When it comes to young children helping around the house, it's often tempting to put the word in quotes. However, their intense interest in what their parents and/or caregivers are doing and their simple enthusiasm to join in offer a chance for us to help give them some fundamental principles that will stick with them for good. Here's why I include my children in organizing and decluttering projects...
They learn how to clean things up. When children are involved in the decision-making process, they are much more apt to put everything in its place. In addition, they learn the basic principles and steps of a bigger organizing project: things like taking everything out, cleaning the space where things will go, sorting, separating into put away/give away/throw away piles, thinking through the best place to put each item, and so on. As we work, I think out loud and include the kids in all these processes in order to help forge their own habits.
They experience the reward of a clean, fresh space — through their own hard work. After we purged and organized the art supplies, my six-year-old told me, "Oh, Mommy, I love being in this nice, clean space." They notice, and they are affected by their surroundings (albeit some more than others). The more they associate an organized living space with an internal feeling of calm, the more likely they are to develop good habits like picking up after themselves and leaving places nicer than how they found them.
They see how much stuff they have — and are more willing to let some of it go. Rather than having to sneak toys off to Goodwill and hoping the dreaded "where's my thus-and-such?" never comes, involving kids in decluttering helps them practice healthy detachment when it's time to let things go. I walk them through it: "Hey, so I think some other younger children would enjoy these stuffed animals much more than we will. How do you feel about donating these?" and more often than not, the kids are more than willing.
They are motivated to keep their things neat. When the kids see how much work and time a big clean-up involves, they are much more likely to invest the little time it takes to put things back where they belong — and to also encourage their siblings and friends to do the same. Of course, this kind of thinking can be modeled and suggested, as in comments from adults such as, "Oh, now that we spent all this time, let's try to keep it this way" or "Now that we know where everything goes, let's remember and remind each other to put things back where they belong." Young kids are sponges and these things stick; you'll hear your words coming out of their mouths.
They discover things they forgot they had. When the kids organize with me, they inevitably get excited to find things they forgot they had. This is fun for them and great for us because it's like getting new things without actually having to buy them. Implicitly, the kids are learning to enjoy what they have rather than always wanting something new.
It gives us a special kind of time together. One of my favorite things about organizing and decluttering with my kids is that it gives us time where we are working toward a goal together, using teamwork with each other, and imparting skills in a way that makes them feel big and important. It's work, not play, but I feel it's invaluable for them to learn that work done together is enjoyable.
Do you include children in your organizing, decluttering, or other household projects? How does it go?