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3 Decluttering Tips Inspired By My Kids [Episode 12]

In this episode of the Simply + Fiercely Show, I’m sharing 3 decluttering tips inspired by an afternoon with my son, where I noticed a few surprising similarities between his actions and those of people who are decluttering. Whether you’re a seasoned minimalist or just starting out, this unique perspective promises to inspire and motivate you on your decluttering journey.

In This Episode:

  • Strategies for making hard decisions
  • The danger of waiting for a perfect solution
  • How to simplify decluttering with fewer options
  • Ways to “parent” yourself and why it makes decluttering easier

Featured In This Episode:

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Note: this is not an exact transcript and has been edited for clarity.

Decluttering Tips Inspired By My Kids

Hey, everyone, it’s Jen here. Today, I’ve got a bit of a fun episode planned.

I’m going to share three decluttering tips that are inspired by my kids. Yes, my kids. For those of you who don’t know, I have two kids, my son is two years old, and my daughter is five.

What inspired this episode is while I was just sitting here with my son and watching him be a toddler, I realized how much of his behavior mirrors what I see in people when they’re decluttering.

That might come across as a bit condescending, so please don’t take it that way. I was probably worse than a toddler when I was decluttering and I intend this episode to be a bit tongue-in-cheek.

In my experience, looking at things from new angles, sometimes really helps it click in my brain. So, I’m hoping that this somewhat different perspective will help you too. Let’s dive in.

A toddler’s decluttering mindset of wanting to keep everything.

One thing I noticed about young kids, especially toddlers, is how they want to have their cake and eat it too. They don’t really understand that sometimes in life, we have tradeoffs. There’s only so much we can do.

For example, if I ask my daughter, hey, do you want to go visit your friend? Or do you want to go to the playground? I can almost guarantee that her answer is going to be both.

Then I’ll say no and she’ll ask why. I’ll have to explain that we only have so much time and sometimes we have to make choices. You can’t always get what you want and if you spend all day debating, we’re not going anywhere.

As adults, I think we know this, at least intellectually, but sometimes we have a hard time seeing when this is playing out in our lives.

For example, one thing that people tell me all the time is, I want to declutter my closet, but I love all my clothes. And look, if you feel that way, I get it. I was the exact same way when I first started decluttering.

I think you can say that I loved all of my clothes individually, but I hated my closet, if that makes sense.

The collection of my clothes overall was overflowing and overwhelming. I found getting dressed really stressful. I was like a cliche, a closet full of clothes, nothing to wear, etc.

I’m sure that you have sort of an idea of what I mean. And of course, in that moment, our fears and excuses, they seem so valid, right? This concept is that I want to declutter my closet, but I love everything.

But the hard truth is really, we’re having something of a toddler moment. So of course, we want to keep everything and also magically declutter. Sounds good, right? But it’s just not possible. You have to make hard decisions, or you’re not going anywhere, just like my kids.

Learning how to say “NO” even to the things that you want to do.

It reminds me of a story I read in a book called Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert.

I’m just going to read you a really quick excerpt. “Long ago, when I was struggling to become a writer, a wise older woman once said to me, ” What are you willing to give up in order to have the life you keep saying you want? I said, You’re right. I really need to start learning how to say no to the things I don’t want to do. She corrected me? No, it’s much harder than that. You need to learn how to start saying no to the things you do want to do, with the recognition that you only have one life, and you don’t have time and energy for everything.”

When I read that quote, it really blew my mind.

I think the same applies to decluttering. Sometimes we have to give up things that we really like because what we want more is the freedom, the space in our homes, the mental clarity that comes with having less stuff. It’s hard. But that’s life sometimes, isn’t it? We have to make hard decisions.

Having to make a decision, and sometimes a hard one when decluttering.

Another example that I often hear has to do with the stuff that we’re decluttering.

I’ve had people tell me things like, I don’t want to deal with the hassle of selling my stuff, but my stuff is too good to donate. Okay, so if you’re in this situation, what often happens is you end up doing nothing because you don’t like the options available.

Instead, you procrastinate, hoping that eventually you’ll find that “perfect” solution where you can get everything that you want.

You’ll obsessively re-read the cluttering blogs, you listen to podcasts like this one and you’re constantly looking for some magic tip that’s going to make everything better.

Yes, sometimes there are other solutions.

For example, in this case, if you don’t want to sell your stuff, you could pay someone else to do it. Or you can use a consignment service. And there are other things that you could brainstorm.

