by Susan Caplan McCarthy
May - Get Ready for Summer
The same techniques that work for the playroom can work for your yard. You can teach your kids to keep their outdoor toys organized.
Declutter Outdoor Toys
Gather all the outdoor toys to one space.
Sort similar toys together (you can do this as you gather the toys).
Toss the broken, deflated toys – particularly if you’ve already replaced them. And, just because you are tossing a broken toy doesn’t mean that you need to replace it. Chances are your kids or grandkids haven’t been playing with it and so they won’t miss it.
Limit duplicates. Just because there are seven balls strewn about your yard doesn’t mean that the kids need all seven. Consider if there are duplicates because toys weren’t put away properly and new ones were purchased. Or, some were gifts. If there is one soccer ball, the kids will be more conscientious about putting it away than if they have five. And, chances are that they will take better care of fewer toys than if they feel they have so many that one going missing doesn’t matter. (You can always keep a back up or two where the kids can’t access it.)
Ask the kids if there are toys that they are willing to give away to children who have no toys. If you haven’t done this in the past, you may want to box up the items for a few months, particularly if you think your child won’t understand that they aren’t getting another toy to replace what they’ve given away.
Or, ask kids what they want to play with right now (in the next week) and box up everything else. They can ask you for a toy from the box, but they must decide to put another toy in the box to replace what they are having taken out.
Or, box up the toys you are convinced that your kids don’t play with but don’t toss the items. See if your kids ask for what is missing.
Organize Outdoor Toys
Use bins. Bins are perfect for containing toys and creating limits because only so many toys will fit in a bin. One big bin for all the toys may seem like a good option but can create more chaos because to get to a specific toy, kids might end up pulling everything from the big bin.
Sort toys, but not too specifically. So, all balls can go in a bin; but, it isn’t necessary to create a bin for each sport (unless your child participates in different sports and having their baseball stuff separate from soccer stuff makes sense – however, if this is just for casual backyard games, then all sports stuff could go together). Keep sand toys together, nature investigation toys together, etc.
Keep these bins someplace where the kids can reach them so they can not only take out what they want but put it away. And, don’t put covers on the bins. One, it becomes too easy to pile things on top of the cover so it’s more difficult to open the bin; and two, taking off the cover will slow kids down.
Create a repercussion for toys that aren’t put away. It could be that toys left in the yard aren’t available the next day (although the other toys are). If toys aren’t put away on a consistent basis, this means your child will have fewer toys to play with. This may not bother them.
Declutter and organize outdoor toys (including pool toys, sports equipment, nature investigation toys) the way you would indoor toys. Kids can learn to care for their belongings – a good life skill, and you will be saved the hunt for rogue toys when it comes to cutting the grass.
by Susan Caplan McCarthy
April - Paper Decluttering
When it comes to discussing what to do with kids’ school papers, I’m not only talking to parents of young children. I’ve talked to and heard stories about people in their 50s and 60s who have devoted large amounts of space to storing their kids’ papers from school.
I’m not talking about class photos and report cards, I mean every quiz, report, coloring page, and so on that their child signed their name to and brought home.
Boxes and boxes of papers that teen and adult children have said they have no interest in. However, the parent is convinced that at some point in the future, their children will be thrilled to move 26 boxes of spelling quizzes and reports about the volcanoes into their own homes.
Whether your child is three or thirty, I’d like to suggest a more manageable (and, perhaps, appreciated) way of keeping your child’s paper-related memories.
Create a Memory Box
I remember reading how Gretchen Rubin decided to tackle her daughter’s paper by limiting herself to a pretty file box for each girl. She set up hanging file folders, one for each grade, to hold special papers – class photos, family holiday photos, report cards, the invitation to the girl’s birthday party, and so on.
Because she was limiting saved papers to those that would fit each daughter’s school years into a single box, Gretchen chose what best reflected each grade. (At the time she wrote about this both girls were young and so she selected what was saved. I don’t know if as her daughters got older, they selected what was saved.)
Basically, these memory boxes were Gretchen Rubin’s choice of memories for each daughter. And that’s the thing, when you save your child’s papers, you are curating your memories of their time in school.
Help Your Child Create a Memory Box
Kids may be inclined to keep all their school papers because they never learned how to curate their collections. In class, their teacher may have them keep all the papers for each subject in a folder and so your child doesn’t realize that they can pick and choose what to keep.
With young children, it may be easier to have a box where all school, extracurricular, and camp papers are deposited throughout the year. I don’t mean documents that as the parent or guardian you should keep in your files, but the tests and coloring pages that are kid-generated and -oriented.
Then, at the end of the school year, sit down with your child and have them pick out their favorite five (or however many work for you) papers to keep in their memory box. Keep the process moving with promises of ice cream or a movie when all the papers have been sorted.
Finally, recycle anything your child doesn’t want. I know, you’re afraid that you child will want their fourth-grade math tests when they have kids in the fourth grade; but, no, no they won’t.
