Having a plan, even one as simple as “unwanted items go to Goodwill,” can help parents manage the overwhelming feelings — nostalgia, sadness, guilt over waste — that can accompany parting with a child’s belongings. Pawlowski is sympathetic but firm. “Part of growing up and being a kid is enjoying your toys, sometimes to the point where they’re in bad shape,” she said. “It’s O.K. if toys are in the garbage or recycling.”
Build tidying and purging into your day, week and year.
Sometimes you have to throw a lot of stuff out. Morgenstern recommends decluttering twice a year and pegging the job to recurring events like the end of the school year or birthdays (perhaps not on the birthday, however). Pawlowski takes a harder line. “We advise parents to go through their children’s toys and clothes every three months,” she said.
Both experts agree that parents should not wait for those purges to remove items from their lives and homes. Morgenstern, in her book “Time to Parent: Organizing Your Life to Bring Out the Best in Your Child and You,” advises parents to create a rotation system. “At any given time there are things your kids are using, things waiting to be used, and things they have outgrown,” she writes. “The demarcation between those stages is often gradual, which leads to a ton of stuff to manage. Keep clutter at bay by building a system that allows for this natural flow.” Pawlowski lives this advice: “As I’m putting toys away, I keep an eye out for things that aren’t working anymore, like coloring books where the pages are all filled out or sticker books that are almost empty.”
Anticipate common messes and have a plan for them.
Of course, clutter is only one way in which your child can make a mess of your home. There are also the spills and the scribbles — and the bodily fluids. Here are my methods for cleaning it all up.
● Spills and accidents: Liquid spills and accidents involving bodily fluids on soft surfaces — bedwetting accidents, juice on the carpet, vomit on the couch — are best addressed using a portable carpet and upholstery cleaner. Those machines extract liquids and then force cleaning solution down into fibers in a way that spot treating can’t.
● Hard-surface stains: Over time, hard surfaces — such as walls, