Uncluttering Childhood

Posted in Common Challenges, The Needs of Children

Welcome to the March edition of the Simply Living Blog Carnival – Clearing the Clutter cohosted by Mandy at Living Peacefully with Children, Laura at Authentic Parenting, Jennifer at True Confessions of a Real Mommy, and Joella at Fine and Fair. This month our participants wrote about de-cluttering and cleaning up. Please check out the links to their thoughts at the end of this post.

Before I decided to have a child, part of what I thought I wouldn’t like about being a parent was having a messy home. Yes, I was a neat-freak and still prefer an orderly space (not spic and span, simply clean-ish and well-organized). What I didn’t realize is that children attract clutter in so many ways that decluttering is an ongoing activity of modern family life.

Why children are clutter magnets

First, let me clarify that when I say “clutter,” I’m referring to anything that I think is unnecessary or unwanted. It’s the stuff that takes up space — physical and mental — that I’d prefer to leave free or use for other purposes. Whether it is an unsuitable gift from a relative, a trinket that your child is “awarded” at a doctor/dentist visit, some flora or fauna your wee naturalist has collected, bits of partially-eaten food, an “experiment” your budding scientist has started, or an art project your beginning painter has created, children draw stuff to them and leave stuff in their wake as they move through their day. There is no criticism here, just my observation of life with child. Children are clutter magnets because:

  • People love to gift the children they love with material objects.
  • People want to entertain children (sometimes with an ulterior motive of keeping them busy).
  • Children are curious and love to share what they discover.
  • Children truly use all their senses and thus want to hold onto those things that catch their attention.
  • Life is novel to children (even older kids) and some of this newness can be gathered as souvenirs of experience.
  • Parents are sentimental for things that remind them of special times or events in their child’s life.
  • Parents don’t want to disappoint their children or others so they say “yes” to stuff — getting it in the first place, or keeping it — that they would prefer to say “no” to.

Clutter Cutting

Long before having my daughter, I routinely cleared closets, recycled, shared, sold, or otherwise moved stuff out of my environment. Spring cleaning was a favorite time as was the occasional “clean sweep” I would do when the space around me (or in my head) felt too full. As a parent, one of the tools I’ve used to help reduce the clutter for our family has been what I’ve learned participating in and leading Simplicity Parenting groups.

Simplicity Parenting is the title of a wonderful book by Kim John Payne that is for parents who want to protect their children’s childhood. Specifically Simplicity Parenting (SP) focuses on four primary areas:

  • simplifying one’s home environment
  • establishing rhythms and rituals
  • simplifying a family’s schedule(s)
  • reducing the amount of adult information children receive

Simplifying one’s environment is inevitably an area that nearly every parent can relate to (many first learn of SP because they are deluged by clutter). Instinctively we know that the stuff doesn’t add value to our children’s lives, but we have a hard time keeping the flood at bay. Here is some of what Payne has to say about too much stuff:

  • Too much stuff can overwhelm our children with too much choice.
  • Simplification can ease transitions and reduce sensory overload.
  • Fewer toys (and other playthings) allows children to play more deeply and creatively and to focus more easily.

Practical Ideas to Cut Your Clutter

You can reduce the stuff in your home, including your child’s toys, books, and other playthings. Doing this will benefit your child and actually be appreciated by them (even if there is some initial resistance, though many times there is none). Here are ideas to try on for your family.

  1. Choosing what to toss (or recycle, give away, etc.): Complicated, high-stimulus (buzzing, beeping, flashing, gyrating, etc.), offensive, and commercial (characters or products) toys add stress to childhood instead of joy. Broken toys obviously can go too.
  2. Choosing what to keep: Hang onto beloved, simple toys that allow your child to pour her/his imagination into (these toys can become hundreds of “things” depending on what your child chooses). Pleasantly tactile toys are good even for older children.
  3. Keeping stuff at bay in the first place: Give frequent gifters (e.g., grandparents, uncles, aunts, close friends) specific instructions on what toys (or other) gifts you want your child to receive. This may seem too controlling, but if you’re going to eventually toss it out (or never even let your child have it), you’re saving these folks from wasting their time and money. My family has mostly appreciated this kind of guidance since they don’t really know what to buy anyway. Also don’t be afraid to return a gift (to a store, not the gifter) or immediately pass it on if it’s truly not a fit for your child (or you).
  4. Simplifying and making play more enjoyable: Rotate toys and books so that your child can play with a few things for a few months. You can then remove these items from your child’s toybox or bookshelf and replace them with “new” items. This invites novelty while also maintaining the simplicity of just a few things at one time. It makes cleaning up much easier too.
  5. Nurturing creativity: Make sure that toys have plenty of capacity for your child to be the architect of her/his universe. Art supplies are great for this — paints, pens, clay, fabric/ribbon — but so are natural objects (pinecones, rocks, feathers, shells), and even household items (spoons, cups, boxes). Rather than some toy company determining what a toy can be, your son or daughter gets to use a box as a house, car, cave, magic castle, barn, or whatever else their creative self determines it is.

