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How to Declutter with Kids; Real-Life Ideas that Work

Can you really declutter with kids? It seems like all of Pinterest is full of tips to live with less. But what if there are children involved? I am here to tell you that it’s possible, but you’re going to need to have some extra tricks up your sleeve. Today I am sharing the best tips from real moms to declutter your house when you have kids.

Boy with a box of toys to donate. Text: How to declutter your house with kids.

How to Declutter Your House With Kids

As a mom, you may be asking yourself this question on the daily.

Keeping a clean house with little people in it can be a challenge.

In fact, dealing with clutter and the feeling that you are constantly picking up can lead to increased stress and anxiety. That’s what happened to me.

Luckily, I discovered that when I minimized and decluttered the toys life became so much easier.

But how do you make it happen in real-life? When you still have dinner to cook, clothes to wash and messy kids who leave their stuff everywhere?

It all comes down taking control over:

1. What comes into your house

2. What goes out of your house

3. How you handle what you allow you to stay in your house

Related Post: How to Become a Minimalist Family

Rules for Decluttering Toys

I have found that establishing rules is as beneficial for me as it is for the kids.

It helped me to realize that I was actually part of the problem, since I am the one purchasing most of the items that come into our home.

One of the first steps to successfully dealing with toy clutter is become more conscious about your habits and tendencies:

  • Do you buy your kid(s) lots of toys?
  • How long do you keep toys that are broken or being ignored?
  • Do you have a system for storing, organizing or displaying toys that aren’t being used?
  • Does your child even play with the toys they have?

Answering these questions will help you to see where the weak spots are with your current situation.

If you keep buying your kids toys, many of them will end up broken and ignored. You will have a bunch of junk sitting around your house that makes a huge mess, which mostly consists of toys they don’t really play with anyway.

See how that happens?

That’s why we need rules!

Rule #1 – Start Without the Kids

In the beginning stages of decluttering kids make everything very difficult. The best thing to do is to get started when they are sleeping, at school or watching a movie.

You may even want to send them to grandma’s or hire a babysitter.

I am not saying that you are going to get rid of all their stuff without them knowing.

You just need the time to make some progress, and that means they need to be busy doing something else.

Later they will be involved in the process and learn how to help.

Rule #2 – No Broken Toys Stay

This is often the easiest place to start because it’s hard to justify keeping a broken toy.

Oh wait, you’re going to fix it? No you’re not, if you were going to you would have done it already! #truthbomb

Grab a garbage bag and set the timer for 15 minutes -this is going to be quick, like ripping off a band-aid!

Go through their rooms and toss anything that is broken:

  • missing a piece
  • stopped working
  • dried out

This goes straight to the garbage can outside.

Don’t let it sit inside because the kids will see it and beg to keep broken junk.

Don’t let yourself think you should donate it because nobody wants broken toys. Just toss it!

Rule #3 – Sort Toys by Type

Now that the garbage is out of the way you can see what remains.

The next step is to start sorting the toys into categories:

  • Building toys (blocks, legos, magnatiles)
  • Stuffed animals
  • Vehicles
  • Dress up clothes
  • Craft Supplies

This is a great time to get the kids involved.

Sorting is a great skill for them to practice and develop.

(If by chance, your family has a TON of toys and the idea of pulling them all out and sorting them seems entirely overwhelming then I would suggest just doing one category at a time. For example, focus on just finding all the vehicle toys and sorting them by type. Then tackle a different category of toy when you are completely finished.)

Next, you are going to have your child choose their absolute favorites from each category. If they start to choose everything as their favorite, assign a number. I like using their age: “Choose your 5 favorite cars”.

Once they choose their favorites send them off to play with them, while you get back to work.

****If you are ready to kick some serious clutter to the curb, skip Rule #4 and head straight to Rule #5****

Rule #4 – Set Up a Toy Rotation

Now that the toys are all sorted by category, it will be easy to create your own toy library.

The best part of a toy rotation is many times the kids forget about the toys that are out of sight. If this happens, you are ready for Rule #5.

Related Post: 6 Crazy Simple Steps to Start a Toy Rotation and be Clutter-Free!

Rule #5 – Time to Donate the Toys

So,  you set up a toy rotation (or maybe you skipped that part and you’re ready to dive right in)

Either way, you have decided it’s time to get the toys out of your house.

That means it’s time to donate the toys.

Once you make this decision, it needs to be done right away. Allowing a “to be donated” bin of toys to sit around your house is a recipe for disaster.

Your kids will find it and all your hard work will be erased as they drag every item out of the bin.

Instead, put it in your car…..NOW! The trunk or storage area is best, so the kids don’t see it.

Now, make sure you take them to your desired donation location as soon as possible. Otherwise, the only thing you accomplished was moving clutter from your house into your car.

Not sure where to donate? Here are a few ideas

  • Local Goodwill or Salvation Army
  • A preschool or after school program
  • Women’s shelter that allows children

Whew! You made it through the most difficult part. Now it’s time to set rules as you move forward toward your new clutterfree life with kids!

Maintaining a Decluttered Home with Kids

WooHoo! You made it through the initial decluttering session.

Now all you have to do is keep the toy clutter from creeping back in and taking over again.

