The importance of a child being able to declutter and organise their space.

 Most of us are aware of the link between clutter and mental health, even if it’s just when you want to get things done at work you notice a tidy desk makes a big difference, or how much better you feel when the kids are in bed and the house is tidy, and you can properly relax.  Having a tidy and decluttered space is important for children too.  Children get just as stressed as adults when faced with clutter, maybe even more so as they may feel powerless or unprepared on to deal with it.  One of the main conflicts in the home that I deal with is clients getting frustrated by the child not keeping their room tidy and not tidying up.  A lot of the time is that the child simply doesn’t have the skills or knowledge to do it, gets frustrated, angry and then ignores the problem.  The parent then gets annoyed at the child’s perceived laziness and the bedroom battleground begins.  Tidying, like any life skill is something that needs to be taught and learned before it can be done properly.There’s two things you can do to reduce this stress and have a tidy bedroom and a happier child.  The first is to declutter, the second is organise the space so that every item has a defined ‘home’.

 First of all it’s important to remember that this space and the belongings in it belong to the child.  When decluttering its imperative that that have control of their decisions, and the value they place on certain objects.  I know its really tempting to force a child into keeping a ‘worthy’ or expensive toy when all they want to keep is the cheap plastic tat, but honestly, trust their decisions.  The alternative of removing their favourites and replacing them with yours means they doubt their ability to make decisions, self doubt, and ultimately will refuse to carry on.  They may be left with items they don’t want to play with so will attempt to bring more new items into their space to compensate.  It may also mean that they hoard items in the future as it becomes difficult to let go of anything as they place higher value on items and they struggle to make the decision to let things go. 

 When they place value on an item, as they’ve made the decision that it is important to them and there are less toys, you may find that they look after their toys better.  When items are scarce we value them more as they’re not easily replaced by something else.  Being able to make decisions is an important life skill that can continually be practiced by children deciding what’s important to them, what they want to keep and cherish and what can be given or thrown away.


 Studies have shown that the less toys children have the more they use imaginative play.  When a child uses their imagination they’re more creative, perform better in school and develop a strong problem solving approach to learning.  Most parents are shocked when I tell them that if they removed 80% of their child’s toys they would actually play better and for longer.  Less choice means its easier for your child to make decisions, and they are less likely to become overwhelmed. Imagine you’re at a restaurant and the menu has 100 different choices, you’d find it takes longer to decide what you want compared to a menu with five choices wouldn’t you? The same principle applies for children and toys.  If you don’t want to declutter that amount of toys then you can always put toys in boxes are rotate them so that choices are limited but can change frequently.  The less toys you have the easier it is to tidy them too!


By giving your child the authority to make their own decisions and control over their environment you start a process that continues to be maintained.  Your child feels they are in control over what is in their room.  They will be able to decide when clothes no longer fit or are no longer comfortable, and will be able to let you know when they feel toys are now too babyish for them with pride.  As they are now able to tidy their room, they don’t get overwhelmed by the enormity of it, and feel able so it becomes easy enough for them to keep on top of any mess.  By giving your child that responsibility it also means you have less decisions to make too.  Art work that a child has created is always the bane of parents lives.  You feel guilty for putting it in the bin, but the alternative is to keep every scrap of paper that you’re child has ever drawn on, painted or glued glitter to – and that adds up quickly!  One option is for your child to have a display space, and they decide what goes on it.  They will then self select their best bits or decide what can be binned thus reducing the pile of paper to only what they value.  You can decide to keep special pieces forever in a memory box or ‘achievement folder’ once it has been on there for a significant amount of time.  This means you both get to enjoy their art with none of the guilt, and they have the pride over displaying their creations.  Another way for a child to self select items is to have defined containers for specific types of toys.  Once that shoebox or toy box is full they can’t have any more of that type of item.  To bring a new item in it has to fit in the box, so they then have to decide which other piece they want to give away, or chose to use a bigger box and remove what is in that one.  By having a defined container for those toys means your child knows it’s the ‘home’ for that item so tidying is easy as there’s no decision to be made about where it will go, or fit in order for it to be tidied away. Let your child know that anything they decide to give away won’t go in the bin but will go to charity and be given to another child that doesn’t have any toys.  A good time to declutter is on the run up to birthdays or Christmas so they can be aware that the more they reduce the more space they have for more new things coming in.  This way they can feel that their item is still of value to someone and they are doing a positive thing by giving items away to someone worse off than themselves.


A decluttered and tidy room means less stress, less family conflict but also more time.  When a home is tidy it is easier to clean which means it gets cleaned more frequently and more efficiently so there are health benefits too.  It’s difficult to hoover or dust when clutter is all over the floor and items are on the sides!  When things are easy we are more likely to do them.  By having a tidy room the chores of cleaning take up much less time – valuable time that can be spent as a family.  There’s never enough quality time with busy family lives, but a decluttered home can free up some time and space.

 When you have decluttered you will find that there is more room to play, make a mess and less things for kids to bump into as there are less obstacles around the home.  You may find that you do more messy play once the room has been decluttered.  So for example you won’t mind making a fort out of blankets as you know things are quickly and easily tidied away with no fuss afterward.  Removing visual clutter from the walls means items that are important (like reward charts or important visuals) will stands out not blend in with other clutter.  You can always ‘hide’ posters by placing them inside cupboards, pinned to the inside of  wardrobe doors or use as funky drawer liners.  Clearing visual clutter from a room will help create a calming environment and support better mental health for your child and help reduce anxiety too.

 It may go against your instincts that by removing items you actually have more.  Trust me when I say that decluttering for me personally and also my clients means that we have had more as a family.  More quality time, more play, more fun, more money and more space, plus less conflict! Go from clutter to calm and see the difference it can make for your family.


Heather Tingle is a professional declutterer and organiser based in Sheffield, UK and a member of the Association of Professional Declutterers and Organisers (APDO).  She is a single mum of a disabled child that specialises in helping busy families go from clutter to calm.


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