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How To Control Kid Clutter; 5 Easy Strategies that Actually Work

Have you been feeling overwhelmed by the toys, clothes and other random objects your child collects taking over your home? In today’s post we are sharing simple steps you can take that to control kid clutter so you can relax and enjoy your home again!

Is a clutter-free home with kids even possible?

Kids are adorable, wonderful, little bundles of cuteness and joy, but, let’s face it, they do come with a lot of “things”.  

The “things” start before you even have the baby, when your shower leaves you with toys, clothes, gadgets, and more swaddling blankets than any 8 pound human could ever possibly need.

You get a new deluge of useless plastic items once the baby is actually born, but it doesn’t start to get truly problematic until your child is old enough to start moving things around on their own.  That’s when the real fun begins.

Your neatly-folded piles of laundry (at least on the lowest shelves) begin systematically unfolding themselves, any drawer without a baby lock becomes a junk drawer, and the toys…oh the toys!  (*gasps dramatically a-la-Gone-with-the-Wind*)

There’s no doubt about it, kids definitely make it slightly harder to keep things in one place, not to mention the right place.

What follows are my favorite five strategies for keeping your house clean, even with tiny monsters…I mean kids…running around all over your house.   

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Strategy #1:  Themed Bins

The number one strategy in my arsenal is the strategic use of themed bins.

In each of our kids’ rooms, as well as in our common area, we have a bookshelf laden with those 1’x1’x1’ fabric storage boxes.

A single bookshelf usually holds between 6 and 9 boxes.  I then give each box a purpose. This purpose is a one- or two-word description of what goes in the box.

While the description doesn’t have to be classy or traditional, it does have to be kid friendly. 

For my 13 year-old daughter’s room the categories ended up something like this:

    • Gym Shorts
    • Drawing Materials
    • Electronics and Cords
    • Slime
    • Fuzzy Socks
  • Sentimental Stuff

For my almost 3 year-old it’s more like this:

    • Stuffed Animals
    • Dress Up
    • Balls
    • Cooking Toys
    • Tools
  • Incredibles Stuff (yes, she really likes incredibles)

Benefit for Smaller Kids:

The main benefit of this approach for little kids is that it’s easily understandable.  It’s very hard to explain negative space, right angles, and the rule of three to a toddler.  However, “put all your cooking stuff in the cooking bin” is quite reasonable. This gets them trained early that everything has a “home” and that “home” should make sense.


Benefit for Older Kids:

This approach is great for older kids because when you inevitably find things where they shouldn’t be (e.g. a math textbook left on the kitchen table, a craft left out in the living room, etc.) you can just casually put it in the correct bin.  Then later, when the inevitable “Mooooom? Where’d you put my math boooook?” gets shouted down the hall, you can calmly reply that it’s exactly where it belongs. By training your older kids that things will naturally gravitate to their “home”, they will (eventually) learn to put things in those homes themselves.

Strategy #2:  The Two Minute Rule

This is probably the one single policy that has made the biggest difference in my house.  I describe it in depth in this blog post on the secret to keeping your house clean (all the time), but the basic premise is incredibly simple.

When you come upon something that needs cleaning, organizing, or other housekeeping attention, you apply a single litmus test in that moment:

    • If the task would take more than two minutes to perform, you immediately write it down on your to do list.
  • If the task would take less than two minutes to perform, you do it immediately.

This means that spare socks get thrown immediately into the laundry whenever you see them lying around.  That Amazon box gets carried upstairs right away because it only takes 90 seconds to do so. This rule lets you nip in the bud all the little tasks before they end up piling up and turning into big, hairy tasks.

On the human behavior front, this rule is also great because either way you are setting up the muscle memory to take immediate action on things.  There is no scenario where “meh, I’ll deal with it later” is an acceptable answer.

Either it gets done or it gets scheduled, but it never gets ignored.  This starts breaking down the neural pathways in your brain’s procrastination center and directing that energy into more productive ways of thinking.

organized teen bedroom

Strategy #3:   Leveraging Your (Unpaid) Help

Technically, it’s only fair that the children who cause all this mess help you in alleviating it.

Practically, anyone who’s ever been around a child knows that it’s waaaaay easier to just clean something yourself than it is to try and harrass a child into doing it.  However, bear with me here because I’m going to try to convince you to do it anyway.

The key to getting kids to do anything is consistency.  Make them do it once and it’ll be a battle. Make them do it daily and it’ll turn into a habit after a certain (variable) number of fights.  (Once they know you’re not giving in, they generally acquiesce pretty quickly.)

