7 Ways to Help a Sentimental Child Declutter | From Overwhelmed to Organized: 7 Ways to Help a Sentimental Child Declutter

Monday, May 19, 2014

7 Ways to Help a Sentimental Child Declutter

I mentioned a few weeks ago that May and early June are going to be really busy for me with my hubby away, a "limited screen-time" family vacation, and preparing for the Trained Professional Organizer exam.  

I asked a few of my fellow organizing bloggers to guest post so I won't be completely overwhelmed and you can still benefit from some great organizing tips!  I'm so happy to be able to introduce these friends of mine to you.  Please make them feel welcome here :)

Here's a guest post from my friend Alli!

Hi everyone, I'm Alli from from over at Scattered Squirrel, and I cannot tell you how excited I am to be here. I want to start off by saying a HUGE thank you to Hilda for having me. I've been following Hilda's blog for almost two years now, and she never fails to inspire me. It truly is an honor to be here guest posting.

As I'm sure you know, at the beginning of this year Hilda started the 365 Items in 365 Days Challenge. I signed up the minute I heard about it, and have been slowly working my way through our home looking at our stuff with new eyes, and I even got the rest of my family on board.

Our biggest success came from a very surprising source. Our youngest son Liam got rid of over 100 items. If you knew Liam, you would know that this is beyond a huge success. You see, Liam is a very sentimental child with a very impressive memory. He remembers things I have forgotten. This can be a bit of a problem when it comes time to do a declutter of his room. They aren't just toys to him, they are precious treasures from the people he loves most. He'll tell you who gave him what and when they gave it to him. They all mean something to him, and that can pose some challenges when it comes time to let some go to make way for new ones.

Thankfully though, I've found some things that help me help him, and make it a little easier on all of us when it comes time to sort through his stuff. Maybe, they'll help you too. 

1. Ask Questions and Use Their Answers to Help Guide Them

Asking questions is a great way to find out how your son or daughter thinks and feels about their toys and other belongings. Knowing how they think and feel can give you a great starting point to figure out how to help them declutter.

This may mean that the process of decluttering their room takes more than an afternoon, on the other hand, it also turns the task from a chore to quality time spent with you. Ask good questions, and really listen to their answers. Here are some questions I ask my youngest quite often.

"What is it about this that you like?"
"Do you remember the last time you played with this?"
"Are you choosing to keep this to play with or for another reason?"

Use their answers to help you pick and choose which decluttering battle to fight. Not only that, but their answers can help you set up boundaries for future decluttering days.

For example, my youngest likes to keeps things that were given to him by family. He has a wicked memory and will tell me who gave him what. Because we live away from family and he doesn't get to see them that often, I respect and honor his choice to keep gifts that make him think of them. So, I allow those ones to stay, until after the next holiday, birthday, etc.... this way something new from his loved ones has come in, and I find he's more willing to part with the old item.

Setting up systems like this lead me to my next tip....

2. Set Boundaries, and Stick to Them

Just like any other area of life, taking care of our belongings requires some boundaries. Teaching our children to only have things they love, use, and play with, from an early age will set them up for organizational success in the future. Just like our homes have limits, so do their rooms and play spaces. Setting up boundaries you can live with and stick to can help you help your kids to focus on what is important.

Some of my boundaries are:
  1. If it is broken and cannot be fixed it must be recycled or garbaged.
  2. If it has collected so much dust we can print our name in it, it needs to find a new home.
  3. If it's a gift from a loved one, it can be set aside until something new comes along.
  4. If you're not willing to let go of some items, new ones cannot come in. That includes Christmas, Birthdays and other special events.
To be truthful, number four is hard for me to stick to, but stick to it I do. There are other things that can be given as gifts that are not toys, but are needed, like clothes, books, coloring and craft supplies, etc.... On the other hand, I don't expect either of my boys to get rid of massive amounts of stuff at a time. A good faith effort on their part satisfies rule number 4.

3. Make a Maybe Box

I know, I know, I know... it goes against almost all the standard rules and concepts of organizing, but I'm a HUGE believer in finding and using what works for YOU, even if it means thinking outside the box, or heck, throwing the whole box away.

The idea of the Maybe Box isn't to make it easy for child to say, "Maybe I will need it, want it, or miss it", but instead it gives them a chance to learn how to evaluate items. I do this for myself with Clutter Boxes and it works really well. Here's how to set it up for success.
  • Choose a box or bin that is not too large and not too small. You don't want all toys ending up in the Maybe Box.
  • Explain to your son or daughter that they can only fill that one box with maybe items.  Once it's full they either have to pull something out or not put anything else into it. This is where asking questions can really help you help your child to make a choice.
  • When you're finished with the sorting process, store the Maybe Box somewhere that is hard for your child to get to. The last thing you want is for them to stumble upon the box and find the treasure of rediscovering everything all over again. The purpose is to see if they truly miss the items in the box. If they do, they will ask you about the toy or toys. If they ask for an item from the box, obviously they have missed it, love it, and by all means give it back to them. Not all the items, just the ones asked for.
  • Mark the box with a date, say 30 days from the day you did the sort, or whatever you are comfortable with. When that date comes, seal the box and donate the toys, or give them away, or sell them. I prefer to talk to my kids about this the day we do the sorting. I like them to have input into what happens to their things. We decide where the remaining items will be taken and when the date comes I take it to where it needs to go.
It may sound like an extra step, but using a tool like this can really help. Not just with learning to let go of items, but it can help make decision making easier, especially for those "I'm not sure" items.

