all. I think she liked making the decisions about her room, and she learned an important lesson about living within your means…whether within your means refers to within your budget or within your space.

How do you keep your children’s rooms clean?  Or are you more of a shut the door and pretend the mess isn’t there type of person?  (I’ve been there too!)


By , on Mar 26, 2008
Lynnae McCoy I'm Lynnae, wife of one and stay-at-home mom of two. I'm committed to getting out of debt by being frugal with my choices in life.


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  1. My kids usually do need some assistance with organizing their rooms. Usually its papers and older toys that just need to be retired. Once the clutter is taken care of we’re back in business. A system of storage containers did a lot for us.

  2. I love fly lady too! I am also working my daughter’s room this week with her. We’re getting there. I’m really trying to impress the “a place for everything and everything in it’s place” motto.

  3. This is awesome! I love how you had a plan for the room before you started the decluttering. Love it :D

  4. As a kid I always reorganized my room by myself (And when I was sharing it my sister helped). We even moved all the furniture one time without my mom finding out. She just thought we were being noisy.

    But we were also never as disciplined about it. I think that strategy could work well for our apartment too.

  5. Danelle Ice (Homemaker Barbi):

    Great advice on decluttering with kids. I like the shelf approach. I’ve been getting my daughter used to the “one in, one out” strategy. It really works! Thanks for the post!

  6. danielle:

    Lynnae, you always read my mind. I am decluttering today, too. I have sold my bumbo seat on Craigslist for $20, and I got $7 for some old books at half price books. Good luck to you!

  7. Looby:

    Go Liz! I’m very impressed, I wish my mum had spent time trying to encourage me to declutter when I was younger, it’s much harder to lose your hoarding tendencies in your twenties, when you have more stuff.
    Lynnae, I think this was a great idea and I hope the two of you are able to maintain the momentum. Best of luck!

  8. Matt Sullivan:

    This is great advice. My wife and I are always struggling with our kids’ rooms. It seems to spill over to the entire house. I am a bit of a slob myself so I have had to clean up my act. Kids are great at point the mirror back to you. It is why we have them.

  9. Lynnae:

    @Sarah – I like the idea of the Toy Fairy! I’m going to use that!

    @Kandy – Check out the book. Seriously. I hardly ever recommend books as “must-haves”, but this is one I recommend without hesitation! Peter Walsh goes through why we hang on to clutter, to how to get rid of it and rearrange your space most effectively, to how to maintain a clutter-free home. And it’s an easy read, too!

  10. Sarah:

    One thing that has been successful with our kids in the “Toy Fairy”. They had been told that if they give up the toys that they don’t want anymore they would get ONE toy that they had been wanting in return. It was amazing how well that worked.

  11. I so wish I could do something like this…I just get so frustrated with Katie though, and Lord knows I can’t get down there and do it as easily as I once could…we don’t even bother shutting the door anymore…we’ve all given up lol.

    Maybe I should go check out that book and give it one last ditch effort ;)

  12. Lynnae:

    @Heather – I’m awful with maintenance, too. I keep trying to do better.

    @Foxie – You can definitely use zones in any room. I set up zones in our family room, since we use that room for a ton of different things!

    @Sarah – I try to limit my kids’ clothing, too. I also love Flylady! I’ve never heard of Don Aslett. I’ll have to look him up!

  13. FLYDAY rocks!

    My wife loves that site… often forwards me stuff…

  14. Sarah:

    Great post for the spring cleaning season! And nice job on the room.

    For now, my kids are small (I have four, 5 and under) so I keep their few toys and books in their closet, locked – to be gotten down by an adult one at a time), and all their clothes in my master closet. I limit outfits to 6-7 play outfits and 2-3 dress outfits per child per season. It forces me to constantly declutter because if something is out, they will make a mess with it.

    For years, I have been a huge fan of Don Aslett for motivational material on getting rid of clutter. And I like Flylady’s motto, too: “If it doesn’t make you smile, get rid of it.” No more holding onto things you don’t like out of sentimental “obligation”!

    I love the connection you make between living within your money means and living within your space means. I totally agree and that was very well put! Both require the same contentment and self discipline.

  15. Foxie:

    I also like the “zones of purpose” part, I think I’ll have to use that. I don’t have any kids, but my husband can sort of count as one, right? He definitely hangs on to more things than I do. I just went through and decluttered more of my own closet. I’m challenging my husband to do the same this weekend, but I’m not holding my breath for any results. :)

  16. Shannon:

    I love this book!! I saw a lady reading it on the airplane once and checked it out immediately when I returned home. I ended up donating 75 (yes, 75) bags/boxes to our local Goodwill Store and Church. It was like my house grew-I had so much more room and open space. And of course, I could sleep better at night:) Awesome Post!!

  17. Very cool… like the “zones of purpose” part!

  18. Libby:

    I am a “shut the door and ignore” mom right now but I love the idea of coming up with a “mission statement ” of sorts for what the room is used for! I think I will get Peter’s book and try this with my 5 y.o. son (Sam the sweet pack rat) this afternoon.

    Thanks for the great post!

  19. We go through this several times a year. It is hard because I am no good at maintenance and my kids and husband are home all day. And with three kids and lots of grandparents and aunts and uncles–too much is enough.

  20. Ron:

    Wow. What a great article you’ve written. This is another classic that I’m printing out and taping to the fridge!

  21. That’s awesome how well this worked for you! I’ll be saving this article in delicious for when I have kids :)

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