Peter Walsh: Making DeCluttering a Family Affair

By Elena Epstein

Parenting - family clutter

Organization Expert Peter Walsh says decluttering is possible if you get the whole family involved. PHOTO COURTESY PETER WALSH

It starts with the baby shower and grows to invade our living rooms, closets and kitchen counters. Under the weight of all the baby gear, toys, art projects, school announcements, awards and books, we wonder whether it is even possible to de-clutter when you are parenting kids. Peter Walsh, an L.A.-based organization expert, best-selling author and a contributor on “The Rachael Ray Show,” says the answer is a definite yes! But the project has to involve the whole family.

How do we begin to purge the kid stuff that takes over our homes?

Oftentimes, parents just pick up after their kids. But why do parents have to be servants to their kids? Parents should teach their children to be a contributing part of the family. Parents can accomplish this by setting limits and establishing routines. With toys, for example, you have to decide on a limit – whatever you’re comfortable with, two bins, one closet. And before you buy a new toy, you let go of an old one. Allow your children to chose which toy to give away, which also teaches them about decision-making and charity. The next fundamental step is establishing routines. When you finish playing, put the toy away in the designated bin or closet. Make this part of the activity. When we let kids walk away from the toys on the floor, we are giving a subtle message that they are not responsible for these things.

Is there one concept that sets the foundation for organization?

The “fork principle.” It’s an old concept, but it’s critical. If you found a fork in your closet or on the floor of your living room, everyone in your family would know exactly where that fork should go. Everything in your home should have a designated spot. Where do your kids’ backpacks go? If it’s the kitchen floor, then they need a home. Have a family meeting and decide together where your clutter-challenges are, where things should live and what routines you want to set up. Make it simple – backpacks go on these hooks, notes from school go in this basket.

Tell us why you don’t like the word “later.”

Clutter is decision delayed, and the word “later” opens the door for more clutter. You can start small, but start today. The “trash bag tango” is a fun and quick way to make a huge difference. Set a timer for 10 minutes and give everyone two trash bags and have them run through the house. In one trash bag, put garbage – old magazines, broken toys, games with missing pieces. In the second bag, put things you no longer need or want. If you have a family of four, and you do this every night for one week, you’ll have 28 bags going to charity and 28 bags going in the trash. With younger kids, you can make a game of it and stand on a bathroom scale at the end of 10 minutes and whoever has the heaviest bags gets to choose a movie or an activity.

What about sentimental clutter like our kids’ artwork?

Your child should be responsible to put all their artwork in a designated spot. At the end of the month, go through them together and select two to three of their favorite pieces and put those in a memory box. Then take a photo of all the others and create a wonderful album. Display some in frames and swap out the art every month, and share some with grandparents and other family members by having your kids turn their art into cards.

What happens to families when the clutter is cleared away?

When families talk about clutter, they often use words like, “I feel buried and suffocated.” And when it’s gone, they feel like a weight is lifted off of them. In every single case where we have worked with families with young children, when the kids come into the room that is uncluttered, they begin to dance. There is this joy and freedom they feel.

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