If you make it a habit to help kids clean up their own messes, it will (I promise) eventually sink in that they’re going to have to do it by themselves.  

My favorite trick is the sentence “we’ll do *insert fun thing you already had on the schedule* as soon as you’ve cleaned up your *fill in the blank*”.

  • For instance, “we’ll go get Chick-fil-a for lunch as soon as you put all your toys back in the right bins”.

And then you sit down and do something else like it doesn’t matter to you when or if it gets done.  

For my toddler, there is no stronger weapon than my seeming ambivalence. If she sees it bugs me, she knows she can get me to do it myself if she plays her cards right.  If I ask her to clean then sit down at my computer to work until “she’s ready”, she knows I’d happily sit there for hours while she procrastinates, so she just cleans up to hasten the arrival of her waffle fries.

Long story short, it will involve doing things “the hard way” and helping them through the first seven (hundred) times they have to clean something, but eventually you’ll have kids that *gasp* clean up after themselves.

Strategy #4:  Strategic Use of “Throw” Baskets

Other than the two minute rule, this might be one of the biggest game changers for my house’s overall level of cleanliness.  Before I instituted this system, there was a horrible chain of events that happened every time one of my kids left something out of place.

For example, let’s say on one hypothetical morning my stepdaughter would leave her shoes in the middle of the hallway.  I wouldn’t want to leave them there because it would drive me crazy all day, so I’d take them upstairs to her room. 

This happens because, as clean-loving adult humans, we don’t care that our kids should technically be doing this for themselves nearly as much as we care about not having to look at the dirty thing all day until they come home from school to do it.  And it’s not like I have anything close to the willpower to leave shoes laying around a common area because by the time she got home from school I’d be twitching like a mental patient.

How to use storage baskets to tidy-up


On each of the two floors of our house we have a set of “throw baskets”, one per family member.

These baskets can be any size, but should be at least big enough for a textbook, a pair of shoes, or an average sized toy.

Any time you find something left in a common area where it shouldn’t be the item simply gets placed in that family member’s throw box to be dealt with whenever they clean it out next.  

The item is immediately “put away” (at least it’s out of your to do pile and out of the way), but you didn’t get sucked into a vortex of cleaning other people’s stuff in the meantime.

Later, when the child/spouse goes looking for their misplaced thing, you can teach them that anything left not in it’s “home” will be placed in their nearest basket.  Once they get used to this pattern, it will eliminate a shocking amount of household chaos and stress, not only for you but for your family as well.

Strategy #5:  Prioritization

My final strategy is derived from the management/marketing rule called the Pareto Principle.

This rule says that 80% of the results you get will be due to 20% of your actions

In the world of housekeeping, this means that only a handful of your tasks are going to be responsible for the majority of the way your house looks.  In my experience, this group of “20% tasks” is comprised of 3 to 4 daily tasks.

 And these are the ones that make the biggest difference in how clean my house feels.

For my house, I’ve found that it looks pretty darn clean, if I can make time for four tasks every morning.  If I vacuum, wipe the kitchen counters, windex the family room windows, and wipe the dog drool off the walls (yes, I have a Great Dane…this is a real thing I have to do), my house will look pretty darn clean, even if the other tasks go undone.

Obviously this will be different for each house, for some people it might be dusting.  Others it could be just organizational tasks, rather than cleaning type tasks. If you find your “20% tasks” and make time to do just those 3 or 4 tasks each morning. You’ll be shocked at the huge difference it makes.

The Keys to Successfully Tackle Kid-Related Clutter

Being able to control kid clutter is no small feat, but it is doable if you follow these steps: 

  • Make sure you have a plan that makes it easy to clean up (utilizing storage boxes and strategic “throw” boxes).  
  • Prioritize ahead of time to see which tasks really make the biggest difference
  • Don’t let the small things pile up
  • Play the long game when it comes to training your kids to clean up after themselves.

It may feel like you’re swimming against the current (because you are), but hopefully these few tweaks will help give you a secret advantage in the war against clutter.

5 strategies to control kid clutter


Today’s post was written by Liz at The Stay Sane Mom. While away at grad school Liz met and married born-and-raised New Yorker and somehow convinced him to ditch the winters and move to sunny California. Together, they parent two daughters (an instagram-obsessed teen and a toddlernado), two dogs (a ‘fraidy-cat Great Dane and a mad scientist trapped in a husky’s body), a rabbit the size of a large housecat, and a modest-sized herd of dust bunnies. When Liz gets to be a real human (aka nights and nap time), she’s a PhD candidate in business psychology, freelance web developer/graphic designer, workout masochist, and avid bookworm.

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