Clutter-free Kids


So many of you have contacted me with glowing reports about your decluttering ventures after last weekend’s Swap and Hop on organization. I’ve heard tales of boxes of no-longer-needed items being hauled off to Goodwill, bags of trash taken to the dumpster and mounds of unwanted papers being recycled. Good work!

Some of you with kiddos still in the house, however, are wondering how to get them in on the act. So, today our 16 year old Mackenzie—a formerly messy kid turned mostly tidy teen, will be our guest blogger. In my latest book, The Complete Guide to Getting and Staying Organized, she actually wrote a sidebar at the end of each chapter just for the kids. Following is some of her advice:

n510194970_221178_4358.jpg I think we kids sometimes need to put ourselves in our moms’ shoes for a minute. We need to think how hard it would be to keep the house clean while doing laundry, dishes, and making dinner. We should imagine that mom just cleaned out an entire room, and then one of us kids drops our junk in it a half hour later. For us kids, it would be like us building the coolest Lego tower ever, only to have our mom come right along and kick it all down.

When I was younger, I used to argue a lot with my mom about my hair not being brushed, my homework not being finished, and all the other normal things that kids and moms sometimes fight about. But the worst thing was my room. I was the messiest kid you could have ever met! I kept everything. I’m talkin’ everything! My younger brothers and I would go on a walk, and I would find a bottle cap. I would keep it forever, stuffed under my pillow. Pretty soon the junk began to really pile up, which drove my mom bonkers. It wasn’t until later that I learned the importance of truly decluttering (as my mom calls it) my room.

What really got me motivated was when I turned thirteen. For a birthday present, my parents, a bunch of my friends, and all their parents all came over and pulled a “while you were out” on me. This means they totally redid my whole room while I was away for the weekend. They painted it a pale lime green and decorated it in a retro theme with a comforter set and curtains I had been eyeing all year long. They even hung neon-colored beads on my door and placed a lava lamp on my dresser. It was an awesome surprise! But this really got me wondering, How am I ever going to keep my room this way? I knew I had to change, and finally I actually wanted to.

This was the starting point for me to quit being a messy kid and start taking some responsibility for the look of my room. If you were to see my room now, you would never believe the same person lives here. Even my closet, which no one sees, is usually neat and tidy. Not to say I’m never messy. But for the most part, my room is clean. I have to work to keep it this way, and so will your kids.

Here are some ways I keep my room clean and decluttered. Maybe they will help other kids get started too. Let your kids read this section…or read it to them.

  • Try to make it a habit once a week to go through your room and gather up all the little things lying around that you don’t really need anymore: things like school papers, broken toys, bent baseball cards, earrings that are missing a match, old wrist bands from summer camp. Throw away or recycle these items.
  • At night, before climbing into bed, spend just five minutes putting away your toys or those clean clothes you have been stepping over for three days now. This way you don’t have to do it when your friends call and want you to go play outside with them. Besides, your mom will be more likely to let you go out since you showed her some respect and did what she asked you to.
  • If your Mom lets you have a snack in your room, clean up afterward. This will make your mom extremely happy. Also, remember to thank her for letting you eat a snack in your room!
  • This one is my favorite. Put on some good music and just have fun. Work is only work if you make it so. Make it fun and it won’t feel like work. Yep, I say find some good clean music to clean your room to.
  • Most of all, teach your children a phrase that my mom says often at our house. “Don’t put it down, put it away.” If we put our things away when we are through using them instead of just dropping them on the floor, it saves us time and our moms some major headaches. (And haven’t ya ever noticed that moms are much more fun when they are headache free?)



  1. Wow, what an awesome person your parents have raised. I wish my parents could have gotten through to my sister like that. She is the queen of mess! Her bedrooms usually have no floor because of all the clothes and stuff strewn about.

    She is moving back in with my Mom for a while with her new boyfriend, seven year old daughter and almost 3 year old daughter from KS until they find an apartment and jobs!!! Oh how I feel for my Mom’s house. My other sister (who is in a wheel chair after a stroke and living with my Mom also) said my Mom, who usually doesn’t fancy housework herself, has recently be sweeping the kitchen and keeping things tidy. Maybe you can send some prayers their way.

    Melanie in Swansea, IL

  2. Mackenzie,
    You are a wonderful writer! My kids are 4, 2, and 6 mo. so they are really good at creating messes, but not so good at picking them up. We’re working on small things right now, but your post is so good, I might just have to print it out and save it for them. Thanks for taking the time to post!

  3. I hope this is where I comment on the ‘SWAP AND HOP’. I saw you and heard you at Hearts at Home last month. You are inspirational and you made me laugh! I hope you can help since you have already helped me with ‘Brain in a Binder’. Thanks and many Blessings, Lisa

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