Chinese New Year beckons real soon. Since early December, many households have been in the throes of Spring Cleaning. The Salvation Army and the Karang Guni* man are doing a rip-roaring business I am sure. So are places like Ikea and Courts.

Teaching Children to Declutter is a life skill

Out with the old, in with the new

Everyone wants their homes to look good for the New Year (Gregorian and Lunar). I have written a few posts on decluttering (see Related Posts at the end of this article) over the years.

Of all the household chores I struggle with, decluttering is the least of my woes. It is just something I do not have to think twice. Physical clutter makes me feel mang zhang (antsy, flustered). I guess having many people in a confined space makes it worse.

So, you could say that I am a minimalist by compulsion?

Anyway, clutter, like dust, builds up daily. And as with dusting, if you don’t do it regularly, it is a pain to get to it. I totally get that it is easier to just dump stuff onto any flat surface than to bring it to its designated place to keep.

Of course, this implies that there is actually a designated place for the stuff to go to. If there isn’t, you have a bigger problem at hand. Because… why did you buy something you have no space in the house for? The item you buy should either add to the beauty of your home or serve a practical purpose. By the way, no matter how beautiful a piece of item is, if it is placed in the midst of clutter, its beauty is wasted.

But I digress.

Having 9 persons in the house mean regular decluttering is necessary. But I cannot be the only one doing it. Everyone must do his/her part. So I make my children declutter too.

HOW do I teach my children to declutter?

Children are natural hoarders. I believe it’s part of the innate fear of missing out and their selfish natures at work. Even if they already have 523 toilet rolls, they still need more. Right? So we need to teach them that hoarding shows that we don’t trust God to provide for us.

Plus I am starting to learn that we need to hold on to things lightly. The only thing we need to hold on tightly to is our relationship with God.

Designate places

I start by designating places for them to put their junk stuff. A Toyogo box for example. I prefer Toyogo boxes to cardboard boxes because they have lids and can be easily dusted or wiped clean. Cardboard boxes absorb dust and attract cockroaches!

When they were younger, that was all the space they had to store their stuff in. Everything else has to be thrown out.

After a major renovation in 2012, each child has a 3-shelf cupboard above their study table with a drawer. I do understand that some need more space than others due to their hobbies. So I do allow some extra spillage. But that is the exception rather than the norm.

But the general rule is: everything must fit into the designated places. The astute ones negotiate with a sibling to help “store” their excesses.

Teach our children to declutter from young.

Declutter for them

For children below 6, I declutter for them.


I have no qualms about throwing out their stuff while they are asleep or otherwise engaged in some other activity.


Because if you let them “help” you, you will make ZERO progress. They will want to keep everything and will cry if you throw out even one piece of scrap paper with one squiggle on it. Trust me. I have done this many times.

Let them choose

As they grow older, I would do a round of decluttering for them first and then let them decide on the rest. Otherwise, it can get very overwhelming. Should I see them hesitating over certain items, I will pounce and ask them leading questions such as:

When was the last time you played with it?
Do you really like it?

You can be sure that if they choose to keep those items, I’d be watching if they really play with them. And they would go on my next-to-throw-out list of items for the next decluttering session.

If you get them to declutter on a regular basis, they get used to it and it becomes less and less of an issue. But we have to teach them how to do it.

Whether you use the KonMarie method or not, do teach your children to declutter.

We need to teach

As shared in one of her many IG stories when she was launching her latest book Simplified Life, Emily Ley‘s mother told her when she began having children of her own that children aren’t born knowing how to organise.

So, when we tell them – pack your room/table, they have no idea what we mean. We need to give clear directions. Better still, show them the expected end result. E.g. Pile of clothes vs neatly stacked clothes.

Take a photo of the end result and show them that that’s the standard you require the next time you ask them to declutter or pack their room/table. This helps the younger children immensely.

They are just boys…

Some children are neater than others. But all can be taught. Start young. And for those with boys, please do not say, “Oh, they are just boys.”

No. Sloth is sloth. Let’s not make our daughters-in-law hate us. 🙂

Minimum viable standard

I know many people excuse messiness and general untidiness when we have a houseful of small children. Yes, we need to lower our standards of what a neat house looks like. But living in a mess is not healthy. Let us teach our children to declutter from young and help them love orderliness. And we need to lead by example.

Related Posts

Decluttering the Playroom
Time to Declutter Again
How I Manage Housework with No Maid


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