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Decluttering with Kids

“But, Ma, I might play with that someday!”

Sound familiar? I assure you that you are not alone. My eleven-year-old has a difficult time letting go of his things, especially as he embarks on the journey into the teenage years. He has the memory of an elephant and can remember lines from movies and shows from years ago that he watched one time. So, the thought of donating a toy or precious item that might be remembered years later with sadness frankly filled me with dread. How do we declutter so that he can hold on to special things while making room for his laptop and figures that he patiently puts together at our dining room table?

For us, the answer turned out to be fairly simple. Here are three concepts that made the process more efficient.

1. Strike when the iron is hot.

When he approached me on a cold day over February break, asking if we could “work on his room,” I said, “Yes, of course!” without hesitation. He explained he could be my client and I could use my professional organizing skills on him! We were patient with each other, discussed the size of his room and his storage systems already in place, and how we could better utilize them. Garbage bags came in for donations and trash, we kept a special spot for “keepers” and then we got to work. He understood that it was a process and we needed to “make a mess in order to clean up.” He was motivated and ready to do the work and I was there to support him as he made some tough decisions, but he was the driving force in the situation. It is his room and his decisions to make.

2. Acknowledge your child’s preferences.

Even though I would love to keep all the building sets together in bags with all the pieces and their instructions, for my son, he prefers to “free build” with pieces and his imagination. When he was younger (and had fewer sets), we did keep them organized the way I preferred because it made sense. As he got older and had more, he expressed his preference, and I took a deep breath and let it out. Now, he has bins with loose pieces for his construction and I don’t have to be vigilant about keeping the sets all together! Win win!

3. It is best to have a destination or two for donations.

I know that my son is like many other kids in the universe... the idea of throwing a toy in the trash is just unacceptable unless it is broken beyond repair. So, I am very thankful for the “everything is free” site set up in my town for, well, just about everything! We were able to donate a lot of toys he had outgrown or did not want to play with anymore, and for him, knowing that a toy was going to another kid that would be able to love it the way he had was wonderful. One special toy that he loved as a 7-year-old had been languishing on the floor for several months. He finally accepted that he should donate it to someone who would play with it. I immediately thought of a dear friend from my knitting group with a younger grandson. The next day after we dropped the toy off to her, she sent a video of her grandson laughing and playing with the “old” toy given “new” life. My son’s eyes welled up, maybe in part due to the realization that he’s growing up and maybe in part because a little boy had taken his toy and found joy in it just like he had. Or maybe, a little bit of both.

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