Written by contributor Sarah Small of SmallWorld at Home
My grandmother was a packrat. I’m grateful she saved letters written by my great-great-great grandfather during the Civil War and that she saved a sampler handed down through a dozen generations to me.
But those stacks of magazines and drawers filled with miscellaneous utensils? When we moved her out of her home, she was living in just one room of house. The rest was filled literally to the ceiling with junk.
We’re all far from that extreme, right? But what about those boxes of clothes we’re saving for someone, the worksheets from our daughter’s first-grade year, and the puzzles with missing pieces? Do you ever feel cluttered inside because of clutter in your home?
I have one word for us all: declutter. Get rid of all the junk, and then keep the clutter down.
Decluttering is liberating. But where do you start? Plenty of websites provide copious decluttering tips, but I’ve found that occasional purges and routine maintenance work best for me.
The Big Purge
It’s essential to have the house to yourself for a major purge. If you have younger kids, pick a day when they can be elsewhere and start attacking the clutter. Don’t get distracted by Facebook, blogging, or scrapbooking. Stay focused.
For me, purging generally involves three categories: clothing, toys and kid stuff, and paperwork/schoolwork. You may need to take a couple of purge days to make a significant dent, but rewards will be worth the time investment.
You know the adage. If you haven’t worn it in a year, get rid of it. And no, your daughter isn’t going to want that bridesmaid dress someday. Or your maternity clothes. G-o-o-d-w-i-l-l.
Photo by Crystal
But what about those sweet baby dresses and overalls? And the boxes of clothes you’re saving for your grandchildren? Keep an outfit or two for sentimental value and get rid of the rest. Those adorable clothes will be out-of-date by the time you have grandkids, and your own kids will be secretly rolling their eyes when you hand them boxes of “things I’ve been saving for you.”
Toys and Other Treasures
This is the main reason that your kids are gone for the day. Take a deep breath, go into their rooms and throw away broken toys, games with missing pieces, and scraps of Styrofoam. Be sensitive to things you know are truly precious to them: that bird’s nest and one-legged action figure. But if they haven’t played with it in a year, throw it out or put it in a yard sale box.
Paperwork and Schoolwork
Every family’s policy about saving receipts, bank statements, etc. is different, so do your own thing. But as far as schoolwork goes, one common question is: “What do I have to keep?”
That depends on your state’s requirements. Some states require you to submit a yearly portfolio. In Tennessee, we have various avenues through which we can homeschool, and I chose a way that requires very little. I don’t have to save anything, so anything I save is either for posterity or for a high-school portfolio.
I have a 3-ring binder for each of my children with samples through the years: some artwork, writing samples, projects. I add a few pages to their binders each year. Be thoughtful in what you choose to save. Your child is not going to care about Saxon Math Lesson 87 in 15 years, but he may enjoy reading a poem he wrote about pumpkins.
I also have a couple of totes filled with lapbooks and other books that the kids have made. These are the real treasures for me and the things they remember most.
For your high schooler, I recommend saving writing samples, research papers, special projects, and lab reports from sciences. Toss out the worksheets—no college is going to want to see this kind of daily work.
After you have purged, be vigilant about keeping down the clutter. Ideally, maintenance is a daily habit and includes the whole family. Here are our best systems:
- Pick up _ _ things: Choose a random number, like 52. Everyone must go to his or her bedroom or other room and pick up and put away (or throw out) 52 items.
- 15/15. My kids love this. I set the timer for 15 minutes, and we all declutter. When the timer goes off, we take 15 minutes of free time. We do this for a couple of hours and make tremendous progress.
- “Before you”— decluttering. As in, you must put away 10 items before you go outside, before your friend comes over, before you can play the Wii.
- Mini-purges. I can only manage major purges about twice yearly, so I rely heavily on mini-purges. Take an hour to iron all the clothes that are piling up or to throw out the dried markers and paper scraps in the art cabinet.
Photo by Sonny Abesamis
If you are feeling lost in the swamp of little-kid clutter, take heart: someday, you will not step on Legos or pull Barbie dolls out of the bathtub.
At this stage in my parenting, I have only one child left who hangs on to pinecones and bottle caps. With one child in college, I can honestly say I don’t regret throwing out a single math sheet.
How do you declutter? Do you have trouble deciding what to save and what to toss?