Creative Child

Teach the Gift of Tidying Up this Holiday Season

by Deborah Song

When it comes to kids and cleaning, the old adage, “Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime,” certainly applies. If we clean up after our kids, which is annoying but relatively easy, we have a tidy house for a day. But if we can teach our kids to clean, he’ll learn to have order for a lifetime.

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With the holiday train sure to unload more clutter, one of the best gifts just might be empowering your child to get organized. Research shows that people with tidier homes sleep better, are healthier, and have better focus. And as Marie Kondo cites as the motivation for her new children’s book, Kiki & Jax: The Life-Changing Magic of Friendship, “When children learn how to tidy, they realize what’s important to them.” Teaching your child to clean can be the gift that keeps on giving. Here are some helpful tips and ways to empower your child to tidy up.

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  1. Assign a place for everything. As parents, we need to empower our children to clean. And they can’t really clean if they don’t know where things belong. So it’s important for parents to do the underlying work and create those bins and boxes. It may even help to create boxes within boxes. And if they are too young to read, you can even label the boxes with pictures. By assigning a place for their things and equipping them with the tools to clean, they’ll feel empowered to clean even when mom or dad isn’t around to provide instructions.
  2. Teach your child to be decisive. Mess is usually the result of indecisiveness. When we can’t decide where something goes, we tell ourselves we’ll clean it later, which begets mess. Instilling the habit of cleaning is actually a great habit that will teach your kids to be decisive. If your child isn’t quite sure whether his new transformer plushie belongs in the transformer box or the stuffed animal bin, ask him to be the one that makes that decision.
  3. Expunge the KonMari way. With holiday gifts sure to create more clutter, it’s important to part with things – and you don’t have to feel guilty about it. As Kondo says, the true purpose of a gift is to be received. So thank the giver, in continued Kondo parlance, then thank the gift, and part with whatever doesn’t bring you joy.
  4. Create boundaries. It’s unlikely that your child will be as tidy as your Martha Stewart ambitions might be. For many parents, designating a separate space for their kid’s things is a great way to keep harmony with their Tasmanian devils. Your child’s space will seldom be spotless. But it is their space. And as long as they understand that there are boundaries, that their things, their toys, their crayons, and their artwork, belong in the toy room or their room, you can claim the rest of your house in orderly fashion. Having their own domain will also help create a sense of ownership.
  5. Make choices for your child. When it comes to discarding things, you will likely need to make some choices on behalf of your child. Kids tend to be hoarders and they will likely say every piece of toy brings them joy if you ask them. It’s probably safe to assume that if your child hasn’t played with a toy in over a year, he won’t miss it very much.
  6. Teach your child to clean in increments. Telling a child to clean up his room can feel daunting. But telling a child to clean for the next five minutes is much more manageable. And this way, you would also be teaching your child to focus on the effort, not the result. In those five minutes, your child gets to decide what to keep, what to throw away, and learn organizational skills by putting things away in their proper place. He’ll create order. Don’t be surprised, when after seeing the fruits of his labor, he continues to clean even after those five minutes are up.
  7. Inspire through reading.  Books are a great way to initiate new perspectives. Kondo’s new book is certainly a great place to start. Kiki & Jax: The Life-Changing Magic of Friendship, is a simple read with a powerful message: too much clutter can get in the way of important things in life like friendship. But there are plenty of other books out there to inspire kids to clean, like Let’s Clean Up! By Jenna Laffin, or the more tongue-in-cheek Too Many Toys by David Shannon.

Deborah Song is the founder of travelbyword.com, a cruelty-free company committed to creating travel accessories that help travelers journey with ease, efficiency and elegance. She loves to travel the globe in pursuit of good food, wider life perspectives and great adventure stories with her kids. Deborah is a Canadian-born, mompreneur and Los Angeles-based writer, who obtained her master’s in journalism from New York University. You can find her travel stories at www.blog/travelbyword.com.

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