When my editor asked me to write 750 words on parenting without clutter, I had to fight an impulse to write HAHAHAHA 750 times. Any parent of a Lego aficionado can probably relate. I consider myself an organized person, but based on the number of Legos I’ve stepped on—always in bare feet—I concede defeat to the tiny, sharp bricks that lurk in the carpet.
Fortunately, clutter-conquering help is available.
I spoke with four professional organizers: Tara Rudo of No More Piles (nomorepiles.com), Havely Taylor of The Well-Ordered Home (on Facebook: the well-ordered home), Amy Rehkemper of Simplify Organizing (simplifyorganizing.com) and Ashley Ingraham of Home Perspectives (HomePerspectivesLLC.com). They offered great advice on taming the toys, and more.
Q: What’s the best advice for families who are struggling with clutter?
Tara: [Start teaching organization to] your kids early, when they’re young. In our house, we have a curtain rod on the wall for each child, with clips. When they bring artwork home, I ask them: ‘Does it make the rod?’ When the rod gets full, they have to decide if they want to move it to the memory bin in their closet or trash it.
Ashley: I find it helps to give specific instructions [to kids]. Parents will say: ‘Go clean up,’ and sometimes kids don’t know where to start. … Our kids have too much stuff. It’s important to teach them that not everyone does, and to be grateful. The same number of items coming in have to go out. Before every birthday, I say: “Time to donate.” They get to see the benefits of giving to others, too.
Havely: I’ve found families struggle with paper. I [recommend getting] a large portfolio from an art store—because a lot of the art coming home is larger than a file drawer—and ask kids to be responsible for selecting the art they keep. Once the folder is full, they have to get rid of one piece to add another.
Amy: Create a donation station: a bin, a drawer, a portion of your closet, a pop-up hamper … shape doesn’t matter … for anything and everything you no longer need. We have trash cans in every room, right? Shouldn’t we have a clutter can in key locations too, so clutter doesn’t pileup?
Q: What about Legos, er, toys?
Havely: The truth is we live in a consumer society, and our kids have a lot of toys. Get rid of stuff before you bring more toys into the house. We’ve also had some birthdays without presents. That’s harder for some kids than others!
Amy: Only put out half [the toys] you own. The other half lives hidden in a toy rotation closet. It’s amazing how much more kids play with their toys when there are less options. Plus, they are like new again and your children are excited. It cuts down on having to buy new toys too!
Ashley: [When I work with a family] I talk with the kids to work out a solution. I’m respectful of their space: it’s natural to want to keep your stuff. One little boy wanted to keep all his Lego kits assembled and displayed. I had to move all the assembled Legos … I was more terrified than if I’d been moving china. At least with china you can pack it properly!
Tara: Lay-n-Go. It’s a play mat that you can fold out and cinch up when you’re done playing [with toys such as Legos]. Best $50 I ever spent. Also, we do a toy room purge before holidays when we know a lot of toys are coming in.
Q: How do you prevent clothes from proliferating?
Tara: Parents don’t realize kids need clothes until the pants become capris. [Before the upcoming season], I make them try on all their clothes to see if they still fit. I call it Fashion Show Day: It motivates them. I make a shopping list from that, and shop the sales. When you plan ahead, you can save money.
Amy: Assign only one type of clothing per drawer. Roll and file vertically, instead of fold and pile in stacks, and your child will have greater visibility and accessibility and less chance for a bedroom littered with clothing.
Q: Can you really have a clutter-free house with kids?
Havely: You can’t be so restrictive you can’t let chaos happen. But if you get your kids to clean up after themselves, you’re teaching them an incredible skill.
Ashley: You can definitely have an organized house with kids.
Tara: Yes. Clutter is 90 percent psychology, 10 percent stuff.
Amy: It may not ever be Martha Stewart-esque, but it can be clutter-free!
Q: Have you ever stepped on a Lego in bare feet?
Amy: Yes! Ouch!
Ashley: Worst pain ever.
Havely: Of course. It’s horrible.
Tara: Yes. It’s a rite of passage.
Take heart. If even professional organizers can’t walk through the playroom in socks, there may be hope for the rest of us. BC