It always amazes me how a tiny six-pound baby results in a thirty or forty-pound weight gain in his loving (but swollen) mother. That doesn't change once they're born—the amount of stuff they need far outstrips them in weight, and grows right alongside them.
But at some point—usually after you've found yourself stepping on and picking up a bazillion stray Lego blocks for the fifth day in a row—you realize that enough is enough. They've got toys from home, art projects from preschool, and soon enough there will be tests and homework papers to join the mess. With that in mind, here are some tips to help you reduce the amount of clutter your child produces, manage what's left over, and prevent it from coming into your home right from the start.
Guess what: it's okay to let your children know that their toys and things don't belong all over the house. Establish limits on the amount of clutter that your child can accumulate before it accumulates, and you've won half the battle. You can give your child a file folder for her artwork, a drawer for finished crafts, a box for trinkets and treasures, and a bin for stuffed toys. Then limit her "stuff" to whatever can fit into these containers; everything else has to go. Help her go over what's inside every now and then—when she gets a new toy, at the end of the year, when her folders are bursting—and decide which things she no longer wants. Then sell, donate, recycle or throw them away. If she's especially attached to some of her creations, you can frame them, put them in a special folder, or take photos of them (photos work especially well for bulky crafts!).
Get Your Child Involved
When children have a say in what they are allowed to keep—and what to do with the things they don't get to keep—that sense of empowerment goes a long way towards getting their cooperation. Give them their own corner (and loose-change jar) at your garage sale so they can sell their old belongings. Help them decide which items they would like to donate, and take them with you when you drop the items off. Let them pick out and decorate their own bins and folders to organize the items they still have. They'll gain a sense of ownership and a sense of pride in keeping their very own spaces neat. Don't forget to heap on the praise!
Set a Routine
Every parent knows that children thrive on routine. You've probably got one already for getting out the door or getting to bed. Why not establish one for getting organized? Set an end-of-day Clean Sweep routine by investing five or ten minutes at end of each day, to straighten things up and organize the art table, toy room and bedroom. And don't stop at the playroom—as with everything else, it's important to set a good example. If you show them you value a tidy house, they will value it too.
Focus on Experiences, Not Stuff
There are an infinite number of ways to have a good time without buying things and adding to the clutter in your home. On the occasions that you decide to give your child a treat for a special accomplishment or occasion, you don't have to resort to material rewards. Instead of buying your child a toy, treat him to a day at the zoo or an afternoon at the movies. When your child's birthday rolls around, resist the temptation to purchase dollar-store trinkets for party goody bags. Instead, give each child a certificate for a small cone at your local ice-cream store. Or a packet of flower seeds and a small pot filled with soil. In the end, it's not about the stuff, but the fun memories your child creates with it. So why bother with all that "stuff" in the first place?
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