Think about it – how often have you thought, “Wow, I wish I kept my fifth-grade report on Oregon”? I’m thinking, never.
Curating a Memory Box for Your Child
Maybe you have a wall of boxes filled with old school papers. You can’t imagine simply picking up a box and dropping it into your recycling bin. In that case, plan to devote numerous evenings to sorting through these papers.
When it comes to keeping something, consider if it is your best memory of your child’s school experience. Is your child really going to be happy seeing a report card from sixth grade that was filled with C- and D grades?
When you’re debating whether to keep something, consider this – could you add a note explaining why you thought a particular report, test, or art project was special? If not, then your child may still view the items as a collection of useless papers from their past.
Remember, just because you find these school papers important doesn’t mean that your child will have any interest in them – particularly if they’ve told you they have no interest in keeping this stuff. Even if you invest hours curating dozens of boxes down to one or two, there is still nothing saying that your adult child will appreciate the collection you’ve kept for them.
And, if you are thinking, “I’ll hold onto everything so my children can make the decision someday,” know that an overwhelming quantity of stuff will only make it more likely that your children will toss the items without a second glance.
by Susan Caplan McCarthy
March - Spring Cleaning
Have you ever watched kids in daycare or preschool put away their toys? It gets done. (Okay, there’s even slacker-preschoolers who let other kids put away most of the toys while they put away the one that they continue to play with during clean-up time.)
I don’t have kids, but I’ve taught ages 3-to-14 for 26-years, so I’m using that experience and set of observations for this article. (Plus the information I’ve read or gathered from parents.)
Explain What “Clean Your Room” Means
Kids don’t necessarily understand what it means when you tell them to “go clean your room.” You may think that they will put things back the way you had them, but chances are they don’t have that image in their mind. You can help them by putting things away, taking pictures of the room, and posting those pictures for easy comparison. This gives kids a tangible point of reference.
Show them how to do a task (say, put tee shirts into a drawer) and then have them do the action and even talk through what they are doing. This covers multiple learning styles by looking, doing, touching, and speaking/hearing their way through the process.
Demonstrate the Desired Behaviors
If you walk in the house, dump the mail into an overflowing basket and drop your coat over the back of a chair, it’s going to be more difficult to convince your kids that they can’t drop their stuff in a pile by the door.
If kids see you decluttering, organizing, and tidying, they’ll better learn that telling them to hang up their coat or pick up their toys isn’t tortuous busywork given to kids but part of the process that keeps their home a pleasant space.
Establish Zones of Activity and Storage
Kids’ rooms can get messy because a lot goes on in the space – sleeping, clothing and shoe storage, toy storage, book storage, storage of sports equipment, display of art projects and awards, homework, craft projects, playing with toys, reading, practicing music.
If kids’ stuff ends up everywhere in the house, consider where you want different activities, display, and storage to occur. Just in their room? Different activities in different locations? Keep things simple. If kids have a table or desk in their room that’s to be used for homework and for craft projects, then the table or desk should be kept clear (except for maybe a lamp) and supplies associated with homework or crafts should be stored nearby. (This could be a set of shelves or a rolling cart set next to the table or desk.)
Think about a kindergarten classroom – the tables and chairs get used for all sorts of activities and after each activity, they get cleared off. This eliminates distractions during projects. Also, by clearing the space, it’s easy to see what has been left in the wrong place.
And, for other areas of the house – exactly where do you want backpacks or coats hung or outdoor toys stored? Eliminate vagueness – do you want outdoor toys in the garage or in the big blue bin next to the door?
Give Everything a Home
If you are a minimalist family, you may be able to get away with a single toy box; otherwise, you want multiple bins with single-functions so toys stay sorted by type. Why? If a child has to root around in a single toy box for what they want to play with, chances are that they will also pull out toys that were in their way.
Because they didn’t play with a toy, some kids won’t put away things that got pulled out in the process of looking for something else because, as they see it, they didn’t play with it, so they aren’t responsible for putting it away. (If you haven’t experienced this, I’m not joking, I’ve encountered this attitude several times.)
As I mentioned with the previous tip, eliminate vagueness. Books go on this shelf, puzzles on that shelf; play food belongs in the red bin, dishes in the blue bin, cars in the green bin.
This means that when new toys are added, they will be fit into the designated home. If there isn’t space, then have your kids decide what they can donate to others.
Skip the Covered Bins
Covers on bins can get in the way of some kids’ play. Either they don’t see the toys in a covered bin or feel that they can’t open it and remove the contents. Also, if a cover goes on a bin, then a wayward toy that didn’t get into the bin might not make it because the child doesn’t open the bin.
You can also signify that play time or arts and craft time is over by putting the bin covers in place after things have been put away.
