Kid Clutter: How to Get it Under Control

Is your home a peaceful haven or do you feel bad walking into your home because all you see is your kids’ stuff everywhere?


In most cases, a sense of orderliness and cleanliness offers a homeowner a sense of peace. It’s nicer to walk into a clutter-free home where there aren’t Legos scattered on the ground and Play-Doh crumbs everywhere. But just how do you get there and keep it up on a regular basis?

Time and energy are needed if a person is to keep their home well maintained. Parents of young children face several obstacles when it comes to keeping a tidy home. First, kids come with a lot of gear and toys. And second, parents easily run out of energy due to less sleep and the demanding lifestyle of often working and caring for their kids.

I know many parents who still have a baby swing, Bumbo chair, and Boppy pillow in their garage, despite the fact that they tell me they are done having children – why is that?

In an interview with Marni Jameson, author of Downsizing the Family Home: What to Save, What to Let Go, I asked why parents of young children save so many keepsakes, toys, and outgrown clothing that adds to a cluttered home.

“For some it’s a practical matter, they might have another child, so don’t want to buy an item twice, or they have a relative or friend who might be able to use it, and that’s justified. But if that is not the case, most cling for sentimental reasons,” says Marni.

“Parents save these items to memorialize their child’s youth, which is obviously fleeting,” she adds.

Letting go of items can feel like you are letting go of your child’s youth – that once you let go of these items your baby isn’t a baby anymore. When I asked Marni about the emotions that parents face when downsizing their children’s stuff, she says “the biggest issue parents face is that this precious age is over.”

“If this is their last child, they know a chapter is closing, and sometimes they are reluctant to concede that time is passing,” she says. “What I like to tell parents is that by clinging to the past you miss the present. Every age and stage of life is special and deserves your full attention.”

The more I thought about what she said the more, I reminded myself that I am guilty of this too. I am too busy stressing out about all the clutter – unplayed with toys, outgrown clothing, sippy cups he no longer used – that I didn’t have room in my mind to focus on enjoying the new stage my own son was currently in.

How To Let It Go

In her book, Marni recommends using a filter to determine what should go and what should stay.

Need – Do you or your child NEED the item?

Use – Will you or your child USE the item?

Love – Do you or your child LOVE it?

Assess each item and if you can answer yes to at least one of those questions, let the item go.

“It’s best if you say yes to all three,” Marni says.

She points out several common reasons not to cling, including that fact that an item is still generally useful, just maybe not to you. In that case you should let someone else use it.

Another reason is that it was expensive, which is irrelevant if you are not using it anymore.

The third reason she pointed out was if an item was a gift. When she said this immediately thought of a Hudson jean jacket my mom bought my son for his first birthday. It hadn’t fit for two years yet still remains hung behind his bedroom door.

Actually, come to think of it, that jacket fit all the reasons not to keep it – it wasn’t useful as he outgrew if before getting to wear it, it was expensive and I felt guilty, and it was a gift.

It was a trifecta of guilt, which is why I had been hanging on to it for so long.

The Purge

Now that you know what to get rid of, you may be wondering what to do with the items you want to get rid of. In my opinion you have three options.

Donate It

Did you know Goodwill offers pick-ups? Which come in very handy if you have a sizable donation. You can also give to friends of family members with children.

Toss It

If something is dirty, stained, has many missing pieces, or is broken, it’s best to just toss it. Even people who shop secondhand don’t want items in poor condition. Some toys and toy parts can be recycled so check out this list of recyclable options.

Sell It

If an items is in good condition and would be useful to parents, it may be worth trying to sell it. There are many secondhand baby and kids store chains across the country, like Kid to Kid and Once Upon a Child.

Both of which buy everything from baby and kids clothing to swings, high chairs, and toys. Also apps like Offer Up and Poshmark can be a good option as well, but can take more time for the right buyer to come along.

How to Keep a Decluttered Home

Perhaps a good methodology to keep more order in your decluttered home is to adopt a few new habits yourself.

Storage Solutions

Assign storage spaces to items. Often, clutter builds up because there is no designated “home” for items. Use bins and baskets to solve this problem. Then, regularly return items to their “homes.”

According to Marni, “baskets and bins are the key to an orderly home with kids. Have one for every type of item with clear labels: Legos, dolls, dress-ups, blocks, trucks, craft supplies.

Little hands can pull these baskets out, and use them to put toys away. Kids can learn very early that everything has a home and needs to go back home when the child is done playing with it.”

Every few months it’s a good idea to sort through and donate items the child has outgrown, or no longer plays with.

Complete the Cycle

Concentrate on a habit called “completing the cycle.” To complete a cycle, follow through with whatever you start. If you are laminating your child’s artwork to save, follow through with the entire task and put all items and keepsakes in the designated area without moving on to your next task.

Remind yourself regularly to “complete the cycle.”

Become a Carrier Pigeon

When leaving a room – toy room, living room, or nursery – look around first and take anything that doesn’t belong in the room and deliver it to where it belongs. Before leaving a room, remind yourself to pause, process the surroundings and then proceed. This little habit will pay big rewards over time.

When your home is a bit less chaotic and less cluttered, living in the moment and enjoying the current phase your kids are currently in is easier. But as Marni and I wrapped up our interview, she told me, “I remember one night, when my kids were young and we had other family members over. Everyone was playing games, eating popcorn, watching movies. After the kids went to bed and company left, the place looked ransacked. I was looking over the scene with a frustrated expression when my dad came and put his arm around me and said, ‘Look how much fun everyone had.’ That was just the perspective I needed.”

Every parent should have her perspective. Do the best you can. But at the end of the day just enjoy your kids, clutter or no clutter.


Liz Coyle

Liz is a Scottsdale-based writer and mom of two young children and one not so young Boston Terrier. She is a lover of cooking, travel, and any activities she can do with the kids. She loves to share her experiences of being a high-strung, type a mom in an imperfect world.

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