But there’s always a cost.

For example, if you use a consignment, you’re not going to get as much as you would if you just sold it yourself. The reality of the situation is there are only so many options and odds are, none of them are going to feel perfect.

Eventually, you have to make a tough decision about what you want most. Sometimes that involves a bit of tough love.

You might have to face your own inner toddler, and she’ll probably throw a tantrum, but be patient and firm with yourself. Eventually, you’re going to have to make a choice, if you want to move forward.

It’s like I told my kids, you either choose the playground or you choose your friend’s house. And if you don’t give me an answer, in the next two minutes, we’re not going anywhere.

It’s the same if you want to get unstuck with decluttering, you’re going to have to make a decision, and sometimes a hard one.

A quick toddler inspired tip that works well if you have multiple items.

The next lesson that I learned from my kids, is how overwhelming it can be when you have too many choices.

If you’ve ever gone out to a restaurant with small children, then you’ll know exactly what I mean. Read them a long menu with 10 different options and be prepared to spend the next 20 minutes watching them try to decide until you’re ready to tear your hair out.

My daughter gets so overwhelmed by the choices that she can’t even begin to narrow it down.

And let’s be honest, I think that’s how a lot of us feel when we start decluttering. There’s so much to go through and we get that overwhelmed feeling and we can’t even begin. Or we manage to get started and then we struggle every step of the way.

If you can relate, here’s a quick toddler inspired tip that works well if you have multiple items that are similar.

For example, if you’re trying to declutter t-shirts, or pairs of jeans, instead of going through each shirt individually, which can feel overwhelming, try picking up two and then deciding which of those you like better.

This works because deciding between two items and then picking one winner is much simpler than picturing your entire closet and trying to make a big overwhelming decision about what to keep.

It’s why I don’t read my kids the entire menu. Instead, I pick two choices that I think they’d like, and that are mom-approved. Then I asked them what they preferred from those limited options.

If you think about it, adults are the exact same way.

For example, if you’ve ever gone to a wedding, or you’re on an airplane and you’re given just two meals to choose between, like beef or chicken, it generally takes you seconds to make that choice.

Where if you compare going to a restaurant with a giant menu that’s going to take you ages. You’re going to want to read everything and consider all your options, or at least, I do. I love food, and I love eating out but I’m so indecisive about it.

Give it a try. Obviously, this technique isn’t going to work for every single thing that you’re decluttering, but I think it’s a good way to try to kickstart things if you get stuck.

Pick two items that you’re thinking about decluttering and ask yourself, if I was only allowed to keep one, which would it be? That can help you gain some momentum and get started.

Practicing minimalism and having less options.

Also, while it’s not a decluttering tip, seeing my kids get overwhelmed with so many options is a powerful reminder of why decluttering and simplifying is so important in the first place.

It makes me think of my wardrobe.

I’ve been practicing minimalist dressing for nearly a decade but I would say that right now, it’s probably the simplest it’s ever been in terms of having the least options.

For example, as far as tops go, not counting things like sweaters, every shirt that I own is pretty much the same T-shirt. I’ve got it in the t-shirt style. I’ve got it in the sleeveless style, and I’ve got it in different colors, but it’s all the exact same brand and really the exact same fit.

That might sound boring, but honestly, I have never enjoyed getting dressed as much as I do now.

Obviously, I’m not suggesting that everybody has to go to such an extreme, but I will say that having less choices; one – makes getting dressed so easy, two – I’m always comfortable because everything that I wear is really been test- driven.

I’ve worn it before I know that it works, I know that it’s comfortable. It’s basically the equivalent of wearing your favorite thing every day and why wouldn’t you want to do that?

Having less options in terms of tops or shirts has simplified my wardrobe so much.  I will add because I know that some of you are probably wondering, I don’t wear the exact same thing every day.

I have a variety of different bottoms. I’ve got different colored jeans, skirts, etc. so I can mix and match.

I also create a lot of variety with dresses. I love dresses because they’re just one piece, which means that I don’t have to put together an outfit, so there’s less to think about. When I want to experiment with prints or colors, I do that with dresses.

I like to think that I’m not boring, you might argue, that’s okay. I do stick to a similar silhouette with all of my dresses, which is part of my uniform philosophy of dressing.

I wrote a whole blog post about that, about dressing in a personal uniform if you want to find out more.