Here's a printable "Maybe Box" label I created for you.

4. Let Them Make a Mess

This may go totally against house rules, but giving them time to make a mess before decluttering can be a great help. Give them a pass on cleaning up their space for a certain amount of time.

I gave our youngest TWO weeks of clean up freedom before we started. When it was time to start sorting I was able to start on a positive note.

Me: "Everything on the floor is a keep item, unless it's broken."
Liam: "How do you know that?"
Me: "Because these are obviously the toys you like and play with the most, so they get to stay for sure!"
Liam: "Oh, that was so easy, I thought this would be hard."

We started by sorting what was on the floor into groups by kind of toy, putting them back into the containers where they belonged and setting them aside.

OK, that's not the whole truth. That was my plan, but my kiddo totally surprised me by pointing out stuff on the floor that he had pulled out but then decided he didn't want to play with, and so the donate pile was started. As we went through the items on the floor, he kept adding to the pile, which totally surprised me.

I don't know if it was just the timing, if he was ready to start giving stuff away, or if it was starting off with "We're keeping all of this!" but either way it was an awesome experience. Made even better when it was time to turn our attention to the items left on the shelves and in their bins. It was so easy to make a a quick sort of each items because Liam already knew these weren't his favorites. To be sure, we ended up keeping many of them, but the sorting process took less time.

5. The Importance of Keepsakes

Create a keep sake box for your child to store their treasured items in. Allow them to choose the ones that mean the most to them, even if they no longer use them, and store them away.

There is NOTHING wrong with keeping a few items to hold dear. I know many people say giving away the item doesn't take away the memory, but at the same time, a tangible tactile reminder of a moment or person can be a comfort and a blessing. This doesn't mean save everything, but keeping a few items, in a special place is a great way to find a balance between letting go and holding on.

Or maybe you can turn items into artwork with shadow boxes, or use them as decorations on higher shelves. Rest assured that many childhood treasures will one day move on.  Allowing them to keep them for a little while longer in the form of a keepsake is a great way to let your child know that you understand.

6. Limit What Comes In

If you have a limit on what comes into your home, and into your child's room or play space, then there is a limit on how much decluttering you have to do. Use those answers from your child, and their favorite toys as your guide.

If your little boy like Ninja Turtle action figures, then when it comes to birthdays and Christmas, be specific when people ask what to get your son. If your little girl loves Barbie, same goes.  Add to the toys they love and play with, and don't be afraid to be specific.  Most people want to give gifts that will be loved and used for a long time, not discarded in a month or two.

In addition, maybe limit what you bring in too. Sure, there was a great sale on that toy you know your child is just gonna love. There is nothing wrong with picking it up and saving it for a special day instead of giving it to them right away.

7. Give it Purpose and Meaning

This has been one of the best things I've done to help Liam learn to pass things on. Before you start decluttering talk to you son or daughter about what will happen to toys they choose to let go of, and let them have a say in what happens.

Maybe they have a younger brother or sister or cousin who could use or would love to have them. Talk to them about how there are children in the world less fortunate, who have very little in the way of toys, and tell them about places that you can take the toys your child is giving up, where they will make sure they go to deserving children. Talk to them about the loss of toys that comes from natural disaster, and teach them about how they can give their items to another child who has lost everything. And give them the choice of where to donate their giveaway toys.

Most children, especially sentimental children, feel things deeply. Giving meaning and purpose to the declutteing can sometimes really help. It can a turn a chore into a labor of love. It stops being about getting rid of stuff and starts being about helping others.

These seven things have made such a big impact in helping both our boys, but Liam in particular, learn to let go of the clutter. I hope some of these tips are useful for you. I can only speak to what has worked for us, but these have been so useful.

When it comes right down to it, you have to do what you feel is best for your child. Keep in mind, that letting go of personal items is a deeply personal journey. I've found that if you honour that, show your child support, and continue to talk and help them along the way, bit by bit it will get easier for them.  And one day something will click for them, and you'll find yourself surprised, awed, and maybe a little teary eyed as their give away piles grow without any urging from you.  Don't forget to download the Maybe Box printable!