Consider (or Ask) Why a Task Isn’t Being Done
A child might not hang up their clothing because they can’t reach the rod the hangers are on. Or, the hangers have a grippy texture that makes it difficult to slide the clothing on. Or, the hangers are sized for adult clothing. Or, a series of hooks would be easier than clothes hangers.
If your child forgets about things that go into drawers, they may need open storage. A set of open bins in the closet could be easier for storing underwear, socks, hats, gloves, etc. You may have to establish routines and organizing systems different from those that work for you.
Give Kids a Place to Donate Items
If your child puts on a shirt that’s too short, do they know that they can take it off and put it in a “to donate” box. The same box could also be used for toys the child is no longer interested in. You still have final say over the items, but if there is a box in the corner of the closet, it will help kids understand that they can declutter when necessary.
Get Kids Involved
Although it’s easier to step in and do something for a child, then they forever rely on you to do the task because they feel no ownership over completing the job on their own. Have them help decide what they want to keep and what they can donate to others. Even toddlers and preschoolers can be asked to pick out their favorite toys. A lot of parents discover that their kids play more creatively when they have fewer toys.
While you may feel comfortable taking your donations immediately to the drop-off center, with kids, you may need to hold onto boxes of toys and books for a few months to be certain they’ve moved past those items.
Check out my Organizing Kids board on Pinterest which includes a bunch of curated articles for decluttering and organizing with kids, toddler through preteen. Share your tips in the comment section below.
by Susan Caplan McCarthy
With the end of the school year comes some relief, at least until summer camp or vacation plans start. You may want to hold off going through the school stuff; but, look at it this way, it will be easier to do while your minds are still in school-mode than on some rainy July afternoon.
You don’t have to do this yourself. Involve the kids – they did the work, they can decide what to do with the results. Remember, test papers, book reports, and artwork aren’t your child’s memories of school. When in doubt, scan a paper or take a photograph of an item.
Empty the Backpack – Remove everything from every pocket, then tip the bag upside down so to shake out crumbs and anything that’s been overlooked. Check the condition of the bag – do all the zippers work, can it be used for another year?
Gather All the Papers - Have the kids help you on a scavenger hunt by gathering all the papers from the past school year. Look in their bedrooms, your home office or near your command center/family calendar, the dining table, kitchen counters, or anywhere else papers may have been dropped.
Sort the Papers – You can sort through the papers as you gather them if you have no plans on keeping any of the quizzes or reports your child did over the year. In fact, unless an item represents a turning point in your child’s education (this was the first 100% you got!), it isn’t necessary to hold onto these papers. Instead of holding onto the actual paper, consider scanning it into the computer.
No, when your child is 22 they won’t be devastated to discover you tossed their math quizzes from third grade.
Curate Artwork – I’ll include science projects, dioramas, and poster board displays in this category. Have your child select their favorite 3-to-5 pieces to scan, photograph, or display in their bedroom through the summer. If you have your own favorites, scan them and then turn them into your phone’s wallpaper. Don’t force your favorites on your child.
Curating these pieces helps a child notice that not everything they create has the same value for them. The coloring page done on rainy day recess won’t have involved the same amount of thought and effort as the poster they created for a favorite book that they read.
Release the School Year – If you have an outdoor firepit, you could ceremoniously burn the papers from the previous school year. Let the smoke carry away any bad feelings or frustrations while clearing the way for the new school year.
Even tossing all the papers in the recycling bin creates a clear space for new things in the upcoming year.
Deal with a Child Who Wants to Keep Everything – Instead of asking why they want to keep their stuff, consider asking what they will do with it, which requests a physical plan instead of an emotional response.
Create a compromise. For example, the child can keep everything that fits in a file box. Allow the child to take photographs of anything too large to fit in the box. Don’t just photograph the item but include the child in the image. Explain that the box must be emptied on the eve of the new school year, so the box will be ready for the new grade.
Prepare for Next School Year – For next year, toss all flat papers in a file box or milk crate when it comes into the house (if they can’t be immediately recycled). Have a rotating display of current artwork or highest test scores. When your child comes home with a new piece, they need to decide whether it is nice enough to replace one of the pieces on display.
I’ve heard stories of parents who felt the need to hold onto every spelling quiz and report their children created – entire rooms would be devoted to nothing but warehousing schoolwork. When the parents asked their adult children if they wanted any of this stuff; the adult kids responded that they didn’t know why their parents held onto everything, they didn’t want it.
If you have a difficult time release all this stuff, ask yourself, ‘what do these quizzes, reports, dioramas, and posters represent to me?’ and see if you can better understand why you feel you can’t toss any of this stuff. Remember, these aren’t your or your child’s memories.
Know some other parents who are wondering what to do with all their kids' school papers? Please share this article.
Susan Caplan McCarthy
I'm a professional organizer-coach with 26 years' experience as a teacher. I believe that an organized home isn't your destination but a step on the path toward the life you want to create. I teach decluttering and organizing skills through articles; books; and speaking engagements; as well as virtual coaching sessions.