I’ve already explained why our kids have stuff. Part of the responsibility of having stuff is learning how to manage it. We involve our kids heavily in how we manage the kid stuff.
Be Real With Your Kids
When I was little, the Gunny Sack used to eat our toys if we didn’t put them away. It was literally a pillowcase with a face drawn on it. I think this worked for my sister, but my mom reports that I would just assess whether or not the toys were worth keeping and mostly decide it was easier to let the Gunny Sack take them for awhile. We moved houses when I was 7 and in the move, I found the Gunny Sack in a box. I stole him and stuck him in my closet and was pretty sure I had beat the system!
Instead of using the time-honored Gunny Sack system in our house, I just let my kids make the same choices. If the toys aren’t worth cleaning up, they’re not worth keeping. The kids know my threats aren’t empty. Toys that aren’t picked up when I repeatedly ask are immediately given away. They know how to make that assessment. And a lot of times, I’m surprised by them saying: “I used to really love that toy, but now it’s too frustrating to clean up. I think you should probably give it away.”
Let Kids Make Choices
About twice a year, we collectively clean out the kids’ rooms. We go through each toy they have and have a conversation. When was the last time you played with this? What’s your favorite thing about it? Is this a toy you think someone else might enjoy more? Is this a toy you would like to play with more?
This process is involved, but the more we do it, the more the kids know how to assess things themselves. They can work through if and why they love a toy. Sometimes one sibling will vote they’re done with it and the other will argue they’re not. No toy is taken unless it’s unanimous. The kids also know that our house is small. Storage is tight and they can’t keep everything if they want to keep receiving birthday gifts or Christmas gifts. These conversations help them be better at picking toys out at the store as well when they get a gift card. They think through these questions: will this be a toy I will want to play with? Will this toy keep me entertained?
Managing the Creativity
I do love that my kids are creative. Lui is currently in a phase where he will take a piece of construction paper, draw himself a maze, do the maze, and then cut out the maze and then cut it into a bunch of little pieces. He loves this process and it’s his way of being creative at his age. Luckily, this creativity involves picking up the pieces and immediately recycling them (we’ve even created a system of stuffing the pieces in a jar and then dumping them out in the recycle bin).
The girls are at a different stage of life. The bring home pages and pages of art and work from school. When they’re not in school, they’re gluing, taping, and creating all sorts of things out of various recycled trash (“I need that cereal box for a craft I’m making!”). This stuff quickly gets out of control. We manage this art in two ways:
1) The Art Clip – Each kid has a plastic magnetic clip on the fridge. They can put any papers or art on that clip they want until the clip starts to slide down the fridge. If it can’t stay up on its own, it’s time to recycle.
2) 2 Display Spots – The Girls each have 2 clothes pins in their rooms on the wall to display larger works of art. Caleb gets 2 things taped to his door. If they want to display something else, it’s time to rotate the art.
3) The Craft Cubby – The girls each have a spot in their closet called the craft cubby. In reality, it’s a 12×12 wire shelf cube that I divided in half (giving each girl 6″ of width). In that space, they can store any ribbon pieces, cereal boxes, or shiny stickers they plan to save for future crafts. This is also the place for all crafts that aren’t flat. This means they have to manage the space. If the craft cubby gets too crammed, their art gets destroyed, so they’ve learned to keep it somewhat manageable (and need a reminder every once in awhile).
And that, in a nutshell is how we manage the kid stuff.