Dead spiders. Cicada carcasses. colorful leaves and rocks. My 10-year old nephew’s bedroom is filled with these “treasures” he collects while exploring the woods behind his family’s country home. His closet is stuffed with Matchbox cars, Star Wars action figures, assorted Lego blocks and Harry Potter paraphernalia. Then, there’s his ever-growing collection of Xbox games that threaten to overtake the family media center. On a recent visit, my normally affable nephew had a full-on meltdown when his parents tried to throw away his old Happy Meal toys.
Is my nephew a victim of our consumer culture – or should he be staring in his very own episode of “Hoarders: The Elementary School Years”? Children are notoriously messy, and in a culture that increasingly values object accumulation over quality time, it’s no surprise that my nephew’s room looks like a Toys “R” Us exploded. And while my nephew’s room may look like a disaster zone, psychology professor Randy O. Frost says this is not a cause for concern.
“Collecting is very important for kids, starting at about age 2, when they learn the meaning of the word ‘mine,’ up until early teenage years,” says Frost, co-author of “Stuff: Compulsive Hoarding and the Meaning of Things” and a professor at Smith College in Massachusetts.
So, if it’s perfectly normal for a kid to have collections – even extensive ones like my nephew’s collection of bug carcasses – is it still possible to achieve order in the chaos? Absolutely, says Leo Babauta, author of the popular Zen Habits blog. According to Babauta, the key is regular de-cluttering, kid-friendly organization bins and constant containment. Follow these five home organization tips to reclaim your child’s room:
- Start with a massive purge. Identify the important items and then donate or dispose of the rest. We started with my nephew’s closet, saving the toys he still plays with while thinning down his bug collection. Many older toys were in great condition for donation, while the Happy Meal freebies went straight to the garbage.
- Create kid-friendly storage. Containment is vital for clutter management. Bins and cubbies make it easy for kids to toss their toys inside after playtime. Create a bin for sports gear, stuffed animals, Legos, etc. We also created an inbox for my nephew’s school papers.
- Clean as you go. Kids are not perfect; they’re naturally messy and enjoy collecting objects. Teaching kids to clean up what they mess up can help control the clutter. If my nephew wants to play Xbox, he needs to first put away his bug collection.
- Buy less, enjoy more. As a doting aunt, I bear part of the blame for contributing to my nephew’s toy chaos. Changing a child’s thinking about toys starts by changing our thinking: Focus on quality over quantity, experiences over objects. Rather than showing up with a new Xbox game whenever I visit, now I plan trips to the amusement park, an afternoon baseball game or a hike through the woods. We may come back with a few new bugs, but that’s part of the experience.
- Develop clean house habits. Regular de-cluttering is essential to keeping the mess under control. After holidays and birthdays, ask children to identify toys to donate in order to make space for their new gifts. This same rule applies to the adults. Do you have stacks of old magazines sitting in your living room? Gently worn clothes at the back of your closet? Never-used appliances taking up space in the kitchen? Set an example by donating objects with your kids.
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