Tips and Tricks for Organizing the Kid Clutter in your Home

On Saturday, July 22, a panel of organization experts at the Mint Hill Library addressed the topic of reigning in kid-related clutter in your home.

The panel included five individuals from Carolina Organizers, a nonprofit group of professional organizers in North and South Carolina that aims to expand the industry of professional organization, build relationships and share knowledge among professional organizers, and serve the community.

Saturday’s panel was led by Karin Solomonson from Insight Organizing. Solomonson is one of the founders of Carolina Organizers. As a former educator, she specializes in working to help individuals and families to learn how to declutter and be more mindful about their possessions.

Solomonson was joined by four other professional organizers. Lianne Hofer from The Clutter Consultant recalls being embarrassed by the amount of clutter in her home growing up and now works to help families in similar situations. Tim Hutchinson from Simplify with Tim offers home organization coupled with cleaning to help individuals simplify and clean their spaces. Natalie Burt from SOS Organizing encourages her clients not only to simplify and organize but also to share by donating unneeded goods. Annette Williams from Able Annie Organizing is a residential organizer specializing in relocation.

Solomonson began the presentation by reading from the popular children’s book If You Give a Mouse a Cookie. The mouse’s escalating demands illustrated a common obstacle to decluttering. Imagine: perhaps you set the goal of decluttering your bedroom while the kids are at preschool. As you begin to declutter, you notice some laundry on the floor. You put the laundry in the basket, but then decide to toss a load in the washing machine. On the way back to the bedroom, you notice the dishes in the sink and stop to load the dishwasher. After you load the dishes, your mother calls, and you spend 30 minutes on the phone. All of a sudden, four hours have gone by and you have to rush out the door to pick up the kids. Not only have you made little progress on decluttering your bedroom, but now you have laundry to fold and dishes to put away!

A “time timer” can help children to visualize time passing while they complete a task.

The message hit home for the audience, most of whom were moms to young children. “I liked that they could relate to how a mom is distracted by laundry and dishes constantly,” said Mint Hill Mom Lindsay Birmingham. “That’s definitely my life.”

Solomonson urged the moms in the audience to be mindful of where the clutter in their lives is coming from. We often fill our homes with superfluous items purchased because they were good deals or we think we might use them in the future. Family-given gifts or heirlooms that go unused are also a common source of clutter that can leave us feeling trapped for fear of offending our loved ones by getting rid of the items.

Solomonson and her cohorts recommended several concrete strategies for getting kids’ things organized in your home.

  • Get kids involved in the purging process. Encourage them to make decisions about which toys to keep by asking three questions: Do you love it? Do you use it? Do you need it? Letting kids have a say in the purging process empowers them and gives them permission to let go of things they don’t enjoy.
  • Donate items that children choose to let go of, and make your kids aware of how their donations will be put to use and make a difference. Many people – kids and adults alike – are motivated to let go of unused items when they know they’ll be used by someone in need. Natalie Burt of SOS Organizing is currently compiling a database of organizations that accept donations of various specific items. Burt says many people are amazed at what people use or need that we tend to throw away. She even has a charity that accepts socks without mates! “I love the idea of actually finding places that will use stuff that you can’t drop off at some locations,” said Birmingham. “I will try to involve the kids more in deciding what are their favorite toys and what could be donated. I will have to figure out how to explain what donating is. I like their idea of taking kids to visit a charity.”
  • Don’t interfere: let your child make decisions about what to keep and what to donate. If we constantly remind children how expensive a toy was or who gave it them, we get in the way of their ability to let go of unwanted items. This message struck a chord with many audience members. “I have to figure out how to let go of stuff myself,” said Birmingham. “I have more attachments to their toys than they do!”
  • Give kids a boundary to work in when sorting items. For example, you might limit the amount of trucks they can keep to a certain storage bin. Ultimately, every toy should have a home with a boundary.
  • Always make your children aware of the end goal of the decluttering process, and remind them if they start to protest. For example, your goal might be creating enough room for the child to play.
  • Be realistic. Recognize that your home may not be perfectly organized and clean while your kids are young and learning how to organize.
  • Keep going. Organizing your home is not a one-day task but an ongoing process. Help your kids to understand that the boundaries don’t change when new items come in. Birthdays and Christmas are especially good times to encourage kids to re-evaluate and donate toys they have outgrown or no longer use.
  • Use a visual analog timer like the “Time Timer” to assist with daily cleanup.
  • Encourage friends and family eager to purchase gifts for your children to gift them experiences instead of things. Explaining that you are trying to get your kids to be more mindful, grateful and generous can go a long way toward helping them to understand.
A “time timer” can help children to visualize time passing while they complete a task.

The panel’s ultimate message was clear: in order to declutter, sorting and organizing is not enough. The first step in getting organized is getting rid of things you don’t use. In order to organize your space, said Solomonson, “You don’t need containers. You need to purge.”

If you’re feeling overwhelmed by the stuff in your house and wish you had better systems in place to be organized, join Annette Williams of AbleAnnie Organizing at the Mint Hill Library at 2:00 pm on Saturday, July 29 from 2:00 to 3:30.

For more information on organizing your home, the experts recommended the following books:
Let Go of Clutter by Harriet Schechter
Let it Go: Downsizing Your Way to a Richer, Happier Life by Peter Walsh
Clear Your Clutter with Feng Shui by Karen Kingston
Organize Now! by Jennifer Ford Berry
Unclutter Your Life in One Week by Erin Rooney Doland
Eat That Frog: 21 Great Ways to Stop Procrastinating and Get More Done in Less Time by Brian Tracy

Additional resources available at the Mint Hill Library:
Decluttering Your Home: Tips, Techniques & Trade Secrets by Geralin Thomas
Organizing from the Inside Out by Julie Morgenstern
The Quick Guide to Home Organizing by Sandra Felton
ADD-friendly Ways to Organize Your Life by Judith Kolberg
Organizing Solutions for People with ADHD by Susan Pinsky
First Things First by Stephen R. Covey

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Mary Beth Foster
Mary Beth Foster works part time as an essay specialist at Charlotte Latin School and full time as a mom to her three-year-old daughter Hannah and her newborn son Henry. Prior to having children, she worked as a high school English teacher for nine years. Most recently, she chaired the English department at Queen’s Grant High School. She and her husband have lived in Mint Hill with their children and their cats since 2011.