Dear Crafty Shrink: Our loved ones went crazy this year with Christmas. We also inherited a lot of hand-me-downs. We have accumulated so many toys and clothes, everything is a mess. How can I get my 9 year-old to donate some of it to Goodwill?
Springtime is a wonderful opportunity to teach children the important skill of organization. Many of us accumulate so much stuff during the year and especially during the gift season. Whether it’s old school papers, toys/clothing, or random items in the ‘junk drawer’, here are some crafty ways to teach the organizational component of Spring Cleaning:
1. Depending on your child’s age and temperament, I suggest blocking out “Spring Cleaning Time” or “Organization Time” into 20-minute to 1-hour blocks at a time. If you go much longer than that, the learning lesson tends to diminish due to overload. With that said, organization is a process, so make sure you carve out a designated space for ‘in process’ work in order to be able to go back to it until it’s finished. Sometimes this means covering it with a blanket and making a sign that says “do not touch”.
2. During your Spring Cleaning session, encourage your child to make piles. I suggest 3 piles: (1) a pile of ‘must keep no matter what’, either because it’s a favorite, it’s a necessity, it’s new, and/or it’s sentimental, (2) a pile of ‘would like to keep’, but if the pile was ‘kidnapped’, you/the child wouldn’t miss it too much, and (3) a pile of damaged, outdated, or no longer used items.
3. I suggest forcing things into those 3 piles, while letting the child know that you will review when he is done and that he will be allowed pile changes before the ‘goodbye’ happens. For instance, if he wants to move something from the ‘no longer used’ pile to the ‘would like to keep pile’, then he will have to move something from the ‘would like to keep pile’ to the ‘no longer use pile’. This keeps progress going toward the goal of ‘saying goodbye’, while also providing a system that feels fair.
4. Say goodbye to the ‘damaged, outdated, or no longer used items’ first. If you have a child who is particularly attached to everything, say ‘goodbye’ to it first by moving it from the house to the garage (or a neighbor’s garage). Then, after a week, say goodbye to it by placing it in the trunk of the car for a week. Then, the final goodbye goes to goodwill or the dump. Make sure your child is present for each stage initially – this will build the skills needed to part with things more easily in the future.
5. After one pile is gone (a successful goodbye has been accomplished), encourage your child to identify 5 – 10 things from the ‘would like to keep pile’ that can move into the ‘goodbye’ pile. Repeat as needed during spring. I suggest making this a springtime ritual so your child has a break from this level of detailed organization the rest of the year (although certainly organization is a day-to-day skill).
6. To celebrate the process, invite your child to bring the new into an organized space. There should be more room now in cubbies, bins, closet shelves, etc. I suggest you sit down with your child, markers, stickers, tape, and construction paper in hand, and make signs to place in areas where certain items should go (i.e. “blocks, cars, dolls, school papers”).
A caveat: I can hear what you’re probably thinking: “my child is attached to all of it. She claims that everything is sentimental or being ‘used’ (even if she hasn’t touched it in months)”. In that case, I suggest bringing out the camera and making a memory book of their pictures to honor those belongings; your child can even write a ‘tribute’, such as “this picture of the bunny book is special because I used to read it every day.” For some children, their toys and things feel like extensions of themselves, even their family. I remember wanting to keep this one broken doll because “Aunt Chrissie gave it to me” (even though I didn’t play with it anymore). The idea is to teach children to honor memories, hold the specialness in their hearts, but that goodbyes are a necessary part of life. A goodbye doesn’t have to be harsh or rushed, but it does have to happen when it comes to making room for the new.
Dear Crafty Shrink is a column where readers ask Modern Handmade Child’s Grow Editor, Dr. Julie Hartman, for simple advice on creative ways to teach kids various mini-lessons on life. If you liked this article, please let the Crafty Shrink know! Ask more questions and send in examples of how you implemented the advice. E-mail Julie at firstname.lastname@example.org.