toddler playing with toys in living room flickr / Amber McNamara
Clean Starter

How Downsizing Your Life Can Make You A Better Parent

It’s starting to get out of hand. In one room, you have half of Toys ‘R Us on toddler layaway. In the other, LEGOs and building blocks have formed a colorful no man’s land. Then there are the car seats, strollers, hundreds of burp cloths, and a jumparoo that serves as a reminder that you didn’t need a jumparoo. You may have accepted all of this as part of parenting, but world-renowned organization expert Peter Walsh says the war on stuff is not only winnable, it’s essential to your family’s wellbeing.

You’ve seen Walsh throwing out people’s crap on TLC’s Clean Sweep or may have thumbed through How to Organize (Just About) Everything or his latest, Let It Go: Downsizing Your Way To A Richer, Happier Life. So why does he devote his life to making less of a mess? “Again and again, I see that when you de-clutter a space, it creates a great sense of relaxation, calm, and focus,” says Walsh. “You’re just able to operate better.” Here’s why less is more.

Understand The Impact Of Too Much Stuff

Walsh doesn’t see a pile of toys as a mountain of fun — he sees it as a pulsing sign of absence. He says busy often over-gift to make up for time away from home. “They have this emotion transfer with goods,” he says. “If they buy kids things it must mean they love them.” The suggestion is that a kid with too much toy love teaches them to value possessions over relationships. Next time you’re at the airport, leave the snowglobe at the newsstand.

Act Like A Bouncer

If Patrick Swayze taught you nothing in Roadhouse, it’s that it’s possible to rip a man’s throat out with your bare hands. Also, it’s a job that requires tough decisions. You need to treat the toy chest like a bouncer, with a strict one in, one out policy. “Before you have to get another toy, you have to get rid of a toy,” says Walsh. Let your kid decide who’s on the guest list. They can pick the toy to part with and donate it to a charity drive or goodwill store. “It teaches them to be generous citizens,” he says. Just like Dalton!

Give Them Room To … Dance?

There’s an assumption that kids want to be surrounded by lots of stuff to feel secure, and that everything is precious to them. But if you do the dirty work and clear some space, they’ll thank you. “A lot of people say my kids would go crazy if I got rid of stuff,” says Walsh. “But in my experience the more stuff you have in a home the less your kids are able to be creative.”

Like John C. Reilly kicking out aerobics moves in Stepbrothers, kids are overjoyed at having newfound room to move. “Every single time I’ve de-cluttered a space that children use, without exception when the children come back, they start to dance,” he says. “It happens every single time.” To be fair, there was a dance floor hiding underneath.

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Paring Down Is Easier Than You Think

Walsh says that organization isn’t a giant, once-a-spring activity. You don’t need a bunch of contractor bags and the determination of a drill sergeant. He advises to start small and go steady. Just 10 minutes a day can make a huge difference. “If people are feeling overwhelmed, I recommend something called the trash bag tango,” he says. It goes like this: For 10 minutes a day, carry a pair of trash bags around your home: one for trash and one for charity. Place items in the corresponding bag as necessary. Walsh says you’ll see a difference after a week. After 2 weeks, you’ll see your kid’s bedroom again.

Better Parenting Comes Through Subtraction

Rocking chair or glider. Crib or bassinet. Walsh says don’t need half the baby stuff you think you do, and you certainly don’t need the dozens of accessories you purchase to make life more convenient. Once Amazon starts delivering crap, the inertia that sets in is hard to stop.

But stop. The more stuff you have, the more time you spend searching to find that “convenient” device. And the time you just waste was the time you were supposed to save. “If your home is de-cluttered and organized, you can find things easily, you can get your kids dressed and get them out of the door,” says Walsh. You can also find the door. Everybody wins!