Many parents throw up their hands in despair when it comes to tidying up their children’s rooms or just do all the work themselves. They then complain when the room quickly returns to its previous state as soon as someone plays there again. Here are some ideas to tackle decluttering in cooperation with your kids.

Some children are much more willing to pack up than others and it is important to be fair and to expect everyone’s help. The adult can act as the supervisor and assist and direct the team. One of the ways that seems to work best is to work with children and to set them specific tasks rather than one big project. Make sure each job you assign suits the age and ability of the worker and make it fun whenever possible. Rewards like a trip to the park or watching a movie or a bubble bath were popular at our place.

One of the big factors we often forget is that children cannot pack things away if they do not have a specific place to put them. The containers and shelves do not need to be fancy or even matching, but items do need a specific home. Some people cover cardboard boxes and use them for storage. Ice cream containers and nappy wipe containers make excellent toy storage boxes and you can also buy great ones from $2 shops.

Whatever you decide to use can involve the kids and you can help them to take responsibility for decisions by giving them choices they can manage. Eg We can keep art and craft work in this box, so you can choose your favourites until this box is full or having each child choose their favourite colour for all their containers. Take a photo of a toy to stick on the outside and identify the contents. Even when they are not yet able to read, children can match photos to objects to put things away. It is good incidental maths learning too.

An old book case, a sectioned shelving system like the 4 x 4 shelves from Kmart and Ikea or sets of shelves built into a cupboard all make useful places for keeping children’s play things manageable. By tidying them and displaying them clearly, we make them more attractive and accessible to children. Displaying a photo on the front of each container is a useful way to ensure that everyone knows where to put odd bits of toys and play things. You can simply cut a picture from the box to stick on a new container and show where it is kept.

Make sure children can reach the items they use most and that containers are clearly labelled. You can make the tidying fun by setting a timer to see if you can finish before the bell rings. It often works better when decluttering to give each person one type of things to clear at a one to pick up books and one to collect Lego whilst someone else hangs up clothes. Teaching children how to sort and put away their own possessions takes longer than doing it yourself, but helps children to learn valuable skills and attitudes for independence whilst they spend time with you.

One idea for storing kids’ work is to use suspension files in a plastic storage box allocating one file per year. Each child’s file box is a different colour and keeps everything protected and together. My boxes came from Woolworths but they are widely available. When the kids leave home, they can take all of their school and sporting memories contained in one compact box. I have seen others use large art folios or make their own large A1 sized cardboard folios to store children’s precious art and school work.