My twins are almost 7, and their playroom was a wreck. I was side-kicking Legos and Barbie heads inside so I could squeeze the door shut and block off the nightmare.
When I turned to my local parenting Facebook page for advice, the name Marie Kondo surfaced. Carmen Falls Hunter, an attorney and Fort Worth mom of three, follows Kondo’s 2014 book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing. The Japanese mom has sold millions of copies and was included on Time’s list of 100 most influential people in 2015.
The central tenet of Kondo’s method is physically holding every item you own to see if it evokes happiness. If it does, you find a place for it; if it doesn’t, you thank it for its services and then donate or dump it. Her primary rule is also the title of one of her chapters: Sort by Category, Not by Location.
“It’s just so practical,” Hunter says. “You take everything out of the room one category at a time and not worry about who gave it to you or where it came from. You just focus on the joy it brings.”
It may be practical, but the very idea of holding every single item in my kids’ playroom was overwhelming. How would I get my kids to help me? Was a 6-year-old even capable of making such heavy decisions?
After consulting the experts, three rules proved crucial to Kondo-ing our playroom.
1. Talk to your kids beforehand.
Focus on happiness and the items that produce it, but tailor your conversation to your child’s maturity. For example, if you tell your 3-year-old that he is never going to see his neglected G.I. Joes again, he might be reluctant to give them up.
Sam Peters, a licensed professional counselor in Lewisville who specializes in pediatric development, explains that a child may claim an object still makes him happy if he knows the alternative is losing it.
“Typically, the younger children are, the more open you can expect a false positive if you tell them that you are going to give their belonging away,” Peters says. “If you don’t tell them what will happen to the object when they say it doesn’t bring them happiness, they may be more likely to give you an honest answer.”
He also says that it’s not necessarily about the age of the children but their ability to contextualize that determines how much they can contribute.
If your child is at a higher developmental level, try explaining the joy he will bring to other kids by donating his things. Taking the scary garbage truck out of the equation and replacing it with a less fortunate little boy or girl seemed to help a lot with my kids’ separation anxieties.
2. Don’t linger on memory lane.
Seriously—don’t even glance that way. We started with baby toys and dubbed three corners as Keep, Donate and Trash. I could not believe the resistance I encountered when I tried to put a dead glow stick in the Trash pile. Turns out, it was my daughter’s favorite glow stick; it reminded her of visiting Grandmother for the Fourth of July. Two minutes later my son put his tattered baby blanket—one of the first blankets I ever bought as a mother—in the Trash pile!
Hunter’s family also struggled to get rid of things that were given to them by someone special. “We had to accept that our home could not serve as museum for all these things we tied sentimental value to,” she says. “I narrowed it down to one box. If it could not put in the box, we would take a picture of it to remember it by and then give it away.”
So my kids and I negotiated: I would take a picture of the old glow stick, the blanket and whatever else brought back happy memories and create a picture album. That at way, we could still be reminded of special items without stuffing the playroom to the brim.
3. Keep it simple.
I could typically keep the kids focused for 30-minute intervals, enough time to go through 15 to 20 toys, reminisce and then make the critical decision. After two long days, our last challenge loomed: Finding a place for the Keep pile, and making it easy for my kids to maintain.
Valerie Wood, professional organizer for Neat Method in Dallas, believes a child is never too young to begin keeping her space tidy. “My 1-year-old, Addison, has color coding all over her room,” she reveals. “Even at her age, she is already able to recognize that red books go with red books and blue with blue.”
Wood suggests using bins and sorting by texture—woods, plastics and foams should each have their own bin, for example. “Keeping it as simple as possible and not getting too detailed will help the child be able to maintain it on her own,” she says.
Telling my son to put up his Lincoln Logs isn’t a painful sentence anymore, as there is a specic place dedicated to his village-building components.
It’s been a week since we finished. I’m knocking on wood, but I think this is going to stick. Finally, we can stand outside the playroom, breathe deeply, and say, “This brings me happiness.”