Never too young to learn to declutter

I was at my son’s house on Sunday to pick up some packaging he wanted us to put in our recycling and trash as he had bought a new sofa and his bins were full. He also had several items to give me to take to the thrift shop.

As I was sitting enjoying a little time chatting with my step-granddaughter my husband and son were packing up the car. She suddenly noticed what looked like some sort of plush toy jutting a little from one of the bags destined for the car. She asked if she could see what was in it and my son said no that we needed to get the stuff to the car. She began to get upset thinking that he was decluttering something that may be hers.

I am not sure what the item was but he insisted it was just some old toy of his that he no longer wanted, but she was not convinced. As my son left the room with the bag her bottom lip dropped and I thought this was the perfect time to have a little conversation with her about why it wasn’t important as to what was in the bag.

I said, “Did you recognise the thing in the bag as one of your loved toys?”, and she said no. As I know her pretty well by now I then asked, “Don’t you think that whatever that toy was, if you loved it so much, wouldn’t you recognise it even from the little you could see?” And she said yes. I explained to her how she can sometimes get a little too attached to some of her things but if that was something that she loved her Mum and Liam wouldn’t dream of decluttering it. And she seemed satisfied with that.

I then went on to explain what happened to the old toys and clothes that she had grown out of and were decluttered. I explain how some of them where bought at the thrift shop for little kids who’s parents couldn’t afford new toys, and if it wasn’t for her kind donations those kids would have no toys. I also explained how, no matter who bought the items, that the money went to a charity who used the money for a good cause. Sometimes to help people in need. Sometimes to help starving people overseas. Sometimes to fund research to find cures for things that made people sick. And even other to help save endangered animals like the pandas she loved so much.

By now she was no longer upset and said wait here and she ran off into her bedroom. I thought for one incredible moment that she was going to her room to find something else of hers to give me to take to the thrift shop. Alas she went to get her iPad mini to play games with me. My husband later said she probably got it to distract me so she didn’t have to listen to my raving on anymore. But I prefer to think that I succeeded in making her realise that giving was living and she was now ready to move on to something fun we could do together.

But seriously, it is never too early to include your children in the act of decluttering. I don’t know what that toy was in the bag, but I do hope if it was some old thing of Liam’s or something of hers that  she had chosen to give away a while back. As you know I don’t think it is a good idea to declutter anyones stuff without their agreement. And having a discussion with your kids about how what they donate can help others is a great way to encourage them to let go of things they don’t really use. Like adults they can tend to cling on to stuff otherwise, just in case.

Today’s Mini Mission

Declutter something that is brown.

“If we do not feel grateful for what we already have, what makes us think we’d be happy with more?” — Unknown

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About Colleen Madsen

Colleen is the founder of 365 Less Things and lives in Newcastle, Australia.


  1. LOL!
    Went to get the ipad to distract you! Smart kid!
    Good lesson, even if she was overwhelmed, it may seep in later. At 40+ years old I still have little light-bulb moments when I suddenly “get” the full scope that my dad may have been trying to teach.
    In her defence though, we moved often as kids, and my parents once decluttered my room so aggressively that they tossed very cherished items. I know on that day when I came home and saw my beloved life sized imported poodle toy, “special” christmas colouring book and Disney bedtime story set GONE it scarred me and left me untrusting and extra clingy with my things after that. I took to hiding stuff.
    Only one example of how I started becoming a pack-rat early in life. It’s only recently that I can let things go without fear.

    • Oh creativeme, I so feel for you and the experience you had. I had a similar experience as a child. It still tugs at my heart strings that my father didn’t care about my feelings enough to let me have a say to keep a few precious birthday cards and notes when I was eight, they had been seized and trashed while I was at school. I think it was the root of my paper problems that I had for years. And it really isn’t about the things, it’s about that betrayal of trust.

    • Hi Creativeme and Jean, and that is why I follow the rule of not decluttering other peoples stuff. No matter who they are.

  2. I can still remember when I was four years old, coming round the side of the house just in time to see my Mum handing my stuffed toy horse to the refuse collector for his little girl. Mum thought I didn’t need/want the toy anymore and she knew the man’s family didn’t have much money. I can still hear the scream that I let out as I ran up and snatched the toy from the poor man’s hand and dashed off down the garden with it. So, if you do think your child’s toys are getting in need of a cull, please ask them to choose which ones to declutter. I know this wasn’t the case in this scenario but it immediately rang bells with me, over six decades later!

    • I couldn’t agree more Linda. It is important not to take the liberty of thinking you know what your kids cherish and what they don’t. I never experienced such a thing but then again I never had all that many toys when I was young. I will clarify by saying that I didn’t feel like I had few toys, it just was in comparison to what kids tend to have these days.

