Home Moving Tips How to Teach Your Kids to Declutter

How to Teach Your Kids to Declutter

by Ali Wenzke

Because my husband, Dan, and I moved ten times in eleven years, we decluttered every year with moving as our motivation. Now that we’re settled in the Chicago suburbs, the decluttering tradition continues and I’m still pretty hardcore about it. We tease our three children to behave on Donation Weekend or else Mom will donate them. Yes, we’re hilarious. Yes, they behave.  And, yes, they are an integral part of making Donation Weekend a success. We’ve been doing this for years and here are some tips on how to teach your kids to declutter.

  1. Don’t throw out other people’s items (even your kid’s stuff)

Many parents and professional organizers subscribe to the idea that we should bag the kids’ items at night or when they’re at school. That’s not my philosophy. You should not get rid of anyone else’s items. Ever. Start with your own coats, shoes, and books first. We all own plenty of items we can simplify before we harp on someone else’s pile of supposed junk. Declutter your belongings first and lead by example. When you refrain from throwing out your child’s toys without her permission, you show your child her input matters and you build trust.

  1. Teach your kids to declutter so they can declutter on their own

Teaching our kids to declutter instead of doing it ourselves can be a hard step because, of course, it’s easier and faster for us to get the task done on our own. That’s true…up until a certain point. Eventually, the kids will gain the skills to declutter with minimal help from you, and it’s a lifelong skill they will take with them when they head to college.

I started decluttering with my kids when they were toddlers and, in the beginning, my eldest daughter didn’t want to let go of anything. However, I never made her throw out a toy. She needed to make the decision whether she wanted to keep a toy or not.  My kids are now 10, 12, and 13 years old. They know the decluttering drill. They know I will never force them to donate a toy or a book that they want to keep. My kids also know how good it feels when the house is organized and they can find the toys they love most. In addition, they recognize that they don’t miss the items they donated previously.

Teach your child the lifelong skill of decluttering, simplifying, and organizing her space.


  1. Talk about why it’s important to declutter

When you teach your kids to declutter, you want to talk about the why. Why is it important to your family to spend a weekend together discarding unwanted items? At our house, we pull out the white erase board and the kids throw out their ideas. This is what my kids came up with this year in their words (I don’t call their stuff “junk”):

Why does your family want to declutter?

Discuss the why with your family and see what resonates with your kids. One year my daughter talked about how happy it made her to think of another little girl smiling with her Ariel doll. If you have specific charities in mind you would like to help, tell your kids about them. My family and I talked about how Connections for the Homeless would give our coats to the homeless who need to survive the Chicago winter. After my kids chose costumes to donate, a quick Google search helped me discover that the Honeycomb Project wanted costume donations for kids in the Chicago area. When you put real people on the other end of Donation Weekend, it can motivate your family to part with items that currently gather dust in your home. 

If you are looking for ideas about where to donate items, here are some of my suggestions

  1. Make decluttering fun by creating a toy store

In a moment of mom inspiration, I decided decluttering should be a fun family weekend. So, years ago, the annual tradition started, and the Wenzke Toy Store opened for business.  This is how it works:

  • Bring every toy your family owns into one space.
  • Set up the store by sub-category. For example, puzzles in one spot and dolls in another.
  • Lay out every single item. If you have a bin filled with Strawberry Shortcake dolls and accessories, take each item out of the bin and put it on display.
  • Give your kids shopping bags to “purchase” whatever toys they want to keep. For heavy or larger items, use sticky notes so they can tag the toys they’ve bought.
  • After the kids finish shopping, put aside all purchased toys.
  • Once the purchased items are set aside, allow the kids to shop again in case they missed anything.
  • Praise them for doing a great job, even if you wish they had gotten rid of more stuff. Remember tip #2. You are teaching them a lifelong skill of how to declutter.

My kids shop for board games at the Wenzke Toy Store.

  1. Bribe your children

This one is self-explanatory. Kids like bribes incentives. Since we declutter the weekend after Halloween every year, candy flows freely. We also give the kids a prize. This year, the kids each earned $20 and the opportunity to purchase something in addition to the $20 reward. They chose to buy cookie dough, a board game, and soccer sticker packs. Worth every penny.

Bribes are encouraged.

  1. Organize or pack your toys by sub-category for simplified living

You worked hard to get the toys into one place and to display them by sub-category for your toy store. Your efforts will be rewarded further. Whether you are packing for your move or cleaning out your home, you’ve already organized everything and you made it so similar items live together. Put those items in one place, and you will have a clean and simplified home where items are easy to find. It makes me smile just thinking about it.

My major life philosophies shine through on Donation Weekend. First, honesty is the best policy. You don’t want to break someone’s trust over a donated doll or, worse, to have to lie about what happened to the curly-haired Barbie doll with the broken  arm. Second, while it may seem easier to complete tasks for your kids, your efforts to teach them will be rewarded in spades when they can do it on their own. Third, we should help others whenever possible, and Donation Weekend provides warm coats, gently used toys, and kitchen appliances to those in need. Finally, what matters are the people around you and not the possessions you acquire over a lifetime. If you live even a slightly more minimalistic life, you will spend less time cleaning, organizing, and worrying about messes, and you will spend more time with the people you love.


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