The point I want to drive home is how much freedom comes with less options. And yes, I know it sounds strange, but having less really does reduce the mental load.

Parenting ourselves when our inner toddler comes out.

Another thing my kids taught me about decluttering is that we are all master negotiators.

I’m sure you’ve heard the saying, give them an inch, and they’ll take a mile, or they’ll ask for a mile. That my friends, is definitely my kids.

If I tell them, it’s time for bed, they’ll ask for five more minutes. If I offer them a snack, they’ll ask if they can have two.

Even my two-year-old does this and it’s so cute. He holds up two little fingers and goes two, two. Of course, I want to give in, but as a parent, I have to think of their best interest. I have to make those hard choices for them.

I hope that this doesn’t come off as sounding like my kids are badly behaved because I promise they’re actually pretty good, at least I think so. But it’s human nature to want what we want and it’s something that I often see while decluttering. 

Just like how my kids want to do things that aren’t necessarily the best for them, so do we. 

We don’t want to let go so sometimes we just procrastinate getting started. We keep saying that we’re going to declutter when there’s a better time. Then when we finally get the motivation to begin, we try to talk ourselves into keeping things.

I know you’ve heard excuses like, ‘Oh, I love it, I just never have a chance to wear it.’ Or, ‘What if I need it someday?’

And yes, sure, sometimes, these are valid concerns. Maybe you haven’t had a chance to wear whatever. But I would say that more often than not, it’s your inner toddler coming out.

You know what happens if you have a toddler, if you keep saying yes, you lose control.

As an adult, you start to lose sight of your goals and priorities. Before you know it, you’re shoving everything back in your closet.

I’ve been there so trust me, if this resonates, I’m not judging you.

It’s just a reminder that sometimes we have to parent ourselves. We have to think about the big picture. What are our long term goals? What are our values? Then we have to make the tough decisions, even when we want to give in because we know what we’re giving up.

As I said, as a parent, you do this all the time for your kids, you have to think about the big picture and say no, when you want to say yes. I know that it’s harder to do with myself and it’s probably the same for you.

Defining clear boundaries

In addition to focusing on why you want to declutter, which is a great tool for helping you stay focused, another simple thing that you can do is define clear boundaries.

Some of you may have heard me talk about this before, but I repeat it all the time because it’s so powerful.

I recommend that you pre-decide what you will or won’t allow, so you’re not as tempted to give in later. 

For example, thinking about my kids, I no longer buy them toys outside of their birthdays or Christmas.

I’m not super strict. I mean, they still manage to get things, you know, a friend gives them something secondhand, or I don’t even know kids just mysteriously find things.

Now that they’re older, they get so much on special occasions. When they have a birthday party, everyone brings them gifts, or we’ve got quite a few sets of grandparents, so my kids are definitely not being deprived.

Because of that, I set this rule, and my kids know it. They know that they only get toys on these two holidays. They’re pretty good at not testing me.

But of course, they are still kids. So sometimes we’ll be in a shop and they’ll ask me, Can they get something? I say no. And let me just say it is so much easier for me to follow through on that because I have this pre-defined boundary. My kids accept it more easily as well because of the consistency.

I truly believe that you can parent yourself the same way.

Think about your decluttering, think about where you can set limits. You can set space limits.

Let’s say you’ve got a dresser in your bedroom, you can say that I’ve got one drawer for my tops, and t-shirts or sweaters, whatever it is and I’m only going to keep what I can fit in this drawer.

Or you can set limits by numbers. So you can say, well, I’m only going to keep five pairs of jeans, or however many pairs are reasonable for you. There are no set rules.

The point is that you think intentionally about your life and what kind of limits make sense. 

Just like if you’re a parent, you’re thinking about your kids and your lifestyle, and what kind of rules you want to put into place in your household.

For me, personally, in terms of decluttering, I do this with towels and bedding. I live in a really small house, which means that I have one shelf in my whole closet for these types of things, so I really have to limit myself.

Setting that boundary ahead of time helps me when I’m out in the shops, and I’m tempted to buy more than I need. It helped me when I was decluttering in the first place.

Of course, my inner toddler wanted to keep everything, just in case. But my boundaries helped me to stay true to my long term goals.

How to set boundaries with your kids?

Another example of how I do this in my home is that I do this with kids’ toys.

My two-year-old is obsessed with toy cars so I have two baskets where he keeps them. For me, I don’t care how many he has but the rule is that the cars have to fit into those baskets.

