Marie Kondo doesn’t specifically talk about children in her books. She mentions that children over 3 should be able to participate in the process. She also says that you should take care of your own belongings and don’t try to declutter your family’s things. In extension, many parents have understood that they shouldn’t sort their children’s toys, clothes and books without their permission. Therefore, parents ask their children, at least as young as 3, “do you want to keep that toy?” or “should we find 5 toys to give to children who don’t have any?”. When this tactic could “potentially” work with a children over 7 years old, it will unlikely work for younger ones
Why? Because children under the age of 7 (and surely under the age of 4) lack empathy. It means that they cannot see the wold through someone else perspective. They will unlikely grasp fully the idea of charity (they might agree to donate to please you or will do it, thinking that their toys will be back, magically when they ask them back), they will surely be very “attached” to all their toys if they see them (object permanence is another concept that is still developing in the very young ones so the out of the sight, out of mind is true for babies and toddlers, seeing their toys during the process, while you ask them, will surely reignite an interest for that toy). I believe that Marie Kondo is the Queen of decluttering but she doesn’t have a clear knowledge of child psychology and child’s development.
So what happens when your ask your child? For sure he is willing to keep all his toys, including the broken ones, the ugly ones, the one he has never play with until you show it to him, the noisy ones that drive you crazy, the book with a awful naughty child who has to go to his bedroom without supper (so not your parenting’s style, offered by the family!) that you don’t want to read again!
Why you involve, with good intentions because Marie Kondo suggested it, your child in the process, you will have little success. Maybe you will manage to remove a few toys or books but for sure, the huge amount that you wish to remove will remain because every toy, when you ask a child, sparks JOY!
Also you, the parent, are the one who bought the toy in the first place (or who are allowed a well intentioned person to bring that toy in your house), therefore, I consider that you should take responsibility for the sorting and decluttering of your child’s toys, which will allow you to face the amount of children’s belongings and be able to understand why you bought so many or that kind of toys. And hopefully, never coming to that tipping point again!
I give you now my own analysis of my own toy’s situation in my own home. While in general, we don’t have many toys that I don’t value, we were starting to have too many in some categories and for some, now very clear, reasons.
- books: I used to go to the charity shops with the kids to treat them and they were allowed to choose books. Because it was cheap, it was always “yes” and I didn’t check much the content of their choices. We ended with many books that I didn’t like to read at all and were far from what we wanted our children to learn (some very heavy on the fiction side)
- magazines: when I was back to work, I used to go food shopping after work with both children who were cranky and demanding so I was saying yes to a magazine that they were barely reading when back at home.
- small toys that come with magazines and Kinder Surprises: for the same reasons as above, I bought Kinder Surprises quite often for 18 months. Out of guilt and to have 5 minutes peace!
- educational toys: as a Montessori teacher, I couldn’t resist an educational toy and I had for example, multiple rhyming games, letters games, stacking games… And we didn’t make enough use of all of them to justify to have so many (to be fair when I was back to work, some were at work with me and obviously came back to my house when I left)
- art and craft: that category was overflowing and so untidy that I had given up doing craft with the kids. I couldn’t face the time it was taking to start a craft activity as I had first to dig into the mess to find what we needed.
- soft toys overflowing too: My daughter has 53 soft toys (she counted then yesterday!), my son around 20. My daughter has pocket money and she was allowed to buy whatever she wanted when going to the charity shops. She always wanted a new soft toy. For the past 9 months, I stand firm and told her that she cannot buy a new soft toy at all. In addition to this collection, we had made an habit to “offer” a soft toy to the children when we were going to Ikea. Well then, how can we complain about having too many soft toys when clearly we, the adults, have said yes to the extra ones every time.
Knowing that I was mainly responsible for the kind of toys we had and the amount, I did most of the decluttering process myself, swearing every second of the process that I will never ever again buy a soft toy at Ikea, never ever again buy a Kinder Surprise or magazine out of guilt, never ever again buy any kind of toy without making sure it was really purposeful or truly desired for some good reasons.
Personally, I haven’t involve much my youngest in the process and I decluttered my 9 years old bedroom before asking her about the remaining. Here what I have cleared out by myself with no regret or guilt:
- clothes, I know which ones were the favourites and I donated the too small ones, the ones with holes or stains (these ones to the recycling), the ones that I bought for my children but they didn’t like them (the clothes on Sale or for example, my son refuses to wear jeans as they are to “crunchy”) and I donated some good clothes as I had just too many and some were in the bottom of the drawers all the time.
- hair accessories for my daughter, she uses the same hair bands constantly and wasn’t even aware that she had more in a drawer.
- bath toys: I donated all the babyish toys and kept only the ones I have observed them playing with.
- broken toys or incomplete toys (so many puzzles with missing pieces!)
- books that I don’t want to read because of the inappropriate message (I received some children books with a very strict and punitive parenting style and I didn’t want to read about corporal punishment and banishment anymore or I picked some books at the charity shops without paying attention to the very moralistic messages and with a closer look, those stories didn’t resonate at all with our lifestyle)
- toys received with magazines or kinder surprises (collection of Minions, anyone?)
- most of the magazines
- I have clear out all the art and craft material by myself (as seriously my children didn’t have a clue how many paint, glitter, or kind of paper we had)
- if you want to follow the Montessori principles and offer an non overwhelming play area, I would encourage you to sort all the batteries operated toys by yourself and keeping them at a minimum (we have a remote control car and that the only battery operated toy we have)
- duplicates toys if you have (like stacking toys, different kind of blocks), here you can definitely rotate.
- I also cleared out all the board games by myself, I know which ones they like to play with and the ones I bought because I found them “educational” but clearly they are not attractive for either of my children.if you have many tv character toys, I would suggest that you have a good clear out in this category too. Those are very prescriptive toys with a clear scenario and don’t allow much exploration. However, children can be seriously attached to those toys. If this is a big category in your family, maybe observe your child for a while and see if he plays with those toys, put them away for a while and see if he asks for them.
- I then ask my son to sort his soft toys as it’s more of a “sentimental” category for children. Well guess what, not one went away! But I’m now extra firm and no a single new one will come in.
Regarding my son’s toys, not a lot were donated or thrown away. I have mainly divided by two each category and kept half away in storage. This is to insure that it’s not overwhelming and that he is able to tidy up the small remaining. He has clearly noticed that some toys were missing and asked anxiously for those toys (for example, he used to have a huge box of plastic animals that I have now sorted by subcategories, leaving only one or two out at a time), I have shown him where are those toys and he knows that he can ask for them whenever he wants. He seems so far, contented with the remaining.
Regarding my daughter who is older, I have involved her in the process much more. First of all she is 9 years old and well able to understand that she might have too many toys. She also observed me decluttering the rest of the house and was curious. For example, she has a collection of Knick-knacks and she decided to sort them the KonMari way: she held every object in her hands, feeling if it was sparkling joy or not. I was very impressed when she let go of half of the collection. I asked her about every craft set she had and some other toys in her bedroom (especially the character toys that I didn’t particularly valued such as Petshops, Disney princesses, . We let go a big quantity (books, some younger toys, craft sets, colouring books…) and even some toys that were brand new that she choses to donate to charity.
I haven’t finished my son’s bedroom especially as he has now received around 20 new toys for his birthday (thanks to his friends at school) and I have now to find a space for those new toys. It’s more about rotating in this case to make sure those new toys are played with.
Let me know if you are sorting your child’s belonging the KonMari way and how it works in your house!