Spring cleaning with your kids

Clothes are dumped on the floor, toys are out of control and there are papers under the bed.

Does this sound familiar?

With busy work schedules, errands and social engagements filling your time, clearing clutter may not make it to the top of your priority list. But there is a way to ease into spring cleaning with a different approach — involve your kids in the process.

We asked Bridges Conner, a professional organizer, owner of  Get Organized With Bridges + Co in Phoenix and vice president of the National Association of Professional Organizers – Arizona, for advice on getting kids involved in spring cleaning.

“It’s important for kids to learn about spring cleaning at a young age,” she says. Kids learn how to be organized—and also learn to appreciate what they have—when they are taught to go through their possessions and let some things go.

Conner says 5 is a good age to start and suggests making it a fun process followed by treats and incentives. Here’s how to get started:

Start small

Cleaning an entire house is overwhelming for adults and children. For younger kids, even a closet might be too much, too soon. Instead, she says, “Start with a toy bin. Ask your child to employ a one-in, one-out policy. For every toy they keep, they give one away.”

This approach keeps kids focused. I’ve handled spring cleaning in a similar way with my daughter. Instead of targeting the entire toy closet, I’ve asked her to work on a single shelf. She empties the contents and places her toys or crafts on the carpet. I ask her to make three piles: keep, donate and discard. Starting small helps her stay on task and prevents her from becoming distracted.

Explain the concept of limited space

Conner advocates explaining the physical limitations of a space. “If your older child wants to buy more tennis shoes or clothes, point him toward the closet and ask, ‘Where are you going to put those new items?’ This question automatically incentivizes the child’s approach toward spring cleaning. Almost instantly, old clothes, shoes and other items are donated,” she explains. It allows children to “detach from items and to keep things moving.”

Make it fun

Most kids look at spring cleaning as a chore. Conner says to make it fun. When my daughter and I spring clean, we turn on the radio. She pretends she’s singing into a microphone, and I humor her. It keeps her cleaning longer, and we enjoy ourselves as we declutter. It’s great way to associate cleaning with something positive. I’ve also allowed my daughter to choose a movie of her choice at the end of a spring-cleaning day. We buy a few sugary treats and watch flicks in the living room after our cleaning is finished.

Clean throughout the year

To make spring cleaning less overwhelming, do it throughout the year, Conner says. She encourages parents to teach kids that every item has a home. This pushes children to return toys, clothes and other things to their original places.

I love the idea of cleaning throughout the year. I keep a garbage bag in the floor of my daughter’s closet. If she is trying on an item and it no longer fits or is too old, I encourage her to put it in the bag. This eliminates going through several pieces of clothing at once.

Parents as role models

Conner emphasizes parents need to serve as role models for keeping a tidy home. She encourages parents to “not give in to a temper tantrum at the store and buy one more toy your child doesn’t need.” She also suggests explaining to children that “less is more.” When pushed to buy another item, ask your child if they would rather have fewer toys or no toys. This philosophy helps to focus on quality versus quantity.