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You know those images in decorating magazines and websites of pristine children’s bedrooms with every toy, book, game and stuffed animal neatly in its place? Lies, all lies! As any parent well knows, kids can accumulate tons of stuff and their rooms can go from neat to complete chaos in no time flat. (Don’t even get us started on rooms shared by two or more siblings). “Kids' stuff grows like weeds,” says NYC organization expert Lisa Zaslow of Gotham Organizers, who recommends regular purging sessions to keep the volume constant. “While spring is a great time to pare down, immediately before or after birthdays and gift-giving holidays are also prime periods.” Here, Zaslow’s top tips for keeping kid clutter under control.
1. Involve your kids in the process. Teach them that they have limited space but that giving (or, rather, recycle by donating) old items away makes room for new ones. Explain how they'll benefit: It'll be easier to find their belongings and post-play cleanup will be a breeze, plus other kids might enjoy the novelty of their donated toys and books.
2. Create a list of criteria for paring down. This can include ridding the room of things that are broken or incomplete, such as games with missing pieces or books with missing pages. If they haven't played with something for the last year, they're probably over it and, after keeping the one version, multiples of the same toy can be given away.
3. Set clear goals for clearing out excess stuff. Goals can be space-, number- or time-dependent. For example, you may decide to keep only as many books as will fit on the shelves — no floor piles allowed! — or suggest that each child keep their 10 favorite stuffed animals. Or see how much old stuff can be cleared away in, say, 25 minutes.
4. Make it a game—with prizes! Try inspiring your kids by awarding prizes for whoever lets go of the most things in a given amount of time, fills a donation bag fastest, or reaches one of the goals described in out third tip above.
5. Set the mood. Make the clearing process more fun by turning on energizing music and/or dressing small children in a “clutter-clearing” costume. (Maybe you'll don a silly cleanup uniform yourself.)
6. Offer a choice. Ease the decision-making process by giving kids either/or choices. Hold up two items and ask which they like best. Beware: Don't let your child hold the item. We tend to get more attached to stuff we touch.
7. Snap a pic. Take photos of beloved toys and art creations before letting them go so you and your children have a keepsake of them.
8. Try toy exile. If all else fails and you or your kids are unsure about whether or not to get rid of an item, box it up and put it away for a reasonable amount of time (say, two weeks). If your child doesn't ask for it in that period of time, it's a pretty safe bet you can toss it or give it away.