It’s mid-summer…and hopefully you and your kids are enjoying the evening light, getting lots of outdoor time and are appreciating a break from the school routine.
Each summer, I set aside some time to work on decluttering some of the “stuff” that inevitably piles up during the school year: clothes my kids have outgrown, stacks of school projects and my own neglected pile of snail mail. Decluttering can feel overwhelming and can be something that we parents prefer to deal with “later”—but I’ve found that if I don’t make time to focus on cleaning out what we don’t need or use, later never comes.
I spoke with my friend, Gari Julius Weilbacher, who is a decluttering coach about tips for busy parents.
GKM: Kids love their “stuff”—toys, books, clothes can seem to multiply. How can parents start a productive conversation about decluttering?
GJW: It’s a good way to talk about personal responsibility…that your home is a shared community and shared space. Parents can create structures to help their kids—like have a basket in the living room for toys, a bookshelf for your child’s books. When it’s easy to find that favorite book, there’s more time to enjoy reading it together!
It’s wonderful to teach kids from a young age about making meaningful donations—there are homeless shelters and libraries that need the gently used books that your children have outgrown. Involving kids in packing up the books, toys and clothes that they are no longer using can engage them in the process.
GKM: What’s the best way to manage all of the incoming stuff from our kids—like school projects and artwork?
GJW: So often kid art reflects the “process” kids experience in creating art and other things—knowing this releases you from needing to save everything. Create criteria for what is saved – aesthetics? Excitement? Breakthrough experience? You can take photos of everything for an online gallery and then decide which pieces to save in a memory box. I have one friend who had a gallery that featured a framed piece of art made by each of her children from every year of school. It was a great conversation to decide which piece to frame!
When my daughters were growing up, they each had a large bin under their beds where they saved special things. That was a space just for them away from our shared family space.
GKM: What if you as a parent struggle with decluttering?
GJW: Many people struggle with decluttering—we become emotionally attached to our stuff for a variety of reasons. It’s important to approach the process without judging yourself. I coach people who need help taking the first step and together we create a structure that works to keep their home clutter-free.
GKM: Many of us are in the “sandwich” generation and are inheriting items from parents who are downsizing or have passed away. How do we integrate those items into our homes?
GJW: When your parents are alive and are downsizing, these can be very delicate conversations. Take some things that you love, may be useful or that you want to share with your children — but you don’t have to personally keep everything. Some people do need to take a lot and keep it in a basement/garage until they are emotionally ready to look through it and donate it. I am often called to help people through this very emotional work. It can be done with respect and love for the parents and their things.
When my father died, I was given a collection of his elephant statues…I ultimately chose to keep only one. Because I chose one, it’s very meaningful and connects me to my father. I didn’t need to fill my home with the elephants. When we donate items from a loved one, we can keep faith that they are going on to someone else who will need and love them, which is so much better than keeping them in a box.
GKM: Any other tips for people who struggle with decluttering?
GJW: On my website people will learn more about my philosophy of compassionate and green clutter control. I have a list of places that can re-use all sorts of things and offer daily tips and motivation minutes as well. Start with what’s easy, less loaded for you first. It’s important to remember that when we keep everything, nothing rises in value making it all burdensome “stuff.” We want your environment to let you and your family flow!
Share your tips for how you keep a clutter-free home in the comments below!