How to declutter your home “Marie Kondo” style when you have children

Clutter is bad for our mental health. It floods our minds with excessive and unnecessary stimuli, makes us feel guilty and anxious, and causes frustration when we can’t easily find what we need within the mess. A UCLA study also shows that clutter is associated with higher levels of the stress hormone, cortisol.

Enter Marie Kondo.

In case you’ve been living under a rock or a pile of unfolded laundry for the past few years, Marie Kondo is a Japanese organisation consultant whose ideas have taken the world by storm. By following a set of easy(ish) principles (AKA the KonMari method), she promises to free us from the tyranny of clutter.

I must admit, when I first heard about her back in 2011, I was initially sceptical. “This woman clearly has no children,” I scoffed. “Does she not know that kids are the masters of instant re-cluterring?” With that comforting thought in mind, I was able to haughtily dismiss her methods and continue to live my non-KonMari life.

However, since that time, Marie Kondo has gone from strength to strength. There is a rapidly growing number of glowing testimonials from Konverts, she’s launched a successful new Netflix show, and her name is now a verb.

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Then I found out that during that time, she ALSO managed to have two children. Damn, there goes my excuse. I am officially a sucky homemaker.

However, I was gratified to discover that since having her own little ones, Marie Kondo has had to tweak her methods slightly to suit families with young children. In fact, a new book on this is apparently in the works. I am personally looking very much forward to this.

In the meantime, while we wait for the arrival of this magical book, I will explore the main tenets of the KonMari Method and adapt them to accommodate the noisy, cluttery munchkins in your life.

1. Tidy all at once.

Dedicate several days to the task of fully decluttering and tidying your home so you don’t lose momentum or allow time for spaces to get messy again.

The “I have kids” revision: 

I don’t have any particularly wise (or legally-admissible) advice to give here except maybe, try your best? Or dump the kids at the babysitter’s one weekend?

2. Visualise the destination.

For most of us, this imagined happy future might be as simple as living in a home where your foot is not constantly being stabbed by Lego.

The “I have kids” revision: 

For little ones (whose feet are magically immune to being stabbed by Lego despite them living under the same roof as you), their priorities might be slightly different. Gently guide them towards forming goals that will resonate with them. Some ideas include the following:

I wish to be able to open my wardrobe and instantly find the tutu and flannelette shirt combo to wear to daycare before mum has a chance to protest. 

I wish to be able to chase my sister around the house without tripping over stuff on the floor. 

I wish to see a small shiny packet in the pantry and know that it holds solid goodness like chocolate, and not dead air. 

Marie Kondo - Lego people

3. Finish discarding first.

Resist the urge to store items without actually getting rid of anything, as this is a sure fire way to relapse. So when you say goodbye to an item, it doesn’t mean goodbye-for-now-as-you-fester-in-the-garage. It means goodbye!

The “I have kids” revision: 

Marie Kondo recommends setting personal space for each person in the family. For kids, this will most logically be their own bedroom or space in their shared bedroom. Don’t be tempted to offer even a smidgen of garage space or they will take advantage of that.

Telling the kids to keep anything they want in their rooms and their rooms only will force them to re-evaluate the importance of that collection of paper aeroplanes or the one-legged Barbie who has seen better days.

Worst case scenario – if they decide they can’t possibly part with all those ugly, broken toys you can’t stand the sight of, at least you have the option of closing their bedroom door while you continue to bathe in KonMari bliss.

4. Determine if the item “sparks joy”.

The best way to determine what to keep and what to discard is to physically hold the item in question and ask yourself, does it spark joy? If it no longer brings you joy, thank it for the pleasure it brought into your life and give it the (gentle) heave ho.

Note: An item can be joyful by virtue of being useful. Therefore, resist the urge to bin your toaster oven, latest unpaid electricity bill, or husband.

The “I have kids” revision: 

Children’s brains are surprisingly receptive to weird ideas. After all, these are the same people who find Paw Patrol amusing. So getting them on board with the concept of stroking all their belongings while whispering sweet nothings might be a lot easier than you think.

The big flaw in this plan is that kids will claim to find joy in absolutely everything (especially if there’s a risk it will be thrown out). Oh, to be young again! Now how to quash that youthful enthusiasm?

One way is to refer back to Visualise the destination and encourage them to visualise their future with this item. Ask them, what possible use is there for a broken blue crayon when there is a perfectly intact one here? Why would you want to keep these 18 puzzle pieces here when their 72 friends are waiting for them in lost-puzzle-piece paradise?

You could also suggest donating toys they haven’t played with for a while to charity, so that another child can find joy with it.

For a sneaky but effective method that some mums swear by, store anything they haven’t played with recently in the garage for a month. If they haven’t noticed its absence within this time, get rid of it.

By the way, Marie Kondo does not recommend getting rid of someone else’s possessions without their permission, so proceed with these methods as gently as possible.

Marie Kondo - Teddy bear

5. Tidy by category, not location.

Don’t just go from room to room. Tidying by category (e.g. clothing) is an efficient way to assess the sheer volume of what you have. From there, you can determine what is really important (e.g. do you really need five near-identical pink singlets?) and cull accordingly.

The “I have kids” revision: 

Marie Kondo advises that if lack of time is an issue (as it is for all parents), then you can further break down the category into digestible pieces. For example, within the clothing category, you can start by sorting tops, then bottoms, and so on.

6. Tidy in a certain order.

Kondo recommends tidying in the following order:

  1. Clothes
  2. Books
  3. Papers
  4. Komono (miscellaneous items)
  5. Sentimental items.

The “I have kids” revision: 

I personally believe that this particular piece of wisdom holds up pretty well, whether you have kids or not. Case in point – in the process of decluttering your home, have you ever stopped to linger over loose photos or old letters that you found? Before you know it, an hour or two has passed and your house is still in shambles. Kids fall into that same trap, and probably harder than we adults do.

If you stick to Marie Kondo’s order of tidying, at least if you’ll have had more of the practical categories sorted and out of the way before you launch into the komono and sentimental stuff (which for kids will be mostly be their toys).

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So there you go, mums and dads. I wish you the best of luck with your KonMari efforts and we would love to hear how it’s worked (or not) for you!