How To Get A Clean, Clutter-Free Home... With Young Kids!

Tuesday, March 03, 2015 0 Comments A+ a-

This post was originally written 4 years ago when we just had 1 child. I thought it'd be a good time to re-share it, as our house is currently on the market again, and we now have 2 children as well as a dog living in our tiny home. :)

About 6 months ago, Ken and I decided to put our house up for sale. Our son was about 1 1/2 at the time, and we were quickly accumulating a lot of... stuff. Our house is small by many standards - 1092 sq ft - 3 bedrooms, 1 bathroom, and one "great room" that serves as main living area, dining room, and kitchen. It's a beautiful home - it's just kinda small. And, we wanted something bigger. We were looking to upgrade into a home at least twice the size, to hold all of our new "stuff". But first, we needed to "stage" our house. Basically, this means you get rid of photos, nick-nacks, clutter... nothing... so potential buyers see your house, not your stuff. Needless to say, we relocated A LOT of our stuff to the garage, so our house would show better.

And, something happened. Our house went from feeling small and cramped to feeling amazing! I enjoyed not having a lot of clutter. I felt relaxed and calm. It changed my whole mood. Part of me didn't want to even sell anymore. I wanted to get rid of all of my junk and clutter, so I could have the picture perfect house that I was in. I realized that we didn't necessarily even need a bigger house. We just needed less junk.

Our kitchen & dining room area
So, our house has been on the market for almost 6 months now, and while we've had quite a few showing, and even a bid - we have yet to sell. And, that's fine with me. If we get an amazing offer within the next few weeks, things might change. But, I'm pretty sure we're going to stick it out quite a while longer here.

And, remember all of that junk that was in the garage? Well, it turned out that I didn't miss it much at all. We've recently started bringing stuff back into the house... and I started to feel my spirits going down. My nice house was starting to turn into a mess again. And I hated it. So, the stuff brought in from the garage quickly became "stuff to donate" or "stuff to put in the attic".

But what about ALL of my son's toys? Well, they were pretty much taking over the entire house, and had quite a bit to do with our desire to upgrade into a bigger home. His closet was packed with toys. Toys were all over his bedroom. Toys were everywhere in the living room. Toys were in the computer room. And, you know what? He hardly ever played with any of them. They'd get thrown all over... and, in the end, he'd just play with his few favorites. But, his lack of interest in many of his toys is actually a blessing in disguise.

I read about this on a website - Small Notebook For  ASimple Home - and it makes COMPLETE sense. Too many toys were overwhelming my son. He doesn't need 50 books to choose from. He doesn't need a million little cars. Toddlers thrive with fewer toys to focus their attention on. They're able to focus, and play with just one thing. So, keeping this in mind...  

  1. We've taken some of the "big" toys he never plays with, and are putting them in the attic. There's also a BIG bin of stuffed animals going up too. This alone has done wonders for organizing his toys that he does use. We'll bring one down every now and then... but in general, there's no sense in un-used toys taking up valuable real estate in a small house. And, since they're toys he hardly ever uses, it just makes sense.
  2. I scrapped the elaborate bin system I created (small toys, shapes, cars, balls, soft toys, shapes etc.). It just took up WAY too much space having so many boxes in his closet - and things never ended up in the right boxes anyways. Now, he has 2 medium-sized tupperware containers for his closet. 
  3. Toys that hang (like a drum kit with a strip), or can be put in a bucket with a handle - are all hanging in his closet on hangers. Instead of having tons of magnetic numbers, duplo blocks, shapes, and small parts in one "small toys" box, they're separated out - making them easier to find and play with.   
  4. I removed all but a few books from his shelf in his room, and put the rest in his newly-renovated closet. This freed up an entire shelf in his room. 
  5. He now has 3 shelfs of toys to play with at any given time. I'll rotate them out with the toys in the Tupperware bins in his closet.
And, when I was finished, something crazy happened. My son got a toy of the shelf... something that had always been out - but hidden in the clutter - and he started playing with it. And, he played with it for longer than he ever had. I almost couldn't believe it - having fewer toys was working!

In fact... do you know what he loves to play with the most? Things that aren't toys. He'll play with the vacuum cleaner extension parts, he'll play with our cats, he'll climb all over Daddy or Mommy, he'll help me with laundry, and he'll jump on a matress, or review what he's not allowed to play with. Times he's playing with toys are few and far between... and it's almost always a toy car he's playing with. 

There's still more work to be done, but I feel like a switch has gone off in my head. I feel better living a cleaner, more organized, less cluttered home. I no longer have a desire to accumulate things. In fact, I only have the desire to get rid of more of my stuff. It's true what Tyler Durden says in Fight Club - "The things you own end up owning you."

And, to perhaps help you on your own journey to de-cluttering your life, I'll leave you with the following Buddhist story:

Releasing the Cows - Told by Master Thich Nhat Hanh

 One day the Buddha was sitting in the wood with thirty or forty monks. They had an excellent lunch and they were enjoying the company of each other. There was a farmer passing by and the farmer was very unhappy. He asked the Buddha and the monks whether they had seen his cows passing by.

The Buddha said they had not seen any cows passing by. The farmer said, "Monks, I'm so unhappy. I have twelve cows and I don't know why they all ran away. I have also a few acres of a sesame seed plantation and the insects have eaten up everything. I suffer so much I think I am going to kill myself.

The Buddha said, "My friend, we have not seen any cows passing by here. You might like to look for them in the other direction."

So the farmer thanked him and ran away, and the Buddha turned to his monks and said, "My dear friends, you are the happiest people in the world. You don't have any cows to lose. If you have too many cows to take care of, you will be very busy.

"That is why, in order to be happy, you have to learn the art of cow releasing (laughter). You release the cows one by one. In the beginning you thought that those cows were essential to your happiness, and you tried to get more and more cows. But now you realize that cows are not really conditions for your happiness; they constitute an obstacle for your happiness. That is why you are determined to release your cows." 

I've found a few nice storage bins have been a huge help in the decluttering process. By putting things in bins, and putting them in the attic, I'm able to see how our family does after getting rid of certain items, without getting rid of them yet. Items that have been in bins for 6 months to a year that have never been needed are safe to sell at the flea market or donate to Goodwill. Here are a few bins I recommend for storing unwanted items in the attic, basement, or garage.

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