Sorting Out The Kids' Clutter

Sorting Out The Kids’ Clutter

Do you own your kids’ stuff or does it own you? Clutter-buster superstar Peter Walsh shows how taming your stuff can put you back in the driver’s seat of your parenting. 

When it comes to de-cluttering our lives, the key word is ‘from’. Don’t ask, ‘What do I want for my bedroom?’ Ask, ‘What do I want from the room?’. Couples tell me they want a kid-free sanctuary from their bedroom, but I see toys on their bedroom floor and the mum says, “We have three kids”. That’s the wrong statement. The right statement is, ‘Do these toys on the floor give me the bedroom I want?’ The stuff you own should help you create the life you want.

It’s the same with kids. Don’t ask, ‘What do I want for my kids?’ Ask, ‘What do I want from my kids?’ If I give this toy to my child, will it give me the honest, responsible, generous, philanthropic child I want?

Research is showing that clutter can link to depression, anxiety, poor impulse control and a high body mass index. My upcoming book Lose the Clutter, Lose the Weigh explores the link between stress, obesity and clutter. A UCLA study found that clutter raised levels of the stress hormone cortisol, especially in young mothers. A Carnegie Mellon University study recently found that school children in a cluttered classroom spent 40 per cent of the day off-task, compared to 24 per cent in a tidy classroom. Kids in the tidy classroom also performed better on tests.

I have clients with kids on the autism spectrum whose behaviour, learning and focus increased dramatically after de-cluttering.

In 12 years, every single time I have de-cluttered, the kids in the house dance – every time. It’s incredible.

Once you get on top of the things you don’t need, how do you tame the things you do? Try employing the ‘fork principle’. You know where a fork lives – in the kitchen drawer. It has to be the same with all the things in your home. If your child is big on Lego and a construction runs for a week, it makes no sense to be doing that in the middle of the dining-room floor. Allocate a space for Lego projects.

What are the physical limits of your home?

The space in your home is finite and you need to respect the physical limits of your home. If you overload your Tupperware drawers, or any space in your home for that matter, it’s like a bad relationship; you can never be happy.

Decide what space you’ll set aside for your kids’ toys. Negotiate with your partner and kids if necessary. If it’s two toy bins, once they’re full, before your child can add a toy they must get rid of a toy.

We have all these rituals for things coming into the home, from Christmas to the annual spring sale, but we have no rituals for getting rid of things.

Get your kids to take the toys to Vinnies and talk to the volunteers about it. This will develop generous kids with decision-making skills, who understand a hierarchy of value. It teaches them great life lessons.

Kids aren‘t going to learn this in a second – I’m not saying it’s easy. From my work, I see that kids need two things: routines and limits. For example, before dinner, or before they go out to play, or before bed, they must put their things away. That develops a notion of contributing as a responsible household member.

Grown-ups need to lead by example. I had a client with two 16 year olds who said to me, “Make our kids organise their bedroom”. I said, “Great! We’ll start in your garage and in the master bedroom wardrobes first, and then move on to the kids’ rooms!”

Peter’s Top 7 Clutter-Killers


I love the idea of a cart on wheels used as a portable library or toy bin. Pull it to wherever you want to use it and pack it away easily. Wheels – they’re miraculous! Books: Ask yourself, ‘Where do the kids love to read?’ Maybe it’s under the stairs, and you think it’s crazy but the kids love it. The way you store and display things sends a message to kids. Create a reading nook that says to the kids, ‘This is the thing you value and I support you in this’.


I have four plastic shoebox-sized containers labelled ‘Look’ for camera items, ‘Listen’ for MP3 players, ‘Data’ for things like syncing cables, and ‘On the Go’ for items like international power convertors. I throw all that paraphernalia in and slap a bit of tape on the cord using a simple label-maker. Are they perfectly organised? Absolutely not, but I know every single cable is there. Two seconds of labelling at the front end saves an hour at the back end finding it.

School Uniforms + Clothing

Open the wardrobe and kneel down. You’ll be astounded at how un-user-friendly wardrobes are for someone three-feet tall. Bring it all down to their level. Fit it to their size, right down to rod heights, basket organisers and hanger size. Put five sets of clothes or their sports gear and uniforms in those Monday-to-Friday canvas hanging storers. Get a shoe rack to keeps all their shoes in one dedicated place.

Coming + Going

Set up a ‘nerve centre’ at the back door with a hook for each child’s backpack and sunhat, and a seat for them to kick their shoes off. Pin up each kid’s school notes on a large whiteboard with their name on it. You could have a file tray or a cubby for the notes. Ask each child, “Did you put your notes in the tray?” Set up a structure. Don’t expect your kids to stick to a system if you don’t model one yourself.

Outdoor Gear

Keep a series of large wheelie bins for balls, racquets and other outdoor equipment so kids can wheel them into the yard. I’m also a big advocate of bins or totes in the car boot. Have one per kid, or per sport, so they’re easy to gather and bring inside to wash.

Collectibles, Trophies + Treasures

Honour and respect is the difference between collectibles and clutter. I don’t care if you collect Faberge eggs – if it’s not displayed with care, it’s clutter. Display things on glass shelves across a window, or take the kids to the flea market to find a display case to show their collection of toy cars or feathers. Decide how much space you’re going to give trophies; I see boxes and boxes of them on garage shelves.

Artwork + Certificates

I’m a big fan of digital books for storing schoolwork and artwork. Now that kids get a certificate just for showing up, at the end of term decide the three, four or five pieces to keep. Take photos and digitise them in a ‘2015 Highlights’ book and make extra copies for the grandparents. This becomes a tradition in letting stuff go and memorialising the highlights.

Peter Walsh has five books published and for his It’s All Too Much! DVD and his room-by-room organisation app, visit Peter Walsh Design.

Words by Peter Walsh / Photography by Markus Spiske