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The Great DeClutter Competition

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What is it about kids?  What makes them look at a candy bar wrapper and think, "This is a treasure.  I must keep it FOREVER."  And then turn to an empty cardboard box and say the same thing.  Or a broken toy.  What makes kids hoard junk?

If I ever figure out the answer to that question, I'm going to run for "Smartest Woman in the Universe."  I may not know the deep inner meaning behind the kids-hoarding-junk question, but I stumbled upon a remedy.  It's the Great DeClutter Competition!

Last week, I did a little decluttering in one of our family's clutter magnets (please tell me you have those areas, too) -- the Laundry Room.  Not only does our laundry room often contain Mt. Laundrymore, but it had become the spot to drop off anything my family didn't know what to do with.  For 3 years.  And it's a really teensy weensy little room.  When I couldn't walk into the room to do my laundry, I took my frustrations out on the room and drug everything out into the hallway.  I only put back the things that truly needed to be there and simply tossed the rest.  Oh, the freedom of tossing!  Now we walk into our Laundry Room in awe.  It's a beautiful thing.

That little experience inspired the Great DeClutter Competition, because my kids' bedrooms sometimes make the former laundry room look neat and tidy.  Since I am working with kids and kids hit "overwhelm" pretty easily, I decided to break things up into segments.  This is a work in progress for us.  We will continue playing this game once or twice a week until their rooms sparkle.

The idea of the game is, of course, to rid your life of useless clutter -- leaving only the truly loved items behind to bring peace, rest and joy into your living space.  But kids have a tendency to completely forget about their junk until the moment you pull it out -- then it is their most favorite possession.  By the time the room is done, it looks like you just rearranged their clutter.  This is not what I wanted.  I made some ground rules.

The Ground Rules:

1.  Choose 1 area of the room (the dresser, closet floor, the toy stash, etc).  Make it fair.  For instance, don't give one child a bookshelf full of classics and the other child the junk drawer.  It's obvious who will win before they even start.  I let my kids pick their own areas. They are competitive, so by letting them choose, I knew they would pick the most cluttered areas in order to generate the most trash.

2.  Choose a set amount of time.  (30 minutes, 1 hour, etc. -- don't outlast their attention span and willingness to work.) Setting a timeframe keeps them from getting overwhelmed and helps them put more energy into the work.  They only have so long to get more trash that their siblings.  The room won't get finished in one day, but the work they do will be more thorough.

3.  Fill a trash bag with as much junk as possible in the timeframe.  If they finish their selected area and still have time left, I let them move on to another area.  It's kind of like a bonus.  (And I get the bonus of having more of their rooms decluttered.)

4.  Have a good prize.  What's a competition without a prize?  I told my kids I would give the winner a candy bar.  When all was said and done, we had a tie.  Both my hoarders boys brought me trash bags that looked exactly the same.  We had to weigh them to try to figure out a clear winner.  In the end, both bags were exactly 9.4 pounds.  How do boys do that?  My girls didn't stand a chance.  They just don't have as much clutter to work with.  So I gave each boy (the winners) a king-size candy bar, and gave the girls each a regular size candy bar because they worked hard to declutter, too.  Everybody enjoyed something, but the winners still got a bigger prize.  Next time, I will probably give the winner a Mega ice cream cone, and the rest a mini.

5.  You can't throw away things that belong to someone else.  It's no fair to fill your trash bag(s) by tossing your siblings things.  If it goes in the bag, it has to be yours.  This is a particularly important rule if your kids share a room.  You have been warned.

6.  When in doubt, throw it out.  If you have to say things like, "I might use this someday" or "but it was expensive / a gift" get rid of it.  You don't love it.  It goes away.  If it is really nice, put it in a giveaway pile, but get it out of the house. 

7.  Giveaway Items count toward the total.  Everything that leaves the house counts.

8.  You may not remove things from someone else's garbage heap unless you love AND need it AND would have spent good money to get it.  We aren't transferring the clutter from one owner to another.  Clutter is LEAVING THE HOUSE.

The Clutter Pile that left our house after our first  DeClutter Competition

Keys to making this work:

*Model good decluttering behavior.  If you are hoarding junk, it will be very hard for you to inspire your kids to let go of their junk.  But when they see you release your stuff and transform your living space into restful, beautiful rooms, they will want that for their own rooms.  Remember, this all started by me decluttering our Laundry Room.  It got my kids thinking.

*Don't do it for them.  Not only is it rude to toss something that belongs to someone else, it squanders a wonderful opportunity to teach them how to truly make their future homes a haven.  As an added benefit, you are not only training your kids how to make wise choices about their living space, but ultimately, this will also affect what they choose to buy and bring into that space in the first place.

*Don't look at their pile with personal emotional attachment.  Let them get rid of things even if you gave it to them or you like it.  Don't shame them into keeping things they don't want/love/need.  I had my kids put their trash into black trash bags.  I didn't watch them while they worked and I didn't look inside those bags.  I figured they were smart enough to know what they cared about without my interference.  (Special Note:  If your child is 3, you will need to be the brains behind their choices.  A little one will throw away the bed because it isn't a Disney Princess bed and the family dog because it isn't a pony.  Small children can't be trusted.  You'll have to be the judge of your child's maturity level and whether they are ready to work alone.  But if you are holding your 16 year old's hand during this process, honey, it is time to let go.)

And that's all there is to it.  We are one step closer to clutter-free kids' rooms.  Right now, my kids' rooms still look cluttered, but I know that a hallway full of garbage left those rooms.  I have plans to do another DeClutter Competition this week.  It won't be long before the idea of walking into my kids' rooms doesn't make my heart quiver.

Have a great day!

Angela

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