How to Keep Kids from Becoming Pack Rats

I’m having such a great time dejunking my home this week. Have you joined my #SpringDeJunkChallenge yet? It’s not too late. Just completing a little bit every day makes a huge difference. On Monday, I shared my decluttering tips for kids, and today I’m sharing how we plan to stay junk free. If your home is full of little (or big) pack rats like mine, these tips are for you!

Simple habits to keep kids from becoming pack rats {Part 2 of the Decluttering Tips for Kids series on} I need these!No More Pack Rats!

It’s going to take a little while to get all of my kids’ junk free. Once we’re done, I don’t ever want to collect this much stuff again. So, how am I going to keep my kids from collecting too much stuff? Simple! {Just kidding. This won’t be a simple process. This is going to involve breaking old habits and starting new ones.} Ready to get started?

How Can Parents Help?

If your house is anything like mine, we collect more “stuff” every day. Whether it’s school papers, drawings, notes from friends, new toys, happy meal prizes, books, etc — it all needs to find a home quickly, or you need to get rid of it.

A note to parents: We love our kids, and we want them to be happy and have everything they could possibly ever want. We’re part of the problem. The more stuff the kids collect, the more stuff they have to take care of. The more they have to take care of, the more you have to nag about keeping things clean. (And don’t even get me started about how this keeps kids from learning to appreciate what they have! That’s a discussion for another time.)

Last year, during the Spring De-Junk Challenge, my family decided to get rid of most of the girls’ toys. There were too many to take care of or play with, and the constant clean up battles were driving everyone crazy. There was just too much stuff for the girls to take care of. You can read here to find out how getting rid of toys made us a happier family. Try it. It works.

Simple habits to keep kids from becoming pack rats {Part 2 of the Decluttering Tips for Kids series on} I need these!

So, how do you keep your kids from collecting too much stuff?

  1. Simplify at Christmas. If you are buying things just so that the kids all have the same amount of gifts or because you want them to have more gifts to unwrap, stop it. Before the holiday, evaluate what the kids already have. If you want to add more toys, consider giving some away to make room for new. Don’t buy things that the kids won’t be able to take care of.
  2. Simplify at Birthdays. Birthday parties are a prime time for kids to accumulate more toys than they need. If you currently have friend birthday parties every year, consider moving to a party every other year. If that just won’t fly, consider asking the guests to bring a toy or gift to donate to a homeless shelter or a hospital instead. Just add a line to your invitation like, “Instead of gifts this year, Johnny would love for you to bring a book to donate to . . . “
  3. Teach kids to save their money. Stop taking the kids to the Dollar Store every time Grandma gives them a dollar or they earn a little money. I have nothing against the Dollar Store. I love the Dollar Store, but those toys don’t last. Most of them end up in the junk pile eventually. Instead of immediately spending every penny, encourage the kids to save for something they really want.
  4. Stop impulse buying. Think seriously about your purchases for the kids. Don’t buy every new trendy toy that comes around.
  5. Change your reward system. If you currently reward your kids with a new toy or treat every time they do something good, change it up. Replace the toy with a date with Mom or Dad, a trip to the park, or a few minutes of computer game time. Even better–move to positive reinforcement. Kids don’t need to earn something every time they do something great. Hugs, high-fives and compliments go a long way!
  6. Model good behavior. Check out your own junk stashes. Are you guilty of being a pack rat, too? Let your kids see you collect items for Good Will or garage sales. When you want something at the store and you choose not to buy it, let your kids know why you are resisting the impulse to make a purchase. Whether it’s because it’s not in the budget or because you don’t really need it, explain that to the kids. It will help them learn to make better decisions.
  7. Start a routine for problem areas. There are certain areas in your home that collect junk, and I’m sure you know exactly what they are. For my kids, it’s the buckets in their lockers, their dressers, and for one kid–a junk drawer in her room that needs to go away! Make it part of your family routine to regularly go through the stuff in those problem areas. Make it a Saturday morning job or whatever works for your family. Use the Keep It / Toss It / Donate It system (found in this post) or the questions listed in the next section to help you control the junk that collects every week.
  8. Help kids organize their things. When you are decluttering often, you may start to notice a pattern of the same things in the junk spots every week. Help the kids create a spot to keep those things. For example, do the kids need a jewelry box, hooks on the door to hang hats, a place to put their books, etc?

