Ever since having kids, I’ve had moments of feeling like I’m drowning in an avalanche of stuff, buried under a mountain of stuffed animals unable to breathe. Let’s face it, whether it’s the mountains of gifts your kids get from well-meaning relatives and friends, the “necessary” items you purchase for them or the rock they found on your walk they just can’t seem to part with, having kids means having stuff. In fact, I remember several Christmases driving home from Minnesota with so many toys crammed into and on top of our car that I wanted to cry thinking about where everything would go. I would come home and sit in the middle of my basement playroom floor, paralyzed. My husband couldn’t understand my frustration because, ultimately, he was not the one that would put everything away.
Of course, times of gift giving like holidays and birthdays were not the only stressful times. Something as simple as walking through the playroom after it had been torn apart would make me anxious. Helping the girls to make their beds which were piled sky high with a perfectly arranged assortment of stuffies could make me feel on edge. The truth is having too much stuff cluttering our homes can be a significant cause of stress and anxiety for many people.
After spending too much of my time feeling stressed out, overwhelmed and anxiety-ridden over stuff, I decided I needed to take control and do something about it. That’s when I instituted the Six-Month Purge. Now, once in the spring and once in the fall (typically the same time we do our seasonal cleaning), I go through the major areas of kid clutter in my home (i.e. bedrooms, closets, playroom, and toy boxes) and I purge.
Below is a list of simple guidelines which I follow, so you too can rid your home and your life of stress-inducing clutter.
- If purging is a new concept for you or your mountain seems too big to climb, start slow. Just beginning the process, if you’ve never done it before, can seem overwhelming and stressful, and the goal is for it to be the opposite. So start by tackling one room or one area at a time. Maybe just give yourself 30-minutes a day for a little while until things are under control. Then you can move onto a six-month plan.
- Kids are hoarders and collectors. I don’t know about you, but my kids find joy in collecting rocks or saving a restaurant menu they colored on. I don’t want to ruin their enjoyment or stomp their spirit by forbidding them from holding onto the things they love. So I let them keep things – until the Six-Month Purge. They are fully aware, and more often than not, by the time the purge comes they have completely forgotten about that thing they loved so much.
- Teach your kids charity. As we sort through things together, we always have one bag for trash and one bag for charity. The kids actually enjoy looking through their things and finding stuff they can give to kids in need. Also, if something new comes into the house, either as a gift or as something they purchase, they need to make room for it by finding something of theirs that they can give away. Not only does this help keep the clutter under control, it also instills values in them that will last a lifetime.
- Make a game out of it. Recently, we needed to add new shelving and a desk in the girls’ rooms. They were very excited about this small “remodel,” so as a requirement for my husband and I getting the work done, they each needed to produce a bag of things they were willing to part with. And the one who brought me the largest bag got a dollar. It was a great way for them to compete against each other for a small reward. Sometimes a little incentive goes a long way.
- When birthdays come, don’t be afraid to rein in the gifts. Be upfront with your friends and family. You don’t need more toys. Help your kids make a list of the things they really want or need, and advise your family accordingly. I really try to steer people towards clothes, books, and functional/educational toys (i.e. Legos®, art supplies, board games, puzzles, etc.) that do not take up much space.
- Turn your storage area into the best and least expensive clothing store. When I purge the kids’ closets and dressers seasonally, I sort clothing into three piles: Completely Destroyed/Garbage, Won’t Wear Again/Donate, & Hand-Me-Downs/Save for Family. I keep the third category of clothing in bins clearly labeled by size. That way when I need something, it’s as easy to find as going to a store, but FREE!
- Make it a habit, and be prepared to get addicted! Reducing the excess stuff in your home is one of the best ways to reduce feelings of overwhelm and stress. That is not to say that it is easy. Maintaining a clutter free home with kids is difficult, but not impossible. I am still a work in progress myself. The key is to have a plan and stick to it. Once you realize how freeing it is to be rid of the clutter, you will never want to go back.