Another rule I have is that we have to be able to clean up all their toys within 15 minutes. If it takes longer then we have too many.

Anyway, if we’re focusing on the cars in those baskets, even at two, he knows that he has to fit everything in there.

I don’t have any science to back this up or anything, but I feel like it must appeal to a different part of the brain. Having a pre-decided limit is practical and easy to understand. There isn’t any room for argument.

I think that’s why it works for adults too.

So, you can set boundaries about how much of something you will keep and you can also set boundaries about the types of items you’ll own or buy.

Since we’re on the topic of my kids, one thing I’ve refused to buy is these things called surprise-a-toys. I don’t know if that’s a proper name. But it’s basically like this trend at the moment for these, sometimes they’re balls, sometimes their eggs, I don’t really know. But they have surprises inside and they’re different franchises like Paw Patrol or My Little Ponies. And sometimes it’s just like stickers, or sometimes it’s a little figurine.

What’s in it isn’t really the point and if you buy them for your kids, please know that I’m not trying to shame you. Because if there’s one thing I know with kids is that you have to pick your battles.

But for me, I made the decision ahead of time that we don’t buy these types of toys. Of course, as a parent, I want to buy them for my daughter because I know in the moment, it’ll make her happy and we’ll both get that nice hit of dopamine, and it’ll feel good.

But I’m the parent and I know from experience that these types of toys will break or end up in the bin within a few weeks. Then everybody’s sad and I have to go buy another one.

So I make these decisions, not because I want to be mean, not because I don’t want to make my daughter happy but because I am thinking about what is best for the both of us. 

In a similar fashion, I have rules about what I want or keep for myself because I have to parent myself sometimes and think about the big picture.

Because if you think about it, when we’re in a shop, sometimes we’re like toddlers. We’re distracted by beautiful things that are on the shelf, and we will buy them, even if somewhere in our gut, we know they’re not practical. They’re just shiny and beautiful.

Setting rules ahead of time, the same way with kids.

When we have these rules ahead of time, it helps the same way it helps my kids.

For example, I don’t own anything dry clean only because I know I’m too lazy to take care of anything delicate. Probably the same reason my parents wouldn’t buy me a pet when I was younger.

It might sound strange, but having this boundary now as an adult is empowering. It helped me declutter my closet, even when my inner child was begging me to keep some of my beautiful things. It saves me so much time, and not just time, it’s like the mental load when I’m out shopping. When I walk into a shop, I know that there are things I’m not even going to look at anymore.

To be clear, it’s not always easy. There are times when I want to negotiate. Where I promise that I’m going to take this to the dry cleaner.

I don’t sound exactly like my kids, ‘I promise Mommy, this time, I’m going to take better care of it.’

But we all know in the long run that we don’t generally follow through on those types of promises, not because we’re bad people, but because it’s just human nature.

When we set these boundaries ahead of time, and not in the moment when you’re in the shop, being influenced by all the marketing and the desire to buy things, it makes it so much easier to follow through.

If you have read or listened to any of my previous work, you’ll know that there’s more to decluttering than what we covered in this episode.

I believe most people have an emotional connection with their clutter and we need to work through that before we can comfortably let go.

But still, I think these three tips that we discussed today can really help jumpstart your decluttering if you’re stuck or in a rut.

To recap, number one, sometimes there are no perfect solutions, we can’t always have our cake and eat it too. We have to make tough decisions based on what’s best in the long run. Don’t be afraid to confront your own inner toddler, and then act in their best interest.

Number two, too many options are overwhelming. Obviously, this is a good reason to declutter in the first place but it’s also worth keeping in mind while you’re decluttering. If you’re struggling with what to keep and what to toss, simplify the decision. Choose two items and then ask, ‘What should I keep and what should I let go?’

It’s not a perfect solution. It’s not going to work with everything. But I think that sometimes limiting the scope can really help you get unstuck.

And finally, number three, accept that your inner self doesn’t want to let go of things. Just like your child doesn’t want to come home from the playground.

And you’re not a bad person because of this. It’s just human nature.

So instead of beating yourself up or wanting to keep your stuff, shift your energy to creating boundaries.

Again, I don’t know the science, but I promise that it’s so much easier to follow through when you pre-decide things. If you think about how much of a certain item you need, or what type of stuff you will or won’t buy or keep.

Give these tips a try.

Thank you so much for listening to me ramble about my kids. Have a good one and talk to you soon.

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