Steps to a clutter-free play space (for all ages)
By Addie Pascal
Glancing around the playroom, I sensed defeat. A space intended for my children to explore, play, imagine, and create had instead become a war zone. Toys and games laid strewn about, exhausted from countless battles with sticky-handed four-year-olds. Some broken, some tattered, all weary. The ones with eyes seemed to be looking at me pleadingly, begging to be rescued from the minefield in which they lay.
I felt their pain. And that’s when I knew something had to change.
In a perhaps overly dramatic moment of conviction, I scurried around, frantically emptying the entire playroom of every last item. My kids—Nina, 9, Graham, 5, and Naomi, 4—looked at me like I’d lost my ever-loving mind. After my frenzy, we talked. About clutter. About the pink goo in the carpet. About why Ken no longer had arms—or pants. And they agreed it was time to get a handle on the mess.
So we made a plan and worked it together. They each chose their most treasured toys, games, and activities, and we selected homes for those items in the playroom, still leaving plenty of space to actually play. For the remaining toys, we found new homes by donating, gifting, selling, and, in some cases, throwing them away.
Whether it’s your kids’ toys or your own (fess up—how many pairs of skis are sitting in your garage right now?), the change of season offers the perfect time to purge and organize. With just a few simple guidelines you can be well on your way to creating a clutter-free, peace-filled home.
Considerations for a Clutter-Free Space
Plan the work and work the plan.
Catchy, but true. It can be overwhelming to clean out your home. First, consider your ultimate goal. A manageable play space? An easy-to-navigate gear storage area? Whatever it is, write it down. Then create a task list to make it happen.
Big tasks seem overwhelming and can make you want to throw in the towel. Instead, tackle one small project—like cleaning out a single drawer or cabinet—and finish it. This will give you a sense of accomplishment and increased motivation to do more.
Tackling your whole plan at once is unrealistic. Pick it off in pieces and do a little bit every day or every several days. This process will keep your momentum going and allow you to fit the task of tidying up in around work, school, soccer practice, and everything else on your to-do list.
Family members are more likely to take future ownership in the organization if they are part of the process. How do I know this? From my own failures, of course (and also from Marie Kondo’s book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up). Naomi never cared about or appreciated a clean room until we did it together. It was painstakingly slow. But because she was the one who ultimately decided where everything would live, she now returns her items to their designated place. No more nagging.
It might sound cheesy, but I can tell you from personal experience that it’s far easier to let something go if you take a moment to be thankful for its purpose in your life. Recognize how the object once served you, be grateful, and then pass it along.
Tips for Maintaining Order
Everything has a home.
This has been a game-changer for my kids. And it also works for us grown-ups. See-through bins are great for organizing, making it easy to know where things go. And labels earn you bonus points.
“If it takes less than a minute to complete, do it without delay.”
I love this bit of seemingly small advice from Gretchen Rubin, author of Outer Order, Inner Calm. Here are some examples: Taking out the trash. Making your bed. Hanging up your clothes. Putting your lunch box away.
Put one thing away before you get out something else.
This statement may seem more appropriate for kids, but it’s applicable to grown-ups, too. Perhaps this wording hits closer to home: Complete one task before starting another.
One thing in, one thing out.
Swapping out the old for the new helps maintain a limit to how much you accumulate. It also helps you further consider whether the shiny new item is truly needed.
Enjoy things without owning them.
Movies, books, art, home decor, play equipment, and, yes, even outdoor gear can be rented or borrowed. There is immense freedom in this.
Empty space is okay.
I cannot stress this enough! Ask any interior designer his or her recommendation for evoking a sense of calm in your home. Empty space is it.
Give the gift of experience.
If your house bulges at the seams around Christmas and birthdays (like mine does), give your kids or loved ones things that they can do rather than tangible items. Extend this option to doting grandparents, too. Remember: Memories trump stuff.
So, what became of my kids’ playroom? It has been over a year since the day the toys quit, and I’m happy to say the unclutteredness is sticking. The kids focus better when they play and aren’t overwhelmed when it’s time to clean up.
Your home should not be a storage unit. Give your possessions room to breathe. When you declutter, you actually create mental space by deleting sensory input. You also free up calendar space by cutting out how much of your valuable time you spend managing stuff. That means more time and energy to spend with your family and friends, being creative, resting, and playing.
What to do with the Excess
Sell and Consign:
Headwall Sports in Jackson consigns both new and used outdoor gear and clothing, taking only a percentage of the sale. headwallsports.com
Bun in the Oven and Beyond in Victor sells children’s clothing, toys, baby gear, and maternity wear on consignment. bunintheovenandbeyond.com
Once Upon A Child in Idaho Falls gives you on-the-spot cash for children’s clothing, toys, and gear. onceuponachild.com/idaho-falls
Call into KMTN’s (96.9 FM) Trash and Treasure weekdays at 9:30 a.m. to off your old gear. kmtn.live
If you have time to photograph, list, manage, and ship your saleable items, go with eBay and do it all from home.
Regional Facebook groups like Jackson Hole: For Sale Classifieds, Jackson Hole Online Garage Sale, Jackson Hole Baby and Children’s Items Sell and Trade, Misty’s List, Teton Valley Idaho Garage Sale, and Teton Valley’s Garage Sale pages allow you to sell to local people.
The Jackson Hole Ski & Snowboard Club and Teton Valley Ski Foundation Education ski swaps, held in November, offer great ways to unload ski and snowboard gear.
Habitat ReStore in Jackson sells furniture, appliances, and building materials while reducing landfill waste by recycling usable items. tetonhabitat.org/restore
Turning Point in Jackson takes maternity and infant items. turningpointjh.org
Teachers can sometimes use books, art supplies, and old technology items.