Clear the Clutter for your Children

Clear the Clutter for your Children

Clearing Clutter for Children

When trying to involve children in the KonMari process, Marie Kondo’s advice – to simplify your own belongings and hope that your family will follow – wasn’t enough for me. Marie Kondo also said that once you’ve finished all your own categories, you can teach them the folding method. As good as my toddler was at folding, I needed to take a more active role in clearing the clutter for her.

Leading by example is essential, but it’s not the only way to approach simplifying a family home. Kim John Payne, who wrote Simplicity Parenting, agrees that parents must lead by example. However, he suggests that children under 8 years old should not be involved in culling their belongings. He says that young children need a safe and nurturing environment; too much decision making can undermine that sense of safety. Read: permission to be the authority in your home, or Queen if you prefer ;).

That having been said, when I started the KonMari method, my daughter was 2 and a half, and I did involve her in the decisions to a certain extent. I hadn’t read Simplicity Parenting yet. She was really clear about what brought her joy without me having to explain. Also, she is good at letting things go.

After reading Simplicity Parenting I realized that I didn’t need to always involve my daughter in the process. Now, I make most of the decisions of what toys and clothes of hers we keep, and what we don’t.

As a mom who works part-time, I spend much more time at home now than I did before I became a mother. For this reason, it’s very important for our home to be calming and joyful, both for my mental health and for the benefit of my family.

During the KonMari Process here are some of the strategies that I used with my daughter.

Joy/No Joy game

We call it a game, because it becomes more fun that way! It is about focusing on the positive after all. I didn’t explain anything- I just piled one category on the bed or floor at a time and would hold one item up and say, “joy or no joy?” She was a natural. She wouldn’t have a long attention span but she would say joy to things I knew she liked and then no joy to things she wasn’t interested in. For her, it seemed that the connection to knowing what her heart felt about an item came effortlessly- she didn’t have a long attention span for the game so it would take several sessions to complete. She was involved in much of the process but I would make the final call on her choices.


My daughter did enjoy the folding method, though wouldn’t be expected to fold much. Now that she is four and a half she shows the “proper” way to fold. She is constantly changing her clothing and will throw her clothing on the floor (she knows exactly how to push my buttons!) So honestly, her drawers are often not folded nicely, but at least there isn’t too much in there. It’s about what works for you and your family.

Letting go

As I said she was pretty natural about letting go of things that didn’t bring her joy. Once I threw away a string and she saw it and said, “you are so annoying! So annoying!” but she left the string in the garbage. I try to respect her wishes with her things while balancing that against my need for simplicity.

Choosing her favorites

Another strategy I tried was asking her to choose her favorites out of a pile of stuffed animals and that was successful. It’s easier to think about what your favorites are and again it’s about supporting a positive perspective of surrounding yourself in joyful belongings that you will be motivated to take care of properly.

Appealing to her compassion

During the time of our simplifying process there was a large fire in a neighboring town. I asked my daughter if she would like to go through her toys to see what she would like to give to the children who had lost their toys. She was generous in her letting go that day!

Observing Closely and Letting Go Quietly

I take notice of what she plays with and doesn’t play with. What she loves and plays with most. I have had success with hiding away things that she doesn’t play with. Especially the things that get dumped out but never actually used. Then I wait for a few months until I have a chance to clear out the stored away items. This has worked for us, after a few months without her asking for the items I donated them and she never noticed. She is still young so I imagine our days of doing this are numbered, but hopefully she will develop an understanding of having the right amount of things and taking good care of them.

Using the Power of Story

Story telling is magic. There is nothing that motivates my daughter better than an appealing story- we reach her through her imagination. Reaching children playfully and through their imagination works wonders.

Now that we have completed the KonMari Method in our home, this is how we deal with my daughter’s stuff. We have designated homes for all my daughter’s belongings. I remind her to put things where they go and help her with a regular cleaning routine (and after she goes to bed my husband and I make sure her things are put away). We tell inspiring stories about tidying and cleaning. One of our favorites is Tidy Teddy from Susan Perrow’s book, Healing Stories for Challenging Behavior. We talk about the importance of taking care of our things and the house. We lead by example as best we can. When I’m sweeping up and her stuff is out I ask her if there is anything she wants to keep and to come get it now before it goes in the trash. This may sound like a punishment, though it doesn’t seem like my daughter gets stressed. She comes to see if there are things she wants and gets them. It feels very matter of fact. We don’t buy much and we do our best to keep gifts simple and hand-me-downs “joy checked” at the door. When we are given a bag of clothing or toys we immediately do the joy check and don’t bring the no joys in. We express our gratitude for all that we  have regularly, especially our gratitude towards one another.

Adults don’t have limitless capacity to care for stuff; children have even less. I want to give my daughter the gift of less. She and I have worked together, and reduced her total amount of belongings. I put toys in books into storage for rotation. I also hide things away, and if she doesn’t ask for them for a few months, I donate them. Only once has she asked for backpack that was gone and I simply offered one of her other backpacks.

My daughter gets creative in a bit of a destructive way some times, so I throw a lot of paper clippings and dried up playdough, etc. away. I love supporting her creativity, and it is important to me to let her have freedom in her process – but once she has completed a project, it’s clean up time. She says the mess on her art table doesn’t bother her, but when I let her leave it there for a few days, she doesn’t engage in art. Once it’s been cleared, she begins creating again. I can see that I literally create space for her creativity by clearing the clutter.

One from her Joy Sparking series of paintings that made the biggest mess you’ve ever seen!

This is all done with kindness and love. It’s not about punishment and taking things away, it’s about creating the home and life that works for all of us. I’m the one that has to deal with her stuff on a daily basis, so it has to work for me. A cluttered space makes me stressed; a simple and clean space helps me stay calm.  This, in turn, keeps the family running smoothly and happily.

It’s important to make sure that the home environment is joyful for mom. Sometimes that means helping my daughter put away her belongings and sometimes that means quietly removing her uncared for ones.