Several years ago I realized I was outnumbered. There were more people bringing clutter into my home than I could control. With five children in the house, several sets of grandparents, and lots of generous friends who would give us their hand-me-downs, my children rarely saw a day where they were truly in need of something. For that, I am truly grateful. What that also means is that everything brought into our home needed a place, or we would quickly drown in utter chaos. Add to that the fact that my husband and I both have things we love to collect. For me, it is books. He has what we affectionately call “The Cord Hoard.” He loves electronics, and sometimes decades after an electronic device is no longer functioning, we will still find its cord tucked away someplace unexpected. By themselves, cords do not take up much space, but after twenty-one years of marriage, we have lots of them. I secretly think that some other families have been leaving cords here too.

In any case, when I had only one or two children, I simply went through their rooms each month or so and would make sure things were back in their proper places. A little excess never really bothered me because it was tucked away in the privacy of their rooms, which I needed to see only in the morning and at bedtime. However, once children started sharing rooms, the excess began to spill out of the closet and onto the floor, under the beds, into my room, and into the main part of the house. Before long, I felt like I could never get the house clean. There was too much stuff to move around, organize, and dust before I could begin to vacuum, scrub, and polish.

Now that many of my children are older, I have found that having frequent de-cluttering days with challenges and prizes has been a fabulous tool.

Here is how we do it:

We choose a day with no other plans. We get up at a reasonable hour, and everyone gathers in the kitchen to see the goals, the challenges, and the fabulous prizes for the day.

In addition, I make sure we have plenty of black garbage bags, boxes, regular trash bags, black markers (for labeling the boxes), and an empty truck or trunk of the van. We set goals for the number of donated items, and along with each goal, we establish a prize or award. We do not typically set individual goals but rather family goals. This helps keep everyone working together and encouraging one another.

Here is what our day looked like the first time we did this:

At 8:30 we made sure everyone was up and dressed, and as they ate breakfast, I told them the plan: “Today is de-cluttering day! Today we are going to all work together to get rid of the things we do not need.” Then I outlined the rules for them, and with great excitement and enthusiasm, I put the incentives on our white board:

  • If (as a family) we get rid of 100 items, we would get dessert with lunch.
  • If we gave away 200 items, we could go out for ice cream one night that week.
  • If we gave away 300 items, the family could go out to eat for dinner.
  • If we gave away 400 items, we could have dinner out—with dessert!
     
  • Items that were thrown away did not count toward the tally.
  • Every item had to go through the dining room for Mom to make sure it was suitable to give away.
  • Every item was to be tallied on a note pad kept in the dining room.

Everyone got to work immediately. My oldest daughter emptied her truck and turned down the seats to hold the loot. My middle daughter got the trash bags and boxes ready. My youngest daughter grabbed the laundry baskets to use to transport stuff from the rooms to the dining room.

It did not take long for the excitement to build as the kids discussed the “poor children” who would love to get their toys that they no longer cherished but which were still in terrific shape. They joyfully brought out some little dolls that were always underfoot but rarely appreciated. They brought out clothes that were outgrown and made room in their dresser drawers for the things they needed in there. Around lunchtime the truck was full, and our item count was very close to 300.