After I read The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up last fall, Will and I did a serious tidying up (read: massive decluttering). We got rid of dozens of bags of stuff, which is noteworthy because we’d just moved six months prior, and thought we’d already done a major purge.
Marie Kondo convinced us we hadn’t been taking this tidying thing seriously.
We are now: we were so happy with our own results that we turned our attention to tidying our four kids’ stuff.
It’s important to remember that according to Kondo, “tidy” doesn’t mean “magazine quality” or “Pinterest perfect.” It means that you have what you need, and not a bunch of extra stuff you don’t need (or even like) cluttering up your home and your life. It’s about having a home that works, not one that is company-ready.
Tidying up for kids has its special challenges, and this is the biggest: kids grow and change constantly. A core belief of the KonMari method is that tidying is not a daily chore: it’s a special event. But when kids are outgrowing clothes and shoes and toys and gear from one season to the next, that means a whole lot of decluttering, on a regular basis.
It’s not easy, but it’s possible, and it’s worth it. The alternative is having to deal with a bunch of stuff you don’t need and might not even like, and nobody wants that. Today I’m sharing tips on getting started and staying tidy: some straight from Marie Kondo, some from my own experience, some gleaned from friends who’ve successfully tidied up with kids. I’d love to hear your own tips in comments.
13 ways to tidy up KonMari-style with kids:
1. START THEM YOUNG.
For kids under age 2 you’re the boss. It’s your job to organize their space and keep things tidy (even if they are able to “help” a bit as they near their second birthday).
2. LEAD BY EXAMPLE.
Model good organization: show your kids what “tidy” looks like, and how to get there.
3. SET GROUND RULES THAT MAKE SENSE.
This will vary with your space and your household’s needs. Possible examples: no storage on the floor, no legos left out overnight, no piles left on the bed. Even preschoolers can put things away when everything has a place (although they’ll need reminders and encouragement until the habit is formed).
4. GET THEM STARTED.
Most kids—no matter how well-intentioned—can’t follow the command “clean your room”—it’s too big a task. Whether it’s a huge tidying up or daily maintenance, break the job into baby steps: the younger the child, the more steps they need.
5. START WITH FOLDING CLOTHES.
Kondo’s advice for kids under 10: start with folding clothes. This is the best way for them to develop the habit of tidying their own space. (My kids love KonMari folding—even the 5-year-old, but it does take practice.) The basic KonMari fold is shown above.
6. SORT BY CATEGORY.
Kondo recommends the following order: clothes, books, papers, miscellany, and then things with sentimental value.
However, for kids (and adults with ADHD) she recommends organizing by smaller categories: don’t sort all the clothes at once, begin with the shirts. Don’t sort all the books, begin with only board books.
7. DOES IT SPARK JOY?
This is Kondo’s key question. If it does, keep it. If it doesn’t, get rid of it. But for kids it has an important corollary:
8. DOES IT SPARK COMFORT?
This question isn’t from Marie Kondo: I made it up, because it helps me decide whether it’s worth storing all the baby and kid stuff we “might” need down the road.
Do the boxes of hand-me-downs I’m storing in the basement spark joy? That wouldn’t be my first answer. But am I glad (happy, even) that as my kids grow we won’t have to buy them each new wardrobes? Absolutely.
Making decisions out of fear is a big no-no in Kondo’s book, so make sure you’re keeping things for the right reasons. Do you cherish the thought of a potential new addition to the family happily peddling the family tricycle down the sidewalk? It’s a keeper. Are you done with it but afraid that you might need it some day? It would probably bring you more joy to give that trike to a family who can use it now.
I think Marie Kondo would say “comfort,” properly defined, is the same as “joy.” But this change in semantics helps me clarify what baby and kid stuff is worth keeping, and what should be given away.
8. LIMIT THE SPACE FOR STORAGE.
Abundant storage space isn’t necessarily a good thing: just because you can keep something doesn’t mean you should. Kids are easily overwhelmed by too much stuff: keep this in mind when you’re deciding what to hang onto and what to give away.
9. MAKE LETTING GO OF THINGS NORMAL AND NATURAL.
Whether you’re doing a big purge or everyday maintenance, make letting go of things a normal and natural habit from an early age.
10. GET RID OF THINGS PROMPTLY.
After a tidying up, finish the job. Don’t let those Goodwill bags linger; if you have hand-me-downs packed up for a friend, drop them off immediately.
11. DON’T KEEP THINGS THAT ARE BROKEN.
This is a simple but oft-neglected ground rule.
12. LET KIDS APPRECIATE THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN CLUTTERED AND UNCLUTTERED.
There’s no better motivation for keeping things tidy. This is a huge argument for occasionally doing a large-scale decluttering.
In the photo above, we moved everything (that weighed less than 100 pounds) off my boys’ floor and into the hallway so they could appreciate the difference. Then we carefully decided together what belonged in their room, what belonged elsewhere, and what should be given away.
13. YOUR TIDYING ISN’T GOING TO END.
There is no one-and-done tidying up for parents: kids grow and change quickly, and so do their belongings. Frame your expectations accordingly and you’ll be much happier.
What are your best tips for tidying up with kids? What are your pain points?
P.S. The 7 basic of tidying up according to Marie Kondo, and The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up, six months later.
Books mentioned in this post: