My latest adventure in tidying was with a client with three small children. She contacted me for help organizing a playroom that had just been ravaged by the spoils of a generous Christmas season. Most parents know what that feels like -- and it’s certainly not merry or bright.
My client faced two major dilemmas: 1) the space was large, yet there was still stuff covering every surface, and 2) she feared having to negotiate with three kids under the age of six about what stayed and what was donated or recycled. We addressed these concerns with a simple three-step process.
Step 1 - Remove & Sort everything
First, let’s talk about large rooms. When it comes to clutter, sometimes too much space can wreak as much havoc as too little space, because when an area is large, and especially when it is undefined, there's an assumption that there's ample space for everything—- it becomes a catch-all for stuff, big and small. This was the case for my client’s playroom, and she felt like she was drowning in a sea of toys, books, puzzle and lego pieces, and the dress-up accessories of all kinds.
My first step when organizing is to pull everything out of wherever it is stored. Empty every closet, shelf, drawer, and cabinet. Do it mechanically, and make sure you get to the bottom of every bin, basket, and box before you make any decisions. It doesn’t take as much time as you think.
Next, you’ll sort everything in the room into categories. As you’re sorting, notice things that are broken or missing parts, outgrown, or otherwise unnecessary, and toss them as you go. Think critically about each item that passes through your hands, but don’t overthink it. (I know this is a delicate balance — just make sure you don’t end up in what I call “analysis paralysis.” Our categories for the playroom were books, puzzles, games, figurines, legos, blocks, cars, train, dress-up clothes & accessories, coloring stuff, kitchen set, dolls & accessories.
If you’d like, you can involve the kids in the sorting process, but make sure that they understand it isn’t play time (yet). Especially if you’re outnumbered, it may be best to limit their involvement to the decision-making process for what to keep, which is the next step.
Step 2 - Keep ONLY what sparks joy
Once everything has been categorized, have each child pick the items that spark joy for him or her. This is It’s important that each child only decide on his or her own items, and shared items can be decided together. Through this process, you might learn new things about your child - maybe they don’t like puzzles, yet they have accumulated over 20 puzzles. That clears out a lot of space for the stuff they really like!
Now, the next thing I’m going to say is not necessarily in line with the KonMari method, but in my work I’ve learned that most moms prefer to have more decision-making power here, which I can understand. KonMari says that there is not a specific number or amount of stuff to aim for — that all that matters is keeping what sparks joy. But moms tell me “the kids’ll say it all sparks joy! They don’t see the mess!”, so I say, if you have limited space, you should limit the number of items within each category that can stay, and count enthusiastically with the items they choose, without judgment. Remember, we’re picking which toys we want to keep, not which to discard. When they find items that spark joy, it’s a wonderful thing to celebrate and be grateful for. How lucky are we that we get to witness children in a state of joy?
- If your young children do not have the capacity to verbalize what brings them joy, you can certainly rely on your observation of him or her at play to understand the fervor and frequency with which their toys are played. The point is to edit the space so only the favorite and best belongings are kept. Next, we’ll set up organization systems with intention, and mark them clearly so everyone can follow it moving forward.
Step 3 - Create zones, set up organization system, & label
After categorizing and choosing what will be kept, the excess should be removed (remember - free haul-away of donations and recycling is included with each organizing session!). Once you see what you’re left working with, begin evaluating the size, shape and function of each category to consider storage options —smaller items should be grouped and enclosed, and larger items will need surface space on the floor or shelf. (Generally toy chests become untidy dumping ground so I don’t generally recommend them). Consider children’s reach and motor skills when devising organizational systems and make sure they will be cognitively and physically able to clean up without your assistance.
Prior to our session, my client’s playroom was well set with storage systems— she had two of those cube shelving units from ikea with canvas cube storage bins, command hooks on the wall for dress-up clothes, some wall-mounted shelving, and a closet with more built-in shelves (perfect for those items requiring parental supervision like play-doh, markers, and paints).
With the kids help, we selected a bin or box for each category of small items, and shelf space for the larger playsets and dollhouses. We made a label to go with each category (the kids loved helping me spell on my label-maker). Before we knew it, every item had been assigned a home. We even had a practice clean up session to get the kids excited about tidying.
If this seems overwhelming and time consuming, I am here to help. My trusty label maker and I can help you find peace in your space, no matter what form your clutter takes. Take a look at these before and after pictures and then contact me for a complimentary in person consultation!