How Can Kids Take Responsibility for their Stuff?

Simple habits to keep kids from becoming pack rats {Part 2 of the Decluttering Tips for Kids series on} I need these!

I know that none of us want to take responsibility for monitoring every item that comes into the house. At some point, we have to teach our kids to take control of their own stuff. Here’s how (I’m writing to the kids here):

  1. Take control of the backpack. After showing schoolwork to Mom or Dad, decide where it will go next. (The trash, your art portfolio, or a special place that you keep papers you want to save.) We made DIY art porfolios from posterboard and duck tape, and the girls each have an accordion file in their closets where they keep special stories or awards that they don’t want to toss.
  2. Take control of your bedroom. There are probably many things in your bedroom that you want to keep, but that always look messy. You need a place for those things. For example–Girls, where do you keep your jewelry so that you always know where to put it away and where to find it when you need it? When you are finished with something, put it back where it belongs. If the place where you keep things is getting to full, it’s probably time to get rid of some of it.
  3. Take control of your laundry. When you change your clothes, put dirty clothes in the laundry and clean clothes back in the closet or drawer. When Mom gives you a pile of clean clothes, put it away immediately! Keeping control of your clothes will help keep your room clean and help you better be able to find everything you need.
  4. Take control of your collections. You can have too much of a good thing. If you collect something special, make sure you have a special place for that collection, but set a limit as to how big your collection can become. For example, if you collect rocks, once you get a bag full, decide that if you want to add a new rock you should first get rid of one that isn’t quite as pretty to make room for the new one.

Simple habits to keep kids from becoming pack rats {Part 2 of the Decluttering Tips for Kids series on} I need these!

  1. When it comes to getting new things, ask yourself questions to make sure it’s worth adding to your home.
  • Do I really need it?
  • Do I have room for it?
  • Will I still want it in a week?
  • Will I still want it in a month?
  • Where will I keep it?
  • Am I willing to get rid of something else in order to keep this?
  1. Don’t create a junk drawer! See that picture of the drawer above this list? That started out as a drawer for t-shirts. Very gradually, my daughter started sticking things in a drawer that she wanted to put away quickly. Then, as she couldn’t find places for some of her things, she started dropping them in the drawer, too. Pretty soon, the drawer no longer contained any clothing. It was just filled with junk. Now, it will take us hours to sort through it! (We’ll be using the decluttering tips from this post.) Junk drawers don’t work! If you don’t know where something belongs, don’t hide it! Find a place for it, give it away, or throw it away.
Don’t Give Up!

This problem isn’t going to go away in a week, two weeks, or two months. Changing habits takes time. Create a plan and be consistent. You can do it! (My family will be working on it, too!)

Good luck to all of us in this challenge!

Try some of these tips to get you started:

Spring Cleaning and Organizing Tips from

 How Getting Rid of Toys Made Us a Happier Family

Printable and Editable Ten-Minute Tidy Lists

DIY Kids’ Storage Lockers

Organize Kids’ Drawers Part 1

How to Teach Children to Clean Their Rooms {free printable}

Organize Kids’ Drawers Part 2

Tame the School Work with a DIY Duck Tape Art Portfolio

Dress Up Storage Ideas

DIY Bunk Bed Bookshelves

Thanks for stopping by today!





  1. This is a wonderful article! I recently started trying for a more minimalistic lifestyle and it has been amazing! We really do appreciate or things more and we don’t feel as stressed because things stay neater and less cluttered. Good luck!

  2. Great tips. I thing we need to do this challenge for a month next year. Not really, but I bet I could do a project a day for a month and still have stuff to do. As I unpack boxes from my move, I’m finding things I just don’t need any more. Why did I move them you may ask. Well, I was going from a small place to a big place, so I figured I might need them. I have since decided that I don’t need to fill every space.

    • I don’t know why it’s so hard to let go of stuff we don’t use, but it is! I’ll actually be doing the challenge a little longer. (Not officially on instagram, but I still have plenty to do!) Thanks for joining me.

  3. I love your take control points. Actually all your points are spot on. The Christmas present thing is especially hard for me since we have six children. I’m pinning your post to my cleaning board! Stopping by from DIY Dreamer.

  4. Great article with so many helpful ideas! I love how you’ve systemized the process so you have regular times to make sure things stay organized! Thank you, Heidi!

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