The Great Cubby Clean-Up: 4 Weeks and 4 Easy Steps to a Fresh Start for Your Family
Welcome to the Great Cubby Clean-Up! It’s the second week of 2023, and if you are anything like us, your house is feeling a little, ahem, overstuffed after the holiday influx of toys and trinkets. We’ve decided to face the problem head-on with a four-week clean-up plan devoted to toys and kid clutter.
Cubby called on some of our favorite organizing experts, who also happen to be moms and dads themselves, to get their best advice for how to tackle the mess. Because we’re all busy, we’ve broken the daunting task of organizing your kids’ stuff into bite-sized tasks that you can do in an hour or two each week. You don’t have to do it all at once and it doesn’t have to be perfect: Find pockets of time to make a dent and keep going. The goal is to make a noticeable and positive change in your home (not a Pinterest-perfect playroom).
By the beginning of next month, you’ll have decluttered, organized, and set up systems that will (hopefully) keep your family tidy all year long. Each week you can expect a few tips to get you started, and specific homework assignments to tackle before the next week. Here’s the weekly breakdown:
- Week One: Identify the Problems
- Week Two: The Great Toy Edit
- Week Three: Refine Your Storage System
- Week Four: Your Family’s New Habits
So how did we get into this mess anyway? “Before you had kids, the quantity of stuff in your life probably felt manageable because you controlled it all,” says Lindsay Downes, founder of A Considered Home, a professional organizing service based in Alexandria, Virginia. “Enter kids with all of the gear, gifts, and opinions, and it’s just a lot. The simplest answer is to have less to manage,” she says, which is why a toy edit is a big part of our clean-up plan.
One big thing you’ll need to decide is if and how you’ll involve the kids. This will depend a lot on the kid: Some kids have a really hard time letting things go, others couldn’t care less. “With younger children, you can have more control over what stays and goes, but as kids get older, it’s respectful to give them a say,” says Downes. MaryJo Monroe, a professional organizer in Portland, Oregon, agrees and says that for children younger than seven, she generally edits the toys without the child present. For older kids, she says, “Kids at this age and older can usually be pretty rational about what they are playing with and what they have outgrown or don’t find fun to play with anymore. I like to include them in the sorting/purging process so they can start learning how to organize.”
To kick things off, we’ll dissect the mess and have you do a first pass on items to toss to get you ready for the decluttering in Week Two.
Tackle one or two of these each day this week in whatever order you like.
Write down your pain points.
Make a list of all your toy organizing frustrations. Consider this a brain dump and don’t think too much about it as you make the list: We’ll return to your gripes later in the Cubby Clean-Up. If you’re planning to have your kid help edit, you can ask them to tell you their frustrations too. (Pssst… if they write “I hate cleaning up” you can use that to your advantage later!)
Put time on the calendar for your toy edit.
This will be next week’s Cubby Clean-Up focus. Our experts say a big edit can take three to four hours for an adult working alone. Make a plan to carve out this time now; perhaps your partner can take the kids on a hike and lunch outing so you can work interrupted or if you have a dedicated toy room maybe there’s a night you can do the decluttering after the kids go to bed.
If you’ve chosen to work with your child, you’ll need a few smaller chunks of time. “Kids have a hard time focusing and get tired quickly after an hour or two,” says Monroe, and if kids get worn out, they will default to wanting to keep everything because they are too tired to make a more thoughtful decision.
Decide where you’ll donate.
At Cubby, we like to try to find a new life for the things we no longer need instead of just bagging everything up to go to the landfill. “Start on social media and ask your local pals where they donate,” says Shauna Yule Brasseur of Lovely Life Home, an organizing and design business based in Hingham, Massachusetts. “There may be a classroom that needs books, a nursery school looking for toys, a local family in need, or thrift stores that accept toys.” Our experts all love Buy Nothing Groups (you can find yours at buynothingproject.org), but if you don’t have one in your area, you can post things for free on Facebook Marketplace, a neighborhood group, or Craigslist.
Start talking about giving.
Even if you plan to spirit some of your kids’ toys away without telling them (which is totally okay!), it’s still good to practice the art of having your child giving some toys away. “As early as possible, parents should encourage a spirit of giving with their kids. That makes it easier for them to let go when they get new toys,” says Tanisha Porter, the founder of Natural Born Organizers.
Downes flipped the equation to help her son understand where his stuff was going. “My son was getting really into playing zoo with animal figures, and he wanted a zebra. I could have easily hit the “Buy Now” button on Amazon, but instead I reached out to my local Buy Nothing Group to ask if anyone had a zebra they weren’t playing with anymore. I brought my son with me to pick it up and explained how some other kid decided to give it away to someone who would be happier to have it. That experience was so powerful for him and helped him understand the way his donations could make others happy. I bring it up whenever we are doing a toy edit to help him learn to let go.”
Get a clutter buddy.
Find another parent to do the Cubby Clean-Up with you. Just like a workout buddy makes it more likely that you’ll get in your exercise, a decluttering pal will help hold you accountable. Share this post with them!
While this week is mostly about getting geared up for the big edit, there is still some hands-on clean-up that will set the stage for next week.
Be a garbage collector.
Do a pass to find and toss the actual trash lurking in your child’s toy collection (things that are broken or worn beyond repair) and throw-away toys, like party favors and children’s meal prizes. If you are reluctant to throw the favor toys out, gather them all up in a Ziploc bag and use them to stuff a pinata or party favor bags the next time you host a birthday party.
Pick three toys to hibernate.
You’ll be doing a BIG edit next week, but start small now: Pick three toys you know your child no longer loves and move them to an out-of-sight location where they’ll live until you’re ready to donate them.
Alejandra Costello is a Virginia-based organizing expert (@AlejandraDotTV), who helps people get organized through her courses and membership community, TeamOrganize. Deemed “The Decluttering Queen” by Good Morning America, Alejandra’s organizing videos have been viewed 100M+ times.
Alison Mazurek (@600sqftandababy) is doing her best to live small, thoughtfully, and sustainably in Vancouver, Canada with her husband and two kids while sharing about it through her blog 600sqft.com and her small space consulting service.
Cole Boge is a professional organizer located in the Appleton, Wisconsin area. He brings his experience as a school teacher, sports coach, and father to his organizing business The Detailed Dad.
Jennifer Hawkins is a former teacher-turned-professional organizer in the Atlanta area (@rejoiceinorder). Jennifer uses her parent-educator training to help parents think about how to develop the skills and behaviors their children need to become organized, too
Lindsay Downes is professional organizer and founder of A Considered Home (@a.considered.home) in Alexandria, Virginia. With a master’s degree in child development and two boys of her own, Lindsay’s approach to organizing families is grounded both in her experience in the classroom and the realities of life with young kids.
MaryJo Monroe is the owner of reSPACEd (@respacedpdx) in Portland, Oregon. MaryJo started reSPACEd in 2008 with the goal of helping families clear the clutter so they could relax in their own homes. The company has since grown to provide a variety of organizing services to homes and small businesses, but helping families get organized remains her specialty.
Shauna Yule Brasseur is the owner of Lovely Life Home (@lovely_life_home), an organizing and design business based in Hingham, Massachusetts. Shauna believes that we are happier and calmer in organized spaces.
Tanisha Porter is a professional organizer and the owner of Natural Born Organizers, LLC (@naturalbornorganizers) based in Los Angeles, California. Tanisha spent the first eight weeks of the pandemic building a community of women across the country who not only wanted to create order in their lives but needed to due to the initial shutdown.
This post has been updated from its original publication date in January 2021.
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