Messy Rooms: How Do I Teach Children To De-clutter & Donate Toys To Charity?

 The December holidays are coming to a close.

As you come to from your turkey-induced drowsiness and look around, you feel a spark of motivation to use your few days off work to tackle some household chores you’ve been meaning to get to.

The end of the year is drawing near and you are getting into the New Year spirit of “out with the old, in with the new” — and there’s a lot of “new” around you.

As you walk through the house, you see piles of gifts everywhere!

You immediately feel overwhelmed with all the clutter and quickly shift your attitude and decide it is time to get things organized.

You tell your children, “We need to straighten up and get rid of some old toys to make room for the new ones.  Grab your gifts and take them to your room. While you are in there, get rid of your old or broken toys, put away the new toys and clean up your room.”

Your daughter whines, “But I don’t want to get rid of anything!”

“I’ll do it later.  I’m in the middle of a video game,” is your son’s reply.

You quickly feel resentment at the thought of having to clean up their mess. “You both have too many toys and lots of things you don’t even play with anymore.  If you don’t clean up your messy rooms and donate toys to charity, I’ll donate everything,” you threaten.

“Okay, okay,” they say in unison.

They take their new toys to their rooms.

You check on your son. Instead of straightening up, he is playing with his video game again.  The new toys are in a heap on top of the dresser and the old toys are pushed under the bed and along the walls.

“I thought you were going to straighten up your room,” you say with surprise.

He nonchalantly says, “I did.”

“It still looks like a dump in here to me,” you say disgustedly.

When you check on your daughter, she is playing in her room. Toys are strewn everywhere.  You can barely open the door.

“I told you to pick up and get rid of old toys,” you bark at her.  “If you don’t start doing it now, then I’ll just box this all up and send it off to children who will appreciate what they get!”

The December holidays are fun, but like all great parties, they can leave a mess in their wake.  You’ve got decorations to take down and put away in the attic.  The stack of presents need put away, but there’s no space for them. The children’s messy rooms are so cluttered they are bursting at the seams. If you wondered whether your children had too many toys before the December holidays, you know they do now.

So what can you do? Whether the December holidays, Spring cleaning, or a time when you just can’t stand the clutter any more, there comes a time when you must get rid of old toys to make room for new ones. It invariably raises one of the most universal problems plaguing parents: getting their children to clean their messy rooms — independently and without power struggles.

First, make some room and get organized by sorting and clearing out toy storage and play areas. I recommend doing this at least twice a year.

Before you start, have a plan for what to do with the unbroken toys. In warmer months, plan a garage sale. Let children keep any money they make from selling their toys. This motivates them to let go of a toy. Remind them that they can buy new toys with the money they earn.

In the winter months, the best time to clean out toys is just before or after gift-giving holidays. Remind children that they need more room to store their new gifts. Suggest they donate toys to charity organizations that serve needy children. Many preschools accept donations, as do Goodwill and the Salvation Army. If children are unwilling to donate toys to charity, suggest they pass on their outgrown toy to a younger sibling or neighbor.

Involve children in identifying broken and outgrown toys. If children don’t want to give up their toys and would actually play with them, have children select certain toys to box, then rotate boxes every one to three months. Instead of rotating entire boxes of toys, some parents have a one-in-one-out rule. For every toy children want to take out, they need to trade one in. The latter option involves more parental control and monitoring, which makes it harder to use.

Some children become very attached to their toys and may be upset about getting rid of them, even if they don’t play with them anymore. The number-one rule is: *never* sneak and donate toys to charity or throw them out. You’d be surprised how many children actually notice and feel terribly betrayed! (Did you ever have a favorite worn-and-torn t-shirt that was so comfortable, but your parent or spouse tossed it? Then you know how angry you felt — you still remember it!)

Make the donation a ceremonial event. Reminisce about the fond memories children have about their toys and how sad it is that they’ve outgrown them. Explain how much another child would appreciate the toy. Offer the choice of giving the toy directly to another child or offer to pass it on for them. They can even wrap it up or find some other special way to give the special toy a meaningful “passing.”

If they just aren’t ready, suggest putting up the toy for a short time, to help them separate from the toy before giving it away.

Once you accomplish this task, there should be space for the new toys and the room is nicely de-cluttered. That’s a great time to clean and organize it. I know, the room will probably stay that way for, um, maybe one day to one week max. So, during that time, read my other article ,“How Do I Teach Children To Clean Up Their Messy Rooms,” which has suggestions for teaching children how to clean their messy rooms and keep them that way.

When toys are taking over, it’s time to take action. Listen to a one-hour recording of a live workshop called, “Tools For Teaching Tidiness” for more tips and practical tools for helping children let go of old toys, be motivated to straighten up their messy rooms, and clean up after themselves.


Jody Johnston Pawel, LSW, CFLE is the author of the award-winning book, The Parent’s Toolshop and president of Parent’s Toolshop Consulting, where she oversees an international network of Toolshop® trainers. She has 30 years experience as a top-rated speaker and parenting expert to the media worldwide, including serving as the Co-Producer and Parenting Expert for the Emmy-nominated Ident-a-Kid television series. Currently, she hosts the Parents Tool Talk radio show and is a parenting expert columnist for Chic Mom magazine. She has produced almost 100 multimedia resources, which are available at her award-winning website, 

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Original source of material can be found in:  The Parents Toolshop book, Chapter 6

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