Clear clutter. Make space for you. ~Magdalena Vandenberg
Decluttering and getting organized can be difficult, but when not tackled, clutter can turn into something that creates and exacerbates anxiety, and even depression, in us – child or adult.
When your child is already dealing with anxiety, you know this can create a situation that will likely end with tears flowing, and family members yelling at each other.
If we (and our kids) don’t learn to deal with it, we (and our kids) end up in a vicious cycle where clutter leads to more anxiety, which makes us prone to being overwhelmed, which makes us more anxious, which keeps us from decluttering…
On and on it can go.
Getting Started with Decluttering
While I know a few people who seem to naturally organize well and declutter with ease, learning to declutter takes practice for most of us.
As the parent of an anxious child, you are going to have to first step back and figure out where you need to focus. There are lots of tips out there for helping kids get started with decluttering but be sure to take into account how and why your child connects with ‘stuff’, and how their anxiety affects their efforts.
For example, are these habits and connections your child has picked up on their own because of their anxiety? Or are they the same things that you struggle with and have passed on?
Once you’ve thought that through, consider the points and tips below:
It starts with you
There are many ways that we can help our children learn to organize and declutter, and the first place to start is by example.
Take note of your own organizing and decluttering habits.
Are you prone to clutter? It may not bother you (or you may not be aware that it adds to your own anxiety) but if it’s contributing to your child’s anxiety, then it needs to be dealt with.
If you need help in learning organizing skills there are many resources available to help you get started. I’ve linked to some in the bottom of the post.
Focus on one area at a time
Looking at an entire room or space can feel overwhelming. So pick one spot in a room and work on that.
Working with your child, don’t move on to the closet if you were working on dresser drawers and they aren’t yet organized; don’t move to the bookshelf if you aren’t done working on stuff under the bed.
Stick to one spot, clean it. THEN move to another spot.
Set a timer
Staring at a room full of clutter can feel ginormous and any task feels even bigger when it seems like it might never end.
Set a timer for 5 minutes to start.
Have your child work on decluttering and organizing the one chosen area for that time.
At the end of the 5 minutes, take some deep mindful breaths, then set the timer for 5 more minutes and continue working.
Try to see if your child can get to 30 minutes total. If your child is older, set the timer for a 10-minute break, and then try doing several more 5-minute rounds.
Start with trash first
Pick up small scraps of paper, tissues, strings, and anything that is real trash and can be tossed.
The act of getting rid of the obvious trash can make a difference in how your child scans the room and figures out what they need to tackle first.
Create “Keep”, “Throw away”, and Donate” piles
As your child sorts through items, have them sort items into piles to keep, throw away, or donate.
Helping them to understand that what they are donating will go on to other children who will love and care for it can help alleviate anxiety.
Create a think about it pile
I get it. There are some things that are difficult to part with, and a child should be allowed the opportunity to sort through their feelings about particular items.
For items that they are on the fence about, allow them to go into a “think about it” pile and come back to it 24 hours later.
Allow your child to take break
If their anxiety is triggered by the task at hand, let them take a break.
Encourage them to take mindful breaths, work on a plan to tackle the room together if necessary, and get back to it later.
It’s not about you
There might be things they are willing to let go of that you may want to hold on to.
Our anxious kids pick up on our own anxieties and issues with stuff, so be aware of that, and allow your child to get rid of things, even if you have an attachment to them.
Touch it once
When you touch something more than once you spend more time physically and mentally dealing with it.
So for ongoing decluttering upkeep, teach your child to touch something once – whether it’s laundry, mail, paperwork from school etc.
(protip: this is also helpful for the adults in the home, classroom, etc…)
Mandi describes the concept well on her blog here.
More resources to help you learn more about good organizing and decluttering habits
Organization and decluttering don’t always come easy. Do your research, learn different tips that others offer, give them a try and find what works for your child and what works for you and your family.
Below are some useful websites and books that are a good place to get started.
These books aren’t just about how to declutter and organize, but help you dig a bit deeper into the whys and the emotional benefits of doing so.