when your kids are hoarders

Like most modest, post war homes in the 'burbs, functional storage through much of our house is lacking, but our kids' rooms are a different story. The previous (and original) owners raised six boys here, so creative solutions and space planning was a must. When my son was born, my husband and I moved downstairs deciding to keep both kids together on the second floor. Let's just say they got the good rooms: the ones with multiple closets and drawers built into the crawl spaces which they totally don't deserve! Until a few weeks ago, more often than not,  their rooms looked like this.

Spending any time in my daughter's room made me lose my mind, so much so, that tackling the much needed facelift felt impossible.

Spending any time in my daughter's room made me lose my mind, so much so, that tackling the much needed facelift felt impossible.

Even the dog is uncomfortable in this mess. Believe it or not, this shot was taken mid-purge so the floor near my son's  Batcave was actually ten times worse before taking this shot.

Even the dog is uncomfortable in this mess. Believe it or not, this shot was taken mid-purge so the floor near my son's  Batcave was actually ten times worse before taking this shot.

 I understand that they're 7 and 9 and developmentally, not really capable yet of the kind of organization that makes me happy. Over the years, I've tried to set up systems for them and give them the tools they need to be neater, but they've never stuck, and honestly, it's my fault. Often I would only be up there first thing in the morning and at bed-time. After a long day, homework, dinner, activities, etc., the mess was forgotten until it was time for bedtime stories and tuck-ins. This would often turn into the time where my husband or I (but usually me) would start to twitch and yell and declare tomorrow after homework, clean-up time. 

The problem was, they really didn't know how to clean up well and old, outdated toys needed to go. I needed to give them more specific direction and not expect them to clean up the way I would.

The solution? Start with a blank slate. Or as close to a blank one as we could get. I spent an entire rainy weekend after Christmas purging, with their help. I was pleasantly surprised at how good they got at letting go of what they didn't love, use, like or need anymore, but I'm not going to lie. It was daunting and disgusting and I didn't know where to begin.

By Sunday evening their rooms looked like this:

Now, I feel like I can see clearly and  begin to make the updates that will make their rooms function for the long run.

Below is the haul of items ready to drop off at our local thrift store. There were also at least six contractor bags at the curb. It looked like we were moving.

So how do we maintain it going forward? Here are the tips that are working thus far, almost a month out:

1. Keep the instructions and expectations fairly simple. Instead of a laundry list of what needs to be done each day, I'm trying to be realistic and have them tackle the biggest offense. My rule is that the floor must be clear of everything (papers, Legos, toys, clothes, etc.) each night before bed. If I see it the next morning it goes in the garbage can! So far this has worked well and I haven't stepped on a Lego while barefoot yet.  I will give a little guidance, because my son honestly can be standing on top of a pile of laundry and not notice it beneath him, but that's about it. Once they've got this down, we can branch out to desktops and dressers, etc.

2. Be present and follow through. At the end of the day, no matter how tired I am, I've changed my tune and walk through the space with them. This is definitely where I fell short in the past. They usually head up to bed 10-15 minutes before we come to read and they spend part of this time clearing the floor, etc.

3. Show don't tell. Sounds simple enough, but I wasn't always good at this. Each morning when I wake them up now, we make their beds together. They help me, I teach as we go, and eventually, they'll be able to do it well on their own. I hope.

All in all, there's a lot less yelling, they want to spend time in their rooms and they're eager to have a say in how I redecorate their spaces. I hope they'll learn to take pride in their surroundings, and learn a few life skills in the process.  I know that they will get messy again, but I'm hoping we've turned a corner and we keep the hoarding at bay.


Are your kids hoarders too? What works for you when tackling a room that's out of control? Stop by later this week to see an updated  design plan for my son's room.