The House Dad Chronicles: De-Cluttering The Kids' Rooms In Time For The Christmas Present-Fest

08/12/2012 17:19 | Updated 22 May 2015
The House Dad Chronicles: How to de-clutter the kids' rooms in time for the Christmas present-festAlamy
Every day, for the past week or so, the doorbell has rung twice a day. I'm not expecting anyone, and I haven't ordered anything, so I treat these cold-calls with a certain wariness.

But once I open the door, all is revealed: it's another courier with another package – bearing the name of my wife.

Of course, I know what's in them, but it doesn't stop me giving her the Spanish Inquisition when she gets home from work at night: What on Earth has she been ordering? I thought we were going to keep to a very strict Christmas present budget this year? Don't you know there's a recession on?

And she replies: "Mind your own business. I work hard. If I want to splash out on my kids, then I will."

That's the guilt talking: she works 10-hour days to keep a roof over our heads and barely sees our three children. Buying them presents is her way of making it all better. That's my theory, anyway.

But it's not the way she sees it. For her, Christmas is THE most special time of the year. And so, like a less bossy Kirstie Allsopp, she wants to make it as perfect as possible. And for her, that means spoiling her children. Which is all fine – who can deny her that?

After all, as she says, she works her backside off all year: giving her children the 'best ever Christmas' – every year – is part of what makes the grind worthwhile.

But like Ebenezer himself, I've got a problem with it. Because for everything that comes into the house, I never, ever see a single thing leave it.

As a result, we live in a toy-filled tip that is so festooned with moth-eaten cuddlies and broken breakables that I can hardly see the carpet in the living room, let alone the kids' bedrooms.

It's a source of tension that comes around every Christmas and every birthday and goes roughly along these lines.

Me: "The kids have got so much stuff, they don't need any more."

Wife: "But they've outgrown a lot of it."

Me: "So let's throw some of it out."

Wife: "No: you're not doing it. I don't trust you. You'll take a flame thrower to the lot."

Me: "But they hardly play with the stuff they haven't outgrown – mainly because they can't find it beneath all the piles of plastic tut in their rooms."

Wife: "If there's any throwing out to do, then I'll do it."

Me: "So do it then."

Wife: "I will. When I get the time."

Me: "But you never have the time."

Wife: "Yes, because I'm working."

Me: "I know – so that you can buy more plastic junk the kids don't need."

And on it goes.

Except this year, I think we've reached breaking – or bursting – point. The kids' rooms simply cannot accommodate any more 'stuff'.

We need a plan – a plan that can be carried out behind my children's mother's back without her noticing.

So first of all, I told the children that Santa might not be able to visit this year because his elves were scared of catching a fatal disease from all the detritus under their beds.

"Santa likes a clean and tidy home," I told them. "Not a festering cesspit."

OK, so that's the scaremongering out of the way.

Next, I'm turning to Rachel, from The Small Notebook blog, who offers practical tips for decluttering toys.

She writes: "I decided to teach my kids how to clean out their own toys, starting at age 3. The first time I let my three-year-old daughter reduce her toys, I was shocked by how many she didn't want anymore. She let go of more toys than I would have if I had done it for her.

"The kids decide which toys they are finished playing with, and I decide whether those toys go in the donation bin or the storage box.

"At ages one and two, I clean out their toys for them when I see the toys are being thrown on the ground instead of played with."

Ruthless! I like it.

She goes on: "By ages two and a half or three, they start letting me know their opinions. I still second-guess them a little, but things can stay in the giveaway basket for a few weeks to give our decisions time in case they change their minds.

"The biggest challenge is to not let myself get in the way of their willingness to give things away. When I ask them if they want to keep something and they say no, I stay very impartial in my reactions. I don't say, 'Oh, but you used to love that!' or 'But your grandmother gave it to you!' Instead I say, 'That's fine. You don't have to keep it. Can you tell me why you don't want it?'"

Hmmm, I'm not sure this is going to work in Housedad Towers because my kids seem to want to keep EVERYTHING – no matter how old, how smelly, or how broken. Perhaps something more practical than hopeful negotiation would help.

Rachel recommends putting out of sight the stuff the kids no longer play with (presumably until they forget they've got them and you can just throw them away) and then finally to chuck a couple at a time on a regular basis.

She says: "Cleaning out your kids' toys can be a big project, but it can also be as simple as saying, 'Hey, can you find two or three toys in your room that you don't want any more?' Little efforts count."

With my mind made up, I waited for the kids to get home from school and put the plan into action.

Two hours later we were all sitting on the carpet, building the Playmobil Circus and the Brio Wooden Train Set I'd totally forgotten we'd bought them for Christmas two years ago. And I didn't have the heart to throw it out. Maybe next year!

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