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November 9, 2018

“Clutterfree with Kids” – Is that possible?

Ever finish a busy Saturday lugging the kids from activity to activity (9am soccer for middle kid, 11am birthday party for the oldest, quick Chick Fil A drive through, 1pm play date for the youngest, etc!) only to come home exhausted to a cluttered house with stuff all over the place?  Ugh, you want to sit down to relax but you can’t cause the house is a mess so you start to pick up the house…annoyed that you can’t seem to get a break for yourself.

I think most of you can relate.  It’s not just us, right?

So what can we do about it?  I’m not one to believe that “that’s just how it is”, I wanna make some changes and do things different.

So I recently looked around for books that I thought may help.  One I came across was “Clutterfree with Kids” by Joshua Becker, a popular minimalist author.  I read the book, highlighted a ton of it (which always tells me I’m hungry for the topic at hand) and I wanted to share 6 steps you could take to reduce the clutter in your life.  (If you like this post you’ll likely enjoy the book.  I’m happy to toss my copy on your front porch if you want!)

Too much stuff 

The world is on a mission to get you to buy stuff, and we have to recognize that before we can ever start to slow down our consumption.  The world’s constant message is you need to buy something and it will make you happier, better, smarter, cooler, sexier, healthier, more “fulfilled”.   If we live life without a plan for what we’ll buy and what we’ll bring into our homes they will by default fill up with stuff we don’t need or even want.

As a real estate broker, I am often in peoples’ homes and I get to see the stuff first hand.  I often see unfinished basements completely crammed with stuff.  I see kids toys room so filled with options any kids head would explode.  I see lots of garages so full of stuff that often times only 1 car can fit in the 2 car garage.  The accumulation just happens and people aren’t even sure what they have.  This is the norm.

So we waste some money and accumulate stuff that takes up some space…that’s not that big of a deal is it?

The problem is this stuff costs us more than just money.  Its a vicious cycle that never ends.  We have to work hard to make more money because we spent it on stuff.  Then after work we have to spend time cleaning and organizing all that same stuff.  After all this work and all this time cleaning and organizing we’re just exhausted and we don’t get to the things that matter most to us.  We push our relationships, our quality time with our kids, our time to exercise, etc all to the back burner because we’re understandably just too exhausted.  This seemingly harmless stuff is robbing us of what matters most.

What if we didn’t have all this excess stuff and instead of the constant organizing we just did what the kids actually want to do…which is have us sit down on the floor and just play with them.  (if that sentence cuts you a little bit you’re not alone, it does to me too) I don’t know about you but my kids are still in the phase where they think dad is fun and if I ask if they want to play the answer is “yes!” 100% of the time.  Those of you who have teens could tell me this phase is not here forever.

So maybe you’re agreeing at this point…yes we have too much stuff!  So what can we do about it?

6 Steps to Reducing Your Stuff:

Be open & take the time to change.  To make some progress you have to be open to slowing down and looking at your life from a 30,000 foot level. You have to be open to reviewing what you’ve been doing on auto pilot and what you could differently.  You got to this point by winging it and doing your best, but unless you are open to creating intentional plans for how you’ll handle things you can’t change

Do a room by room assessment of your stuff to eliminate excess. You pick where you want to start, but just pick a target room and focus on it rather than trying to do everything at once. For example, start with the kids toy area.  Go through it with them, ask them what they like playing with and Goodwill the rest.  Use it as a time to teach them that we have been blessed with a lot and we need to share with other kids that don’t have toys.  Seeing what you have, assessing what actually gets used and eliminating the rest is the first step.

Agree on a plan for that room going forward. Ok so you cleared out the kids toy area, that’s great!  But you already know how this goes…that toy area is going to fill right back up.  Unless you have an agreed upon plan for how you’ll handle toys going forward.  What if you agree that when 1 new toy comes in 1 must also go out?  What if you have a set amount of physical space for toys and you don’t allow any more once that space is full?  What if you explain to family and friends you really want experiences over physical gifts going forward for the kids?  I don’t have the specific rules for you, those are personal, but the point is you have a conversation with your spouse about how you’ll handle it so you have a game plan going forward.  This to me is the key, if you don’t have a plan for how you’ll approach things going forward you will end up in the same cluttered place.  Got the kids toy area done?  Now you could apply that same process to the mud room, the pantry, the master closet, the garage, the basement, etc.  It’s gonna take some time but I think once we jump in and get a few areas done the process will build momentum and we’ll be excited.

Assign everything a “home”.  As you complete your room by room you should come up with an agreed upon “home” for each item in your home.  What I mean by that is everything should have a place it goes so there is no excuse for something being left on the living room floor.  A good example to use here is kids art.  They come home with 8 sheets of scribble filled (but beautiful) paper eager to show you what they made at school today!  You acknowledge they’re great and they run off to play, leaving you with their creations. Now what?  These usually just end up kind of all over the place.  What if you have a system for this?  Great work they love & you want to feature goes on the pantry door (only room for a few key pieces), then all other ones get pinned on the “art wall” in the unfinished basement.  And some they don’t really care about get tossed immediately when they leave the room.  Truly cute ones you want to hang on to get kept in one small bin or you digitize them and toss the originals.  There you go, a plan for how you handle kids art and it no longer ends up all over the place.  What else needs a “home”?

Do a daily stuff round up. Ideally you’ll get to the point where you’re all putting items back in their “home” right away.  It’s not a perfect world though, so what if before bed each night you and the kids do a room by room stuff round up together.  A quick 5-10 minute round up could help avoid the house getting to the point of chaos we’re all used to.  You can actually get things back to a pretty decent state in just that short amount of time.

Agree on a system for reducing new stuff that comes into the home. Uh, oh..this is where the rubber meets the road and you make progress in living a clutter free life or you end up living the typical cluttered American life.  Unless we stop accumulating stuff we don’t truly need we’re stuck.  Talk with your spouse about being intentional about what we bring home.  It starts with not buying stuff we don’t need.   (that cute sweater for the kids just cause it’s on sale even though they have plenty, etc) That one is simple, but not easy, and we are fighting an uphill battle because of the hundreds of marketing messages we get hit with daily. But there are also situations where you don’t even buy things but somehow they come your way.  For example, you go to a kids party and when you’re about to leave they hand you a big bag of plastic kids junk as a “thanks” for coming.  It’s probably awkward to say “no thanks”, right?  Well what if you have a bin in the mud room at your home for these types of items and they go straight into the goodwill bin?  But your kids will be mad?  Explain to them that other kids need this stuff much more than they do.  It’s a great lesson for them on giving and you no longer have that plastic junk on your floor.  Or how about this one? Grandma and grandpa buy the kids a bunch of toys for their birthday even though you encouraged them to go with experiences over things.  What if you have decided with your spouse that the kids have a set number of toys so if they take one in they have to donate one out?  The point is you have systems and a plan.

Well there you have it.  Six steps that will hopefully help you reduce the clutter and more importantly the stress, in your life. I hope this encourages you to chat with your spouse and hopefully take some of the steps towards a less stressful life!

As I mentioned earlier, this is a journey I’m on and I’m trying to improve. If you have suggestions, stories, things that have worked for you, etc I’d love to hear about them and my contact info is below!  I think talking through it with others could be very helpful so let’s help each other along the way.

(If this message spoke to you here is another book you may like.)

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