Hi there, I'm Alli, from Scattered Squirrel.  In addition to being a blogger I'm also a wife, mother, aspiring entrepreneur, printable junkie, and book lover.   Being slightly scatter-brained and a recovering clutterbug I know, first hand, what a struggle it can be to find harmony in the chaos.  It is my hope that by sharing ideas (and printables), I can help others find their own path to living a more organized life on their own terms. 

You can find me at ScatteredSquirrel.com, or on Facebook, Google+ or Pinterest.

Thanks so much for guest posting Alli!  These are really great tips!  Boy do I need them to help my sentimental son :)   I love that Maybe Box printable too.  Thanks for creating that for all of us!

For more tips on decluttering and purging items, follow my Pinterest board:

You can also get more decluttering ideas in the 31 days of easy decluttering series.

Happy organizing!

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  1. This is such a great idea! My youngest is this way, perhaps it will help him. Thank you so much!

    1. It can such a struggle to try to get them to let go can't it? I hope you find some of the tips useful.

  2. What great ideas! Thanks for the tips!

  3. This a good idea. I think I need to do this on myself. I'm very sentimental when it comes to things my family gave me in the past. I will definitely try this out.

    1. I'm a sentamentalist too, :-) It can be so hard to let go of some things. A keepsake box works great for me, it allows to me to keep some of the things I'm not ready to part with, even if I have no where to put them right at the moment.

  4. Oh negotiation is a good one! How do you negotiate?

  5. I love this post! I am very sentimental about the stuff I keep and so is my youngest. He also has Autism and absolutely adores collecting little things. Every one of his items has a story. Now that he is 10 and his collection is getting a little crazy I suggested that we take pictures of his collection, write down why it's special to him and make a book this summer. My plan is to go through his collection once his book is complete and hopefully it will be easier for him to part with some of the items.

    1. That is a beautiful idea, and I'm sure it will be something you both treasure forever.

  6. The timing of this post is perfect. I'm taking a full week for my children to clean their rooms. I'm giving them one task per day. My goal is to teach them to take care of their room on their own, in less than 30 minutes.

    Wish me luck.

    1. That's a fantastic goal, and one that will come in so handy for them for all of their lives. I wish you all the best of luck!

  7. Great comments everyone! I knew this post would resonate with people. Thanks again Alli for sharing your tips!

    1. Thanks for having me Hilda, it was an honor to share this post here! :-)

  8. The first way to lead your child is to spell sentimental correctly in the graphic, which is now all over Pinterest.

    1. Oh my goodness, I cannot believe I never noticed that before, and it's a shame it's all over Pinterest with the incorrect spelling. I try hard to make sure I triple check the spelling, but sometimes I miss things, I'm only human. Thank for pointing that out.

    2. It's fixed now Tinabobina99. Thanks for bringing it to our attention!

  9. I can use all the tips I can get when it comes to getting my daughter to let go of stuff. Love the floor idea!

    1. Hope these help! Some kids are more naturally sentimental than others, but it's good to teach them how to let go of things early so they learn to make good choices about their belongings later in life :)

  10. These are absolutely wonderful suggestions! I have a sentimental child who keeps everything (who, by the way, is also named Liam) and I can't wait to try a few of these suggestions with him. We are in the middle of a 40 Bags in 40 Days challenge and he did an amazing job on his room. Here's my favorite story about his hoarding tendencies: http://www.onthisnewmorning.com/2015/01/you-dont-have-to-eat-potato.html

    1. Jess I love that story... which has lots of similarities to things that happen in my home! Good luck with the rest of your 40 days challenge!

  11. Some of my favorite items in adulthood are ones that I squirreled away in my "Ally Box." Each of my sisters and I got a small under-the-bed rubbermaid container with our name on it- and that is where we kept our keepsakes and treasures. When it got too full, it was time to do some culling. I still have a little sailboat my grandpa made me and some other great items that I still treasure today!

  12. I cried reading this today, I remember how hard it was for me a child to get rid of things. I'm not a hoarder, but I am sentimental. My 5yr son is the same way. I can't wait to start this adventure with him. I feel starting this together will give us the support we need to weed out what we really don't need!

    1. I'm glad this post inspired you Corinne! I hope you're able to help your son make decisions about what to keep and what to let go of from an early age... it's a great life skill :)

  13. I do like the idea of letting them have a "pass" on restoring order for a period of time before the decluterring. It takes away that "joy of discovery" when you start pulling stuff out, which can be mistaken for a desire to keep something.

  14. Great tips, Hilda. I agree! I found that setting boundaries works well with my kids. If it is broken, they are more willing to get rid of it.

  15. This post reminded me of my own childhood. Even now, I remember where most of the things I have came from. Not knowing is often the factor that allows me to let go of them more easily.

  16. I love the maybe box idea. I know I do that with my own things, so I should afford my kiddo the same opportunity. Great tips - definitely sharing!


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