Though plenty of fun, the holidays can be overwhelming for little ones. Their routine changes during this time of year, intervening with their sense of order. Besides, children tend to receive a lot of gifts — new toys, new clothes, new games. The good news? The turn of the year is always a wonderful time to consider how to declutter and organize spaces and start fresh.
It can be an overwhelming task if you don’t know where to start — what to keep and what to give away. As adults, we tend to choose the things that give us happiness and are used the most. I believe this theory goes for children's things too, whether it’s toys, clothes, or other materials in question. Take time to think about the organization of your child's home or any other place where they spend lots of time. Ask yourself: Does it make sense? Is it ordered, simple, and functional? Is it beautiful? We want the child to discover an orderly environment and incorporate that order into his or her mind.
Let’s start with those gifts. We sometimes think, as adults, that kids should have all their new stuff out to play with because it seems like a fun idea, or so-and-so gave it to them, but this can be very overwhelming for young children. They might show signs of feeling irritated, not concentrating, throwing tantrums (or throwing things, period), acting very clingy, etc.
You’ll know you have too many toys out if you aren’t able to quickly and easily tidy up their play space, or if you find yourself always cleaning up after them (especially if your kid is older than 18 months). My advice? Stash some of those new gifts away for a rainy day — or just until it’s time to rotate new toys in and old ones out. Some parents rotate toys every two weeks; others do four. As always, the Montessori answer is to follow the child’s lead: If he’s not playing with something, observe to see why. Perhaps it is too difficult or too easy for him. Careful observation of your child will tell you when you need to rotate items out or get rid of something.
Children also get a lot of clothes as gifts. This one’s a bit simpler for adults: Fewer clothes means less laundry. It also means the children can easily see and put away their own clothes, and follow rules around clothing — for example, no clothes on the floor, clean clothes get put away, dirty ones go in the laundry basket, etc. Family rules must be reinforced consistently if we want them to be effective.
When it comes to storing toys, I find that orderly shelves discourage clutter and let us be more respectful of our belongings. With a low shelf, kids can see all of their toys and access them easily. Compare this to a big toy box: Cleaning up may seem easier — you just throw everything back into the box — but if you pay attention, you may notice the child doesn’t engage with all the toys. There may be a lot of dumping and throwing of toys rather than learning to take gentle care of their things. You can use low shelving together with baskets to group similar toys together in a more respectful and organized manner.
We know that cleaning up and decluttering aligns very well with the Montessori philosophy. Toys need to be stored where they make sense — and returned to the same place so they can be found again or used by someone else. Young children are capable of learning that everything has a place and understanding that clothes/materials/toys should be put away once they’re finished using them. Children are capable of tidying up, maintaining their belongings and living spaces, and showing respect for others and their community. We adults sometimes have to remember their capabilities.
This holiday season, ask yourself: Do we need to give toys away to make space for new ones? Always remember, less is more, and orderly spaces are more inviting.
“What I know for sure is that when you declutter — whether it’s on your home, your head, or your heart — It is astounding what will flow into that space that will enrich you, your life, and your family.” -Peter Walsh
We wish you and your family a happy holiday!