That messy bedroom isn't going to clean itself! Here are six great tips to help your kid create a tidy space so you can have serenity at home.
During the many long years I tried to get pregnant, we kept busy spending countless hours tackling home projects, redesigning all of our indoor and outdoor living spaces, and acquiring, well ... stuff. I can’t believe I’m going on record as admitting this, but not only did I organize my pantry closet alphabetically, I actually decorated for the seasons.
And then it happened—we adopted our first child with less than a week’s notice and suddenly my life was a total whirlwind. And after waiting six years for this miracle of parenthood to finally grace us, exactly one year later I delivered our second child. And in the blink of an eye, we had two more babies giving us a family of four kids in four short years.
I couldn't care less about seasonal home décor, I just wanted to have a clear path from the kitchen to the bathroom without tripping on all our new baby and toddler claptrap.
I thought we had a lot of stuff before we had our kids. Wow—was I ever wrong! Gone were the days of having a crisper drawer full of color-coded fruits and veggies. Now I was managing a plethora of diapers, formula, and a ton of baby paraphernalia. I couldn't care less about seasonal home décor, I just wanted to have a clear path from the kitchen to the bathroom without tripping on all our new baby and toddler claptrap.
I wouldn’t change the excitement of how our family finally came to be, but I would definitely change how many baby items we purchased during those first few years. In plain and simple terms, we went overboard, and ended up spending way too much time and money trying to manage our kids' clothing and other products.
Somehow I kept up with the dozens of loads of laundry each week and was able to weed through all their miscellaneous items at the end of the day, but once they became toddlers and pre-schoolers, trying to stay ahead of the tidy-up game seemed near impossible.
Twenty five years of parenting later, I’ve learned some smart and helpful ways to guide my eight kids in keeping their rooms as organized and clutter-free as possible. Here’s the scoop on six ways to help your children stay in control of their stuff, so they can enjoy their space and you can enjoy the serenity of a tidy home.
6 ways to help your child maintain a clutter-free bedroom
1. Regulate Trash
It sounds simple because it is—one of the quickest ways to declutter a space is to walk through the area with a trash bag in tow and start trashing the trash. Remove empty containers and boxes, plastic cups, broken toys, stained and tattered clothing and shoes, rolled up tissues, half-used juice boxes, ripped magazines, worn out backpacks—anything that is pure garbage and has no use at all needs to go.
Once you have a handle on those unnecessary items that are just taking up precious space, the room itself will look less overwhelming, and you’ll have a better handle on the important pieces of the room that you need to tackle next—their must-have possessions, school items, and clothing.
I also nixed any eating in my kids' bedrooms.
Get a fresh trash bin for your child’s room and line it with a plastic bag for easy removal when it is full each week. (This should be determined by age-appropriate guidelines. For example, I never had small plastic bags in my toddlers' rooms.)
I also nixed any eating in my kids' bedrooms. Walking into a room where dishes are strewn with half-eaten sandwiches, apple cores, and other stale surprises creates clutter. It also makes way for foul odors, hard-to-spot crumbs, and potentially little critters like ants you don’t want hanging out in your child’s room.
When kids learn at a very early age that garbage belongs in the trash can, and not lying around on an empty surface or casually thrown on the floor, they will learn to take pride in their bedrooms and also be more responsible in keeping other areas of the house tidy as well.
2. Purge the unused
One of my favorite ways to create order and harmony in my family’s life is to cleanse and purge our living spaces. I find it so satisfying and therapeutic to eliminate the unnecessary items—paperwork, unused clothing, used books and toys, and dust-catcher knick-knacks that are just taking up both space and time in trying to care for them.
As I mentioned earlier, before I had kids, I spent countless hours rearranging furniture, artwork, dried floral arrangements (eek!), and changing draperies when the mood struck me. I was basically a slave to my "stuff." Eight kids later, sure I love having a beautiful, comfy home for us to enjoy, but I’d much rather spend my free time enjoying an experience with my kids rather than shuffling our possessions from one spot to the next, and even more I hope they realize how much nicer it is to have less clutter to worry about and more time doing things they love instead of housekeeping tasks.
In order to have a kid’s bedroom become as fresh and manageable as possible, devote a large chunk of time (even if it’s a complete weekend—it will be well worth it!) to performing a massive purge.
After several hours, the bedroom now contained only items and clothing they would be using and wearing.
The rule of thumb is to create three criteria for the purge:
- Decide on the absolute "must save" items
- Decide what you can donate
- Decide what you can throw out
When my kids were younger, I made all the decisions on what would stay and go. As they got older, I included them in the process. We always started with the items we would trash. Once these items were out of the way, we got down and dirty in deciding what they absolutely could not part with. Some of these were sentimental items: favorite stuffed animals, treasured books, trophies, and awards. The rest of the items (unused games, toys, sports equipment) were donated. Then we tackled closets and bureaus for clothing. After several hours, the bedroom now contained only items and clothing they would be using and wearing.
After the purge, it’s the perfect time for a good ol' fashioned deep cleaning! Dusting, sweeping, washing windows and mirrors, vacuuming, and freshening up bed linens and curtains. There’s no point in purging and decluttering only to reload what you’ll be keeping in an unclean environment.
