This past Saturday, the boys spent an hour cleaning their room (earning themselves 30 Mommy Dollars). By 9:30 in the morning on Sunday, the room was a mess again.
I knew it was time for some intervention. As I mentioned in my last post, sometimes the reason for a mess is that there is too much stuff, and in that case, the problem is not the mess on the floor but the stash being ignored--but stored anyway--in the shelves. I ignored the visible mess, and went for the dark recesses of the closets and drawers. I emptied them all out, taking anything that I thought my kids wouldn't need right away. When I started, the drawers almost couldn't close because they were so full; by the time I left, the drawers had only 5 shirts or pants each in them, with lots of empty space.
Some of the stuff I took is destined for the trash or give-away piles; much of it is going to be stored away for next winter (the boys don't need 5 sweatshirts in their drawers now that the temperatures are hitting 90). There's also a pile that I keep of "you have to ask for it" things, toys or clothes that they haven't touched in a long time.
I've found this last idea --- the "if you want it, you have to ask for it" pile --- to be a real help in teaching kids what they actually want. If you just straight-up ask a kid, "do you still want this huge stuffed animal?" they'll always say yes. But if you keep it in a safe place out of their bedroom, a place that I think of as "toy purgatory", then they know it's not lost. And the only way for a kid to get the toy out of purgatory is to actually play with it. When they complain about being bored, I ask, "do you want to play with the huge stuffed animal?" Sometimes they'll say yes, and they get the toy immediately. Most often, I was right in my guess that every other toy they own is more fun, and they say "no". After about six months of saying "no" to playing with it, they figure out on their own that the toy would be happier at someone else's home.
Of course, both of these ideas can work with grown-up things, too. It's true that part of the reason our own closets get so messy is because they're full of stuff that we do not use, leaving little space for the stuff we do. So a closet purge, accompanied by a closet purgatory, can be a great way to make space for the things we do value and use.