  3. That story was sooooo cute.

  4. This is absolutely true! My older son became very open to donation when I had a similar talk with him when he was three. So at three and four, he was more than willing to say goodbye to little used toy trucks and the like. My younger son is more attached, but he’s making headway. They have finally out grown their hand-me-down playskool barn and we took it with our other donations on this last Saturday to our church thrift store. It had been sitting for a while and it seems like the silo attachment is always in the way underfoot. I talked with the boys about it and we said our goodbyes to the barn and I stuck it in the trunk. I got out to hand the goods over and then popped back into the car. My younger son said softly, “They’re taking our barn.” He watched as they shelved it and as we drove away I assured him it would be okay and reminded him that he had helped say goodbye. They have plenty of toys, so when something feels like it’s stagnating it’s not a huge deal to say goodbye. If they want to hold on to something we keep it. Like the scratched up set of plastic blocks they love from 2009.

    • That is a good example of teaching the kids to let go Jean. I don’t actually recall having any issues with my kids letting go of stuff. That may be because I usually sold them at a garage sale or car boot sale and they were happy to trade them for a little extra cash. In fact when thing began selling at garage sales they would go inside to see if they could find other things the might fetch them more money.

      • Selling things is an awesome idea Colleen. We do that from time to time.

        • I’ve been reading your blog for a while – finally managed to persuade my children that they could get rid of outgrown toys by selling them at a tabletop sale and giving to younger friends – they were so pleased by the idea of making money that apparently my daughter spent part of a playdate suggesting things her friend could sell (oops) 🙂 A bit of actual cash in the pocket and extra space in the playroom for all the Lego has certainly helped encourage them!

          • Welcome Sarah and thank you for leaving your first comment. And well done you. My kids also learned to declutter by selling their toys. Once there was a little cash return they didn’t mind donating the rest to charity. They still do that to this day and they are now almost 24 and 26.

  5. I think this is something that goes along with other skills we would do well to teach children. I wish many people had been taught this early in life. I think kids are much quicker to give things away if it is explained to them like you did with your step-grandaughter Colleen.

  6. Just going to bed at 11pm in UK and getting to grips with the fact that most of you are already halfway through tomorrow!
    Still, at least I know my task for the morning.
    Good night.

  7. Colleen, I agree with Deb J. that your explanation was spot on. I have also found that when parent’s are willing to “give things away”, their children will often follow in their footsteps throughout their lives. Philanthropy inspires philanthropy.

    • I think that’s the key Kimberley. I have read a few blog posts where a mother preaches on and on about how she is compelling her children to get rid of their toys and why it’s so good for them. A couple of those posts fail to mention what the mother is giving up to set that example. “Do as I say, not as I do” doesn’t work for kids long term, they aren’t stupid.

    • I, of course, agree Kimberley.

  8. What a lovely story, Colleen! Even if she didn’t come back with something to give away, it should all click into place one day. You have given meaning and purpose to the act of decluttering, and planted a seed that has the potential to take strong root. In fact, she might write about this as a formative moment on her own blog one day.

    Deb J, I’m with you regarding the life skills.

  9. I have to laugh thinking about how “generous” my youngest granddaughter is. When was 2 to probably 8, she gave away things that didn’t belong to her. She wrapped up a library book for her sister’s birthday. When build-a-bear was big she tried to give me one that I said was cute that I found out belonged to her sister. She’s a teen now, and still generous, but with own things these days! lol

  10. Unrelated, but I need advice. I have a teddy bear that was given to me at birth, but despite everyone thinking I should treasure it I never cared about it as a kid – I have another toy the same age that I do love. Anyway, when I was 14, I used it as a prop in a drama class. That class was the single worst one I’ve ever had and I was bullied mercilessly. Try as I might even 9 years later I can’t cleanse the bear of those foul memories. Left to my own devices I’d give him to a charity shop, but I’m ‘supposed’ to love him. Advice?

    • Hi Niriel, people have traditional ideas about how the world is supposed to run. I read a book recently call Being Normal Gets You Nowhere, I don’t know that I agree with that title but I sure don’t feel obliged to act normally. So many ideas people have are so outdated and or imposing and I don’t happen to feel inclined to follow such ideas. My kids both had bears their grandmother had made them when they were babies. I kept them for quite a while during the decluttering process. I must have asked them more than once if they wanted them and then kept them incase they changed their minds. Then they both left home and that was their last chance. I asked them again if they wanted the bears and if I remember correctly neither of them did so they were donated to charity. So obviously I say, if you don’t care of the bear then let it go. It isn’t human after all. I have given away many things during the declutter process that tradition suggests I should keep.

      • Thanks for the reply Colleen. The bear’s been hidden where the sight of it can’t hurt me for a while, I think I’ll just quietly dispose of it and deny all knowledge if asked. 😀

        • Hi Níriel,

          When my mother was living, she used to ask me periodically where a top went that she had given me. It was from someplace she travelled to. Initially, I liked the top, but I finally decided it was unflattering to me. So I donated it. When she started asking where the top was, I quite honestly said I didn’t know. My mother was a bit of a hoarder (not as extreme as on the shows) so she lost things all the time. I figured she would just think I lost this item somewhere in my home LOL. Let go of that Bad Bear and if anyone asks, you don’t know where he is 🙂

          • Peggy, I love the sneaky honesty in your suggestion! Technically not a lie, is it? Best part is we’re moving house soon, I’m sure the bear won’t be missed until after we move. Oh, I’m not sure where he is now… Love the term Bad Bear. 😀

    • Pass it on. You don’t have to do what “everyone” expects of you.

