How to have a conversation with your kids about decluttering/donating their things

There comes a time when you have to have a conversation with your kids about decluttering/donating their things. With my kids, it came when my son was around 8, and his bedroom floor was reduced to a one-layer high display of all of his put-it-together-yourself kits. Mini-trebuchets, papier-mache volcanos, replicas of pyramids and Lego fill-in-the-blank models (Star Wars was definitely a favorite!). He left a little walking path to get to his dresser or the window, but otherwise, it was a museum-on-the-floor showcase that required very careful maneuvering so nothing got crushed.

We had several discussions about it, and eventually, we were able to sit down and sort through what he wanted to keep or discard, or possibly donate. It wasn’t easy but he understood why we needed to make some space on his floor (especially to welcome new projects), and since then, he has been pretty good about curating his collections. My daughter was not as sentimental, and when both of my kids (on separate occasions) threw away their sports and karate trophies, I almost had a heart attack. Clearly, I was outpacing them in sentimentality, and/or I could see how they might want them down the road.

Which brings me to the topic at hand. I think it’s important to know your own reasons for wanting your children to declutter. Have they outgrown things (sports equipment, instruments they no longer play?)? (see my blog for questions to ask yourself). Is their room becoming a sea of stuff because they don’t know what to do with it or how to store it properly? Did they move out 2 years ago and leave behind the Barbie dream mansions and cars like I did as a young adult?

The conversation itself should address the reasoning behind the request so you can get their engagement. Depending on their age, you may need to help them with the decluttering process by sorting like with like, weeding through things, and then finding proper homes for what is left (see past LP blogs on these processes). Taking pictures is a great way to keep the memory without having the bulky item. Sometimes talking about the object and its history/memories can help the child let go of it.

If your child is hardcore sentimental, this task may be difficult for both of you. Part of the trust of going through the process will be dictated by how things have been handled in the past. Yes, when my kids were under the age of 5, I made decisions on their behalf (good-bye, happy meal toys!), but once they were old/mature enough, we introduced the idea of letting go of things they no longer played with, and I emphasized that the donations would be going to other little boys and girls who couldn’t afford to buy toys. I encourage parents to involve their kids once they feel they are ready, despite temptations to do a sweeping cleanout when they are at grandmas for the weekend. Yes, the process will take longer, but once you have taught them this skill, it will likely continue into their teen and adult years.

I wish you luck! Let us know in the comments if there is anything we could suggest to help further in this process.

About Melissa Belliard

Melissa is committed to helping her clients find the organizing system that works for them, with compassion and creativity. She has been helping her friends and family get organized for years, and loves decluttering closets and cabinets, especially for empty nesters and folks who are downsizing. Melissa brings her 16 years of experience as a Human Resources professional to her work, including compassionate listening, leadership, and creative problem-solving skills. Melissa is also a part-time massage therapist, and has raised two great kids. She loves being out in nature, listening to music and dancing, as well as bringing women together in community.

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