Utilise school holiday down-time: Teach your primary school kids to de-clutter

If you're in the position of being home with the kids during school holidays, I know this can mean striking a balance between enjoying your time together and the challenge of keeping them busy.  This time actually presents a wonderful opportunity to teach them a life skill and improve the state of your home. Yep you can de-clutter with your kids!

No doubt you've already taught them how to unstack the dishwasher, feed the pets and collect the mail amongst a whole range of other jobs around the house. However teaching kids why and how to de-clutter is commonly an over-looked life skill. The earlier you teach them, and the more normalised the process is as part of running your household, the easier it will be for the kids.

De-clutter with your Primary School kids

These categories are a great place to start.  

  1. Pens, pencils and crayons
  2. Boardgames and cards
  3. Dress ups
  4. Cheap plastic toys
  5. Clothes and shoes (especially around change of season)


The conversation around de-cluttering needs to meet the child at their level of development and understanding.  I find that my conversation with my 8yo daughter is different from my 6yo son. The rule of thumb is always to keep the conversation focused on the positives of de-cluttering. A 'what's in it for them' approach really helps. 

For example:

  • Lets sort through your pencils and textas and find all the ones that still work - instead of - lets toss away all your old pencils and textas.
  • I see you have lots and lots of plastic toys here, far more than you ever use.  Do you think you could choose some to donate to other kids who don't have any toys?
  • I notice that you're having trouble keeping your room tidy.  There is a lot of you to try to look after.  Can we see if we can make life easier for you by finding any old toys you don't play with anymore?  Maybe we could donate them to some younger children.
  • I know that you really want to buy XXX toy.  How about we raise the money to pay for it and make room for it by selling some of your toys which you no longer use?


  1. Select a category such as the ones listed above.
  2. Collect all the items belonging to that category together in one spot such as the dining table. Seeing it all together really helps kids to understand just how much they have.
  3. Sort these items into sub-categories; like with like.
  4. Identify anything which is broken, too small, has missing pieces or is no longer fit for purpose. 
  5. Decide as a team if these items should be fixed, replaced or thrown away.
  6. Ask your kids which of the remaining items they love.  Ask them to pick their favourite and then work backwards.  Don't pick for them.  Listen to their feedback.
  7. Let them know it is safe to be honest.  They may not like the last toy grandma gave them. Let them know that it's ok.
  8. Watch for when their enthusiasm starts to diminish; when they stop picking their real favourites and start just grabbing whatever is left.  Gently question them and try to find the line.
  9. Discuss options for what to do with items in good condition such as donating to other children in need or selling on a local Buy Swap Sell site.
  10. Be there with them side by side, but don't force decisions.  Re-enforce the benefits along the way.

Questions to ask your child to identify what is really important to them:

  • Do you really love this, or is it just ok?
  • If I said it was time for free play, what would you choose to play with first?
  • Which of these are your favourites, and why?
  • How do you feel when your room is neat and tidy?
  • How do you feel when your room is messy and you are asked to clean it up?
  • Would you prefer to have X toy or Y toy.  Why?  (You don't have to make them choose; just listen to their thought process).
  • What is it about your favourite that you like so much?
  • If your room was only filled with you favourites, how would that make you feel?
  • If you had less things to keep tidy, what could you do more of?

    Tips for Mum and Dad

    • Just like adults, kid's unique personalities will determine their willingness to de-clutter.  Some will take to it easily and love the results, others will think that everything is important.  But never assume what your child's reaction or decisions will be.
    • Be prepared that you might not get your preferred outcome the first time around. Primary aged kids are already getting the constant message that stuff equals happiness.  It's a skill which takes time, experience and practice.  
    • If you find yourself feeling overwhelmed and stressed during the process, it is because your expectations are not aligned with the reality of where your child is at.  Realise they're learning, and so are you.  Ask yourself "what is the reality of this situation?" 
    • Really hear what they are saying to you. Do not discount their opinions about their belongings.  
    • Do not decide for them what they can or cannot keep.  Forcing them to keep a toy they don't like won't suddenly make them play with it.  Removing something you think is rubbish but they love will break the trust triangle between the two of you and the process.
    • De-clutter regularly.  Normalise it in your household.
    • Lead by example by de-cluttering in other areas of the home.
    • Reinforce the process with conversations around the dinner table.
    • Use it as a teachable moment; it is a great jumping off point to introduce kids to ideas of environmentalism and recycling, conscious consumerism, charity, home management and being smart with money.
    • Try to stem the tide of what is coming into the home in the future.  This may mean talking with family and friends about what gifts are given.

    Do you know other parents who would benefit from this info?  Please share it with your network so they can de-clutter with their kids too this holidays!