      • Absolutely Deb J, and so many expectations are just inhibiting and destructive. Small things like Niriel’s bear become a disproportioned hinderance. I think we all have had something like that to deal with.
        Niriel, I had a horrendous drama class experience too. I was shy and took the class to help me come out of my shell a little. It was a nightmare! The teacher turned a complete blind eye to the bullying and for the first time ever I received a C grade, her reasoning was that I didn’t try to work well enough with everyone! Apparently those drama kids were budding narcissists. I say ditch the little bear, it’s meaning won’t hold the same for someone else if you donate it or trash it.

    • Niriel,

      Do yourself a favor and toss the teddy bear. Anything in your life that is associated with an unpleasant memory or person should go, valuable or not, never to bother you again.

  11. Hi, Niriel. I’m sorry to hear about your bad experiences. I think that it is better to let go of anything that is associated with bad or negative memories. Life is too precious and too short to be constantly reminded of events that cause you pain.

    • Nicole, thanks for the reply. You’re right, of course – just needed someone else to say it I think.

      • Some great advice there Niriel. You will probably find no one will miss the bear and you won’t have to constantly reminded of an unpleasant experience.

  12. Colleen that was a lovely story. I really thought as I was reading that your step granddaughter was going to get something else to donate too.

  13. Hi everyone, this is a bit off topic, but I have been working on photos lately – what an eye opener that has been! It’s been like watching my entire decluttering journey in a shortened version and it has given me some Mumbo Jumbo insights as to how my brain ticks.

    Aside from that I got to thinking today that someone should invent a digital photo album and then it occurred to me that is more or less what an iPad is! I was wondering if anyone out there has actually ditched traditional photo albums for an iPad, not just for photos taken on the iPad or iPhone but digitised versions of Kodak paper photos. My husband says he misses looking at photos but agrees that big chunky photo albums aren’t the way forward.

    • Hi Moni,

      I guess working on photos could show you the background (your home) in some photos, where maybe there used to be clutter? I’m so interested in everyones journey! I like to think about what my home would look like if I hadn’t ever got started with decluttering or learned not to reclutter… It makes me feel like I have made so much progress, even though if you saw my house you would see “need for improvement”… I’m going to blame most of that on my daughters LOL. Your comments are always so interesting 🙂

      • Peggy – more so being able to observe my reactions during the culling process. Keep up the work, you will get there I promise.

    • Moni, all my actual pictures are now digital. What I like about having them on my tablet is that I can pull them up anywhere I take my tablet and show them or look at them any time I want to. I still have the scrapbooks I made but have thought about scanning them in and then sending the scrapbooks to my brother if he wants to pay the shipping. I realized that I seldom look at the scrapbooks. Plus when we move it would mean less to move and find a place for.

      • Deb J – I am surprised no one has invented a digital photo album sole purpose gadget yet, maybe I should suggest it and make my millions! We have two iPads in the household, which have sort of become mine and my husbands each and personalised to each of us. I don’t mind the others using my iPad as they don’t mind me, say, asking to use their laptops, but I don’t know if I want my iPad becoming household property. Does that sound odd?

        Maybe I should look into an entry level tablet that could sit alongside the external hard drive, Apple tv and iPod dock in the entertainment centre?

        Having photos of 20 years of kids, I suspect I don’t really want that many on my personal iPad and to date no one has ever asked to see my wedding photos while I’m out and about, it’s my iPhone that seems to be my photo album on the go.

        • Moni, they actually do have a picture thing that just shows your pictures. You can even set it on a shelf or hang it on the wall and it will either stay on one picture or show a slide show. I will look for it and send the link via Colleen.

        • Suddenly thought of what they are called and it is better you look in your area. Digital Picture Frame or Album.

    • Hi, Moni. I stopped taking traditional film photos ages ago. I have both traditional and digital photos, though I decluttered lots of the former (without scanning them) as I saw no need to hang on to them. The ones that survived the cull sit on a bookshelf for easy retrieval. At this point in time, I have no plans to scan them.

  14. Hi Moni & Deb,

    We bought a digital photo frame, loaded on one of our slide shows and ran it for a couple of days — then got bored with it and returned it. I have finished scanning my thousands of travel slides, (tossed slides and given away the projector, Yay!). The beauty of having the pictures on the computer is that you can organize and file them and bring up the ones you want quickly. You can put them on a stick or card and then show the ones you want on a TV or other device. If you don’t want them permanently on the computer they can go on a hard drive (I know nothing about the ‘cloud’ so can’t help there). I have few physical photos (half a shoebox) and only two albums from my childhood and youth. Ian’s photos take up one large box. I offered to scan them for him and he said he was probably going to toss the entire lot sight unseen because if he hasn’t looked at them in all these years, he probably isn’t going to. HOORAY!

    • Wendy B, I agree with you about the digital photo frame. I can’t see putting out the money when you can have them on your computer and do more with them. Since I have a tablet I have them where I can easily show them to anyone.