As painful as the purging process may be for you and your child, once you’ve done this properly, it paves the foundation for the bedroom to be maintained much more easily, and the memory of all this work will hopefully remain with your child so she’ll be more apt to not let things get out of control again.
3. Contain yourself
One of my favorite ways to store all my kid’s possessions is in clear containers and bins. Toys, LEGOs, blocks, games, arts and crafts, school projects, seasonal clothing, prized awards and certificates, you name it. Today, these fabulous tools come in all shapes and sizes and many are decorative as well as functional.
The key is to make it easy for your child (and you) to toss their stuff into the bins, making cleanup simple.
If your child will be keeping some of his play items in his bedroom, do yourself a favor and contain them. Even if you leave the containers on storage shelves where he can easily find what he’s looking for. The key is to make it easy for your child (and you) to toss their stuff into the bins, making cleanup simple. Label each bin, if possible, with the type of stuff that goes there. Use picture labels if your child can’t read.
In Psychology Today’s Why Mess Causes Stress: 8 Reasons, 8 Remedies, Dr. Sherrie Bourg Carter notes that “messy homes and work spaces leave us feeling anxious, helpless, and overwhelmed.”
When we teach our kids to learn how to care for their things and stay organized in their living spaces, you will be helping them to be less stressed and more focused.
4. Rotate toys
In raising our eight kids, you can imagine all the things we purchased over the years that we willingly brought into our home. Then add to that how many items our kids received as gifts during the holidays, for their birthdays, and handed down on the days between. Staggering!
Throughout the year, I’d rotate the toys from the attic and into their toy room. It was as if they had new toys to play with all year long.
One Christmas, my kids received enough gifts to literally fill a dozen large trash bags. (The grandparents went a bit overboard!) I donated a lot of the stuff because I knew they’d never use it all, and instead of putting the rest of the gifts out for them to use, I kept some out but stored the rest in clear bins in the attic.
Throughout the rest of the year, I’d rotate the toys from the attic and into their toy room. It was as if they always had new toys to play with all year long. This works great in your children's bedrooms also. If you keep several toys and craft items set aside in storage and rotate them periodically in their bedrooms, you have instant entertainment because they’ll always have something different to play with, and you’ll keep the clutter down because half of your items will always be tucked out of the way.
5. Manage closets and clothing
In our house, laundry and clothing is the majority of what we all spend time caring for.
In my episode on laundry tips for large families, I share my favorite way to stay on top of laundry. (Hint: It has to do with how you handle your newly dried clothes.)
I know when it comes to my own kids' bedrooms, clean and dirty clothes were the culprit in making their spaces look a lot messier than they really were. My kids all shared bedrooms growing up, so closet space was at a premium. I always invested in the typical closet organizers—dual rods which doubled the space, hangers, pull-out belt racks and hooks, shelf dividers, drawer inserts, hampers, and storage baskets for hats and extras—but the key was continually streamlining their clothing so the closets and bureaus weren’t always crammed with too much stuff.
Get your family into the habit of regularly cleaning out their closets.
Kids outgrow their clothing and shoes quickly. If we don’t weed out what they’ve outgrown, or what’s stained, or what styles they just don’t want to wear any longer, closets and drawers continue to stay chock-full of unused stuff, and before you know it, you and your kids haven’t a clue what they’ve got any more.
Get your family into the habit of regularly cleaning out their closets so that you’re not constantly shuffling laundry from one place to another, especially when they’re no longer wearing most of it.
When my kids were younger (toddlers through grade school) I would purge their clothing quarterly. At the beginning of each season, I would take a day and sort through all of their outfits and store things for my younger kids or donate and chuck what we weren’t going to use any longer.
For my tweens and teens we do this in the fall when they’re heading back to school, right around the holidays, and in late spring. They do it themselves now, and their incentive is being able to purchase new outfits. Unless I see clothing getting removed that they no longer wear, I won’t be replacing anything.
When clothing and laundry are under control, your kids' bedrooms will be a piece of cake to maintain.
6. Maintain the momentum
Once you’ve achieved a kid's bedroom space that is delightfully purged, decluttered and organized, the key is to maintain and keep it that way. There’s nothing more discouraging than investing the time and effort (and money if you’ve purchased any key organizing items) into creating an easy-breezy living space only to have it completely undone weeks (or days!) later.
When my kids were younger, we had a “trash and tidy” time every Saturday morning.
When my kids were younger, we had a “trash and tidy” time every Saturday morning. We would put fun music on and spend 30-60 minutes straightening out everyone’s bedrooms from the week before.
Now that I have tweens, teens, and college kids, everyone’s schedule is a bit more complicated, including mine. I have to rely on them to initiate keeping their spaces fresh and clean. Thankfully, because they’ve been brought up to take charge of their own rooms, they’re pretty good about staying on task, but if I do see that someone’s room is in need of TLC, I send them a friendly “trash and tidy” text reminder. If that doesn’t work, should they need to borrow the car or need another favor from mom, the answer is: "Sure! Once your room is back in shape."