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I have found an interest in the KonMari method of tidying up. One of its main pillars is to declutter your life by throwing away things that bring you no joy. It makes sense from a productivity perspective, especially when you live in a small apartment.

The problem is how to apply this theory to my pre-school kids' belongings? As a parent I think a lot of their old stuff (primarily toys) should go to recycling, but if I ask my kids they refuse to let me throw away any of their old things. They will become sad if I do.

How to handle this problem?

  • 1
    How old are your kids? – Brusselssprout Sep 21 '15 at 8:32
  • @Brusselssprout: 5 years old. – Gruber Sep 21 '15 at 9:04
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    So are you trying to get rid of things which bring you no joy or things which bring them no joy? Unfortunately kids can be far better at finding joy in things than adults. – Murphy Sep 21 '15 at 16:17
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    It helped with my kids when I told them there was only so much space and in order for new things to come in (for Christmas, birthdays, and everyday gifts) we had to make room. They were more enthusiastic when you changed their perspective - instead of losing something, they were trading what they didn't want for something new. – Francine DeGrood Taylor Sep 21 '15 at 17:04
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    There can be a useful distinction between transient joy (acorns are amazing, I need to pick up all of these!) and deeper joy (I play with this toy constantly and it's so much fun!) A child's tendency to enjoy everything sometimes needs a bit of gentle redirection, if nothing else to prevent my house from filling up with all the world's acorns :) – Acire Sep 22 '15 at 13:24
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I think you need to flip the problem upside down. Rather than you being the one to say which of their toys should go to recycling, have them decide. The process will be better accepted by your 5-year-olds if it is a choice that they make themselves. Set the scene for the project by doing the following:

Get a new simple storage solution, as suggested in the KonMari method. Kids are usually interested in new things.

Before you fill up the new storage...

Put out 3 cardboard boxes

  • One labeled "give to kids in need"
  • One labeled "trash"
  • One labeled "keep and put in new storage system"

Avoid suggesting or pre-sorting their toys for them. This will feel like you are taking their things away. Have them come with you to the donation center, so they understand where it goes. Repeat the sorting exercise every couple of months. If they are still reluctant to put anything in the give away / trash boxes, you can introduce the idea of "do you love this e.g. teddy bear? does it make you happy?"

Edit: one thing I forgot to say... with my husband who is reluctant to let go of things, I tell him that we'll keep the "give away" bag in the basement for a couple weeks in case he changes his mind. That way, if regrets set in, it's not such a forever decision.

  • Couple of weeks is really a short time for this kind of thing for some people, I'd be quite nervous even if it was a couple of months… – o0'. Sep 21 '15 at 15:31
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    To add to this, my wife and I had this same problem. We have two toddlers, 2 and 3. After moving, we quickly realized they didn't have room to play with their toys because they had too many toys. Thankfully, since they're pretty young and we know what toys are their goto toys, we were able to give a good chunk away without them really even noticing. It's hard to have them decide at such a young age because, if the toy is there, they'll happily play with it. If it's not, they probably don't even notice due to the other stash of toys readily available. – MrDuk Sep 22 '15 at 5:01
  • @Lohoris I was only suggesting to repeat the process, thinking of doing it a few times, and then letting the idea rest. That way it doesn't feel quite so intense that first time, like you need to do it all in one go. The timing is less important I think. – Brusselssprout Sep 22 '15 at 5:23
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    @MrDuk totally agree. My daughter is 1.5 and I even hide half her toys so that she experiences them "new" when I swap them out. (I also take the opportunity to get rid of the ones she isn't that into). I think kids can get overwhelmed with a large number of toys and appreciate a sense of calm that comes with having the right amount out. 5 year olds are big enough to start to take ownership of the process. It might just help them become more zen and less possession-oriented too! – Brusselssprout Sep 22 '15 at 5:27
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Two words:

Garage sale.

One of the easiest ways to get children to give up their old toys is to suggest that they sell them, and keep some/all of the proceeds to buy newer, better toys/books/clothes. We just did this with our guys (4 and 2), and they loved it. The sale wasn't very effective - as we didn't know how to properly advertise it - but even so, the small amount of money they earned was nice - and we let them spend it right away to give them a good feeling (unfortunately, it was only $5 each, but that was still plenty for them to be happy with). Had we earned a few hundred dollars, we would've encouraged them to save most of it, but still allowed them to spend a portion right away to encourage the positive feelings.

The kids both helped pick out the toys to sell, and wanted to sell basically everything that wasn't in their 'play with now' section of the house. They put the toys on the tables in the garage and sat with us while we sold them. They got to play with them a bit one last time as we waited for customers, but were perfectly happy to go back in without them.

The nice thing is they are now disassociated from the toys they agreed to give up - so if we did just disappear them now, they wouldn't mind (or notice).

6

While I see a lot of value in teaching this to kids, people's (especially kids') personalities and attachments to things vary a lot, and this certainly would have been very traumatic to me as a child. First and foremost you should make sure that your own desire to "tidy up" is not traumatic for your kids and is not something you pressure/force them into.

If they are hesitant, one good way to approach it and give them agency would be not to bring up giving away/throwing away their things at all, but instead, when they want something new, telling them that they already have too many things, and that they need to reduce that before you'll buy them more.

5

If you have the feeling that your children have too much stuff, one method I've employed to great success with my kids is the following:

  1. Gather all their non-essential things into one place.
  2. Take turns taking an item from the pile until everything's been distributed. If a 50/50 split seems too unfair, it's pretty easy to fix by doing a 2/1 or 3/2 split.
  3. Your pile contains the items that will be disposed of (donated, sold, or thrown away if damaged/incomplete/broken).
  4. Your child's pile contains the items that they've chosen to keep.
  5. Let your child freely exchange things between the 2 piles until they're satisfied.

It helps to impress on them how what you're doing will help others, and it gives them a lot of control over what they get to keep. I also explained everything up front so they weren't surprised, and if I picked something that they were more attached to than I thought I could re-emphasize the "exchange" phase at the end.

One you get the "amount of stuff" they have reduced, then it's a lot easier to exchange the storage they have with smaller bins. At that point keeping the clutter down is a simple matter of "you've just got X and it doesn't fit. What would you like to give away so you can keep it?"

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