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6 Steps to Help Children Declutter by Fern Weis, Parent + Family Recovery Coach

6 Steps to Help Children Declutter by Fern Weis, Parent + Family Recovery Coach, Bergen County Moms

We are a nation of collectors, and our children have become collectors, too. Many have much more than they need.  They are facing a challenge we did not as kids:  overwhelming clutter in their environment and their minds. There is so much available to them, and parents sometimes have a hard time saying no. Rather than focusing on how to say no (that’s a course all on its own), let’s look at decluttering for kids so they can decrease what they have and manage the rest.

For very young children, you can make rarely-used things disappear with few repercussions.  As they get older, that no longer works. Kids get used to having what they have (whether they use it or not) and they have many  more words to make their case or just plain fight you on it.  They can be relentless and wear you down.

Here’s how to take the angst out of decluttering

It’s best to approach decluttering in quiet moments, not when the mess is so big you want to throw everything in the trash.  Having clutter is overwhelming, whether on a conscious or unconscious level. It’s there as a constant reminder of mess, cleanup not done, parental dissatisfaction, and a cluttered mind.  Here’s how to get started:

Step 1 – Identify a category of things to go through, such as board games, books, hair accessories, video games, t-shirts, stuffed animals, and other trinkets.  (Do you remember collections such as Beanie Babies and Pokemon cards?)

Step 2 – Start with 3-4 sorting bins.  Call them what you want:  keepers, giveaways, maybes, throwaways.  Sort accordingly and then let them sit for a while. For some kids (and adults), it takes a great deal of emotional energy just to allow something to go in the maybe and giveaways piles, so don’t rush it.

Step 3 – Create a timetable.  What is a reasonable time to check back on the maybes? See if you can get agreement from your child to donate items that are not regularly used in that time. You want to be able to gently refer back to this conversation when the resistance appears. Mental preparation is always a good thing when approaching the idea of decluttering.

Step 4 – Throw out what is obviously garbage. Find reasonable places to store the keepers.

Step 5 – Discuss where the current and possible future giveaways will go.  Let it be somewhere meaningful to your child. Without lecturing, nurture gratitude for what they have, and how much these things will be appreciated and cherished by the recipients.  Take pictures if that helps them release their possessions more easily.

Step 6 – If your child has more than he or she needs, consider adopting the practice of discarding one item for every new one that comes in the door. In fact, do it before you shop. If you are doing intentional shopping, decide what to get rid of before you click ‘pay now’ or go to the store.

And finally, if you are challenged by your possessions, use these five steps yourself!

Fern Weis is a certified life coach who learned that caring and good intentions are not enough in parenting.  In fact, they are often the problem! Fern supports parents of teens and young adults who are going through difficult situations, including addiction recovery.  She helps parents release guilt, end enabling and confidently prepare their children to thrive through life's challenges. Her articles are featured in Thrive Global, Medium, Motherly, The Teen Mentor, and Bergen County Moms.

Learn more about coaching and classes at And then download your free guide, "Five Powerful Steps to Get Your Teen to Talk." For information on Family Recovery programs, visit

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