“Simplicity is not an end in itself, but a pathway to a place with room for ease, connection, love and laughter.”

~Davina Muse

What are you doing to unclutter your children’s lives? What keeps you from shedding stuff? What has simplifying done for your children, you, or your entire family? I’d enjoy hearing more and discussing this topic with you.



Thank you for visiting the Simply Living Blog Carnival cohosted by Mandy at Living Peacefully with Children, Laura at Authentic Parenting, Jennifer at True Confessions of a Real Mommy, and Joella at Fine and Fair. Read about how others are incorporating simple living into their lives by clearing out the clutter. We hope you will join us next month, as the Simply Living Blog Carnival focuses on Going Green!






  1. Great article. Thanks for sharing!

  2. I think a lot of people get caught up in the idea that children *need* a lot of things or that there is an expectation to provide a lot of *stuff* for their children. What they forget is that children find wonder in everything and are quite content with items which encourage their imagination and some quality time with adults who love them.

  3. I also like doing a spring cleaning of the kids’ toys. I find that it’s much easier for me to clean house (and for them to help me do so!) when their toys are pared down and all have a place. The one thing that I can hardly ever pare down with the Silly Bears’ approval, though, is books (which I guess is a good thing, right?) LOL Great article! Thanks

  4. I think you made a very good point that children become overwhelmed with too much choice. My children who have ADD show this a lot and I understand how having clutter makes them feel chaotic. It does me too.

  5. I have a tip for how to handle the flora / fauna kids bring home. When my oldest daughter was little, this just came to me. We decided that any flowers or other vegetation that was picked while outside would be fed to the imaginary goats in our front yard. They could become any animals on different days, the key was that this stuff wasn’t allowed to enter the house. She could even give me flowers. I could appreciate them, we could enjoy them, and then we could let them go – to feed the animals. :-)

  6. My favorite suggestion is the last–nurturing creativity. My little ones are still quite young but I hate the idea of my house and our lives being run over with so much *Stuff*. I feel like commercial characters and toys and video games deprive children of their own imaginations. I love your message that anything can become something to the creative child!

  7. I have recently read this book and really enjoyed it, I was already applying most of what he suggested in the book but it was good to have it affirmed by someone else as a positive part of family life.

  8. Momma Jorje, I think that you’ve found a wonderful balance of honoring your daughter’s treasure-finding and treasure-sharing gifts with your own desire to live simply. It also was a creative way of strengthening her imagination. Thanks for sharing — I think my daughter would enjoy this kind of appreciation for her discoveries too!

  9. Destany, many families who have made changes offered in Simplicity Parenting have seen decreases in their children’s stress, attention challenges, and feelings of overwhelm. SP’s author, Kim John Payne, has even helped children reduce or eliminate medications for ADD/ADHD after simplifying.

  10. It’s funny that you mention books, Amy, as I too hadn’t thought of “too much” applying to books. Simplicity Parenting’s author, Kim John Payne, suggests, however that books also be pared down. He states that this allows children to more deeply delve into the smaller quantity and really savor the stories (kids love repetition). While we still have more books accessible than Payne encourages, we put many away and rotate the selection so we can get the best of “simplification” and “variety.” I’d be interested to know what happens if you try reducing the # of books.

  11. Probably what is actually true is that we adults “need” more imagination. With this perhaps we too can begin to wean ourselves off “too much stuff” in our lives. Thanks, Mandy, for commenting!

  12. Thanks, Becca.

  13. Bravo for you, sustainablemum! Affirmation is wonderful for us, especially if/when we’re on a counter-cultural path. :-)

  14. Thanks for the affirmation, Mercedes. It’s such a joy for me to witness how my daughter puts herself, her ideas, and her life experience into her play. I’d much rather nurture her expanding mind and heart than confine her to someone else’s idea of creativity.


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