Here are a few quick tips to help you keep your house clean and organized:

Avoid Toy Boxes

Toy boxes are convenient when you are trying to put away toys, since you just throw everything in.

However, that is also the problem with them. Toys just get thrown in on top of each other. Oftentimes, getting broken when they are thrown in. Then, everything on the bottom is forgotten.

Instead, once you reduce the number of toys put them out on display. This is part of the reason that kids go crazy in toy stores. The toys are accessible and set out in a way that is enticing and encourages play.

You can recreate that in your home with a few strategically placed shelves and storage cabinets.

Make sure each item has a home

It’s easy for items to get left around the house when they don’t have a specific place they are supposed to be.

Once you have decluttered, make sure that each toy and all of your children’s clothes have a “home”.

Then, when you say to put it away – each item has a specific place to go.

Stop Buying Unnecessary Items

I said this earlier in the post, but it is worth mentioning again:

Often, we are the one’s creating the clutter problem in the first place because we buy the toys and clothes that we are complaining about.

Before your purchase something for your children ask yourself:

  • Is this really something they need?
  • Do we have a place to put this?
  • Am I just tempted to buy this because it’s a good deal?
  • Is this toy enriching and engaging, or does the toy do all the work?
  • Will this make our lives easier or better?

If the item is not essential or helpful don’t bring it into your home.

How can I teach my kids to declutter?

While you may be in charge of kick starting the process of decluttering your children’s bedrooms, in the long run you want to teach them how to do it themselves.

This will make life easier for you, and will also give them essential skills to maintain a clean home when they become adults.

Here are some simple strategies that you can teach your children to help keep their rooms clean and organized:

Make it a Game

As an elementary school teacher I know that you can trick (er, I mean convince) kids to do just about anything by turning it into a game.

Decluttering toys is no different.

You can grab my Free Printable Declutter Bingo Game here!

One Toy In – One Toy Out 

Teach your child to  put one toy away before taking out the next,

Not only does it keep the space organized, it helps them to learn responsibility and crucial life skills so that later on they  won’t be overwhelmed by the chaos of clutter!

Label Toy Storage Areas

Even young children can learn to put items away if we make it clear and easy for them.

I use this strategy in my classroom to help keep it neat and tidy too.

You can use short words, pictures or photographs to show children exactly where an item belongs when it is not being used.

It even helps to take a picture of the area when it is perfectly organized, for children to refer to when they are cleaning up. You can simply say, “Make it look like the picture!”

Do a quick purge before celebrations

Prevent clutter from building back up again by having a good clear out before their birthday and before Christmas.

Donate, recycle or sell any toys you know they no longer play with so there’s plenty of room for any new ones they’re like to receive as presents.

Give them an incentive

Offer to help sell their unused toys or clothes and they get some of the profit!

This works especially well for kids who just have a hard time letting go of belongings.

I recently found my daughter’s old but in great shape toddler bedding. When I mentioned I was going to sell it on Facebook, she balked at the idea. But then her face brightened and she asked, “Can I have some of the money?”

We made a deal, then she went right back to her room and brought out some toys she’d outgrown but couldn’t bear to part with. All of a sudden, decluttering became something worth doing for her!

You could also create an point system for each item they donate. You could choose different activities that they want to do and have them earn points by donating toys in order to earn the activity.

Lead by example

Kids are naturals at imitating what they see and hear. This is most evident when your two year old starts saying that “adults only” phrase on repeat 😉

By keeping your house tidy, donating unused items, and clearning clutter regularly your child will naturally pick up these habits over time.

When you clean out your pantry or go through your own closet invite your children help. You can give them a chance to participate by asking them questions like:

  • Do you think we still need this?
  • When was the last time we used this?
  • What is the expiration date?
  • Do we have more than one of these?

By thinking about and responding to these questions your child will feel like they have the skills and abilities to make decision about the items in their environment.

Once they can answer these questions, they will be able to use them for their own items and space. Tada! You have just done your part to prevent your child from ending up on an episode of Hoarders in 20 years 😉 Ha!

Final Thoughts on Decluttering With Kids

While there is no magic wand that you can wave to instantly rid your house of clutter when you have kids, you can definitely make huge strides in as little as a weekend.

Decluttering with kids is about more than just picking up toys. It’s about giving kids a manageable about of toys and the skills to learn how to organize and clean up after themselves.

While you may initially feel like you’re taking away their joy, you will soon realize that everyone in your home is much happier without all the clutter and overwhelm that comes from having too many toys.

More Tips for Handling Kid Clutter:

Looking for the best tips to declutter with kids? In this post 10 moms share their best organizing ideas to clear the clutter from your home once and for all. Get your life back with simple storage solutions for toys that will save you from cleaning all day long. Minimalist motivation from real moms.
How to declutter with kids when you have no ideas where to start.


  1. Great advice! We try not to get a bunch of stuff for our kids but some how things always accumulate with grandparent gifts… for every holiday!!! Definotely getting rid of a bunch of things things the summer!!

    1. We do the same thing – and I have to agree….grandparents are the worst!!! Last year my mom bought my kids an oversized teddy bear – it literally took up 50% of my son’s room. I looked at her like she was crazy!!!! After a year of begging I have finally convinced her that in needs a new home 😉

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