A few years ago I sat down with my kids to go through our bookshelf and decide which of their books they’d like to pass down to their younger cousins. We didn’t need to get rid of any so I gave them complete authority over which books could be given away.

At the time they were 6 and 7, and their choices surprised me. My son, who is usually a saver, selected many of his favorite books to give away so his cousins to enjoy them. Knowing who was getting the books really helped him let go of them. My daughter, who is all about growing up as soon as possible (!), had sentimental attachment to her books and hesitated to part with them. The idea of making room for new, more advanced books helped ease the pain of loss for her. Also, she moved quite a few sentimental favorites into her own room.

I’m glad my kids get the opportunity to practice the art of letting things go. I like the message it sends: We have enough. It’s also a very important step when you want to organize toys.

How about you? Do your kids get to practice letting go of things?

Here are some thoughts on getting started.

Children under 7

In my experience, children younger than 7 never want to get rid of anything. Can you blame them? They have a very limited concept of life outside of themselves and no real perspective. Voluntarily giving away a toy must feel very harsh to them

On the other hand, when we organize toys and their rooms while they are away, children under 7 are consistently floored by all the “new” stuff they have when they return.

hide box for toysThis is a good age to do most of the purging while they’re out of the room. If you aren’t sure whether they will freak out because something is missing, hide it for a few weeks first.

pro tip- Put a reminder on your calendar to donate the hide pile after a few weeks.

This is a good article on figuring out when to let go of young children’s toys. And here’s a video of me helping a family organize a kindergardener’s room.

Children 7 and older

Whenever possible, try to let older kids organize their own stuff. For most children, their belongings are some of the very few things they have (some) control over. That feeling of control, and learning to be responsible with it, is very important.

Teach them the one-in-one-out rule. For every new toy, book or item of clothing they get, one gets donated.

Make it easy. Have a donate basket or drawer where they can put things at any time.

When a dresser, closet or bookshelf gets full, work with them to find things that they no longer want or use.

Tackling an entire closet can feel overwhelming for a child who hasn’t organized a big space before. Resist the urge to do it yourself. Talk through the process the first few times.  They will be able to do it on their own soon enough.

And finally, practice what you preach. Not only is it a good habit to thin out your own belongings, it’s important to let your kids see you doing it. Tell them why you are getting rid of the bag your cousin gave you. Not because you don’t love your cousin or the bag, but because you used it and are ready for a new one. Or because it’s ripped beyond repair. Or because you know someone else will love it more than you do.

Are you helping?

I see a lot of parents struggle with helping their kids let go. Do you cave and let them keep everything because that’s easier in the moment? Maybe you get a mental image of how much you paid for something that didn’t get used. This can harm your good judgment about the item. Or you may have a hard time admitting to yourself that your children are growing up (so fast!). Letting go of toys and baby clothes can stir up a lot of emotions. Still, being able to let go is a life skill that will serve your babies well. Not to mention save them from a lifetime of living in clutter! 

How do you feel about letting go of things?

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