Let the spring cleaning begin! Here’s how to declutter the kid junk

The arrival of spring promises more opportunities to get your messy little ones to run amok outside in the sunshine instead of destroying the house. But, if you’re anything like me, the cool months of too many rainy days spent inside have left your house in dire need of an overhaul.

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Whether you have an avoid-at-all-cost or a this-is-so-liberating attitude to spring cleaning, we want to help you get in and get it done.

From organising baby’s room to conquering the clutter and everything in between, eventually the job becomes too big to ignore so we’ve rallied some fresh ways to stop your house being taken over by kid junk.

We’ve all seen the memes about trying to smuggle unused toys out of the house without our children finding out.

Getting caught would mean facing the wrath of a child who couldn’t possibly survive without that now broken thingamabob they found in a chocolate egg. (You know, the one we will pretend you didn’t buy because you had hit the quota of tantrums you were prepared to parent through that day?!)

Well, expert clutter conquerer Carol Martyn, founder of Dr DeClutter in Melbourne, says that freeing our children of excess stuff can actually be one of the best decisions parents can make.

She founded her business eight years ago, but says she worked out the freedom she could enjoy with less stuff long before.

“When I was a kid, there was a joke that I was born with a clipboard in my hand,” Carol says.

“I came from a big family of six girls, my parents worked shift work, and I think I was just a lazy kid who would rather be outside playing than inside doing my chores.

“I worked out early that the less stuff I hang on to, the less I had to put away, and the more time I had to play.”

Carol says as well has helping people organise their homes, she is passionate about educating people about why the clutter accumulates.

Here are some of her tried and tested strategies.

How much stuff is too much for our children?

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“The first thing I say about kids’ stuff is to make really good choices about how much is too much,” Carol says.

She says too often, as parents, we show our love by buying our children the latest and greatest stuff.

“What happens with that is kids can get overwhelmed, because their brains are still forming, so their focus becomes about the next shiny object,” Carol says.

“They see something and think ‘I want that’ then they look up and see something else and go, ‘Oh, I like this one’ and they’ll pull it out.

“One of the things that I recommend is to limit the amount of choices that young children have so that the less they have, the more they have to use it.”

Space should always dictate stuff

“Space always, always, always dictates how much to keep,” Carol says.

“If there is a cupboard for toys then that is where all the toys go, rather than becoming a toy room, the children’s room, the garage, the shed where toys can spill out everywhere.

“As a parent, it is often left to us to run around and pick up everything and what happens is that the less they have, the more they play with it, and the less parents are having to pick it all up.”

What your children want vs what you want

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“Children always have their favourites,” Carol says.

“I often ask parents, what does your child play with? Because often, as parents, we have things we’d love them to play with that are educational or learning-based but, for kids, they might be really happy just to go to the kitchen and pull out pots and pans and a wooden spoon and bang away.

“Be guided by your children’s interests.”

Be clear with family and friends

“It is OK around Christmas and birthdays to get really clear with friends and family about what it is you want for your children,” Carol says.

“I say this because I don’t know how many times I work with parents who will say, ‘All that we want for our children is ‘XYZ’ and what we get given is ‘ABC’.

“Sometimes it’s important we be clear about what we want so we don’t end up in overwhelm.”

Make brave and good decisions with sentimental items

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“It’s about making brave decisions and making good decisions and sometimes it’s about realising why you have some things,” Carol says.

“One mum I worked with always wanted a girl but had two boys and she had bought all these girl baby clothes, but then she realised she was never going to have anymore children and her family was complete as it was, so she then started the process of moving the clothes on.”

Carol says sentimental items don’t have to go until we are ready. “When it comes to things that are sentimental, there are many ways around it and I don’t ever believe it needs to go until you are ready to move it on.

“Sometimes we put such huge pressure on ourselves that, say because our baby is now a toddler, we have to move on their favourite blanket. I always say ‘You’re the mum; you know the best time to move it on’.”

Keep the sentiment but let go of the stuff

“Some of the strategies include having a sentimental box where all of the really precious things that belong to that child are kept – again space will determine how much is in that box so you can’t put in every blanket, every sock, singlet and jumpsuit,” Carol says.

“What that does is forces us to make some really good decisions about what is going to go in there.”

Carol says another strategy is to take lots of photographs.

“Take photos and keep photos of your child with the item,” she says.

“I know of someone whose father had passed and he’s never been there to see her newborn boy so she took her father’s favourite shirt and had it made into a teddy bear and the eyes were buttons. She repurposed the shirt in such a lovely way and it was a given that was never going to leave.

“But this highlights the attachments we place on stuff as opposed to our children, and there are many ways to get around it. whether it be a collection of photos of the special things, making a blanket of material patches from the precious things or a collage.”

Declutter with your child’s consent by offering choice

“Depending on their age, I believe in working with consent of children,” she says.

“If they are school aged, for children who want to keep everything, get them to choose by holding up two items at a time.

“The things they don’t use, you make an agreement, will go in a plastic bag and it has to go out of sight. You tell them that all of the things not used by a certain date will then be donated to kids who really need them.

“The important thing is to just move the stuff on when that date comes and not revisit it with the child.”

Cycle of arts and crafts

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“For kids who have lots of craft, or come home from school with lots of bits and pieces, have a space on the fridge or a wall where they can put their art piece – and the one before it goes out,” Carol says.

“You can take a photo of the special art and then take it to a place like Officeworks to make a book. It’s a really lovely way of keeping it all condensed.”

So go put on some of your favourite music and like a modern-day Mary Poppins make the cleaning process as fun as possible.

As many Babyologists have pointed out before, even a job as tedious as the laundry can be made into a fun game with kids.

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