As we get rolling with the new year, many of us have made resolutions to be more organized. And part of that involves organizing all the stuff that accompanies our wonderful children. From the double strollers and toys of the younger years to the sports equipment and electronics of the teen years, dealing with our children’s abundance of “stuff” is something we all have to face.
I’m no professional organizer by any stretch of the imagination, but like most mothers burdened under the weight of enough toys, books, gear, and clothing to supply a small third world country, I have read plenty of books and articles on the subject and found several useful principles that have worked for me that I’d like to share with you. Please feel free to share what’s worked for you in the comments section below!
The specific principle of organization I’d like to focus on today is the one I feel most effective for getting and staying organized, that of simplifying your stuff. The math is easy: The less stuff you have, the less you have to get and keep organized. So let’s make this really “simple” and break it down into just two categories. Outbound (getting rid of the already existing stuff) and Inbound (controlling the incoming stuff).
Outbound. Between the various books and articles I’ve read (as well as several episodes of Clean House), my favorite tips for getting rid of stuff are as follows:
1) Have a group De-Junk-A-Thon. I like to do one children’s bedroom at a time at the very beginning of the summer, and the play room/game closets every year right before Christmas. Use this time to reminisce with your kids and talk about how nice it will be to give some of these gently used items to children who are less fortunate.
2) The Four Box Method: Throw Away, Put Away, Give Away, Store Away. I actually use laundry baskets, because I use this method mostly for the non-stop clothing carousel at my house. With four children growing through four seasons every year, I have to have some sort of system in place!
3) One drawer, one closet, one countertop at a time. This really makes things do-able in my opinion. Next week I plan to tackle my “junk drawer” that’s overflowing with school, craft, and office supplies. I can easily wrap my head around one drawer.
4) By category: toys, gear, clothing, books. You could definitely use the four box method for each of these categories. No one said you had to use just one system–incorporate as many as you can!
5) Put de-junking on the calendar. Maybe the weekends of daylight savings in the fall and spring would be easy to remember, or the summer and winter solstice. Choose a weekend every 3 or 6 months that isn’t too busy with other activities when you can plan on doing some major de-junking.
6) Determine a specific number of bags or boxes to go out on a regular basis. I have a Catholic friend who likes to get rid of one bag a day for every day of Lent. I like it!
But how do you decide which stuff gets the boot? After all my reading and HGTV watching, here are my suggested Golden Rules of Discarding:
IF . . .
No one has used it or worn it in a year
it bugs you every time you see it
there’s no place to put it or store it
it’s broken and you haven’t fixed it in a year
you have multiples of the same item
it’s not beautiful, inspiring or useful . . .
My Golden Rules of Discarding are similar to my Golden Rules of Purchasing which make a perfect segueway into part two of this post.
Inbound. Golden Rules of Purchasing:
IF . . .
it’s an unplanned, impulsive purchase
you don’t have a place to store it
you aren’t committed to take care of it
you can borrow or rent it
you already have one that works for you
you don’t have “real” money for it
you really don’t need it . . .
don’t buy it!
That just about sums it up, but I have two more thoughts specific to moms.
1) Refuse leftovers. For heaven’s sake, please don’t take in other people’s unsolicited leftover toys, clothing, gear, and books unless you really need them! Just smile and say “no thank you” when that nice friend or neighbor tries to give you something you don’t really need or want. Taking in unnecessary stuff is much like eating unnecessary calories in my book. Don’t do it just because you can’t bear the thought of throwing something “perfectly good” in the garbage can. Make friends with your garbage can! (Or your local donations center.)
2) Give experiences rather than stuff. Consider giving your children experiences rather than stuff on their birthdays and Christmas. While we did buy her a few presents, the highlight of my daughter’s 13th birthday last year was going on a hike in the mountains with her dad and to get her hair done at a nice day spa with me. Knowing you will most likely be purchasing presents of some kind, think about giving your children things they actually need like a new backpack or new clothes rather than just handing those things out at random times.
Getting rid of the excess stuff we already have and limiting the amount of stuff coming in is the easiest way to organize a home full of children. The pay-offs are huge not just in terms of space and time spent cleaning, but also controlling materialism in both our children and ourselves.
QUESTION: How do you keep your children’s stuff “simply” organized?
CHALLENGE: Try getting rid of some stuff this week with one of the tips listed above.
Photo by Jhen 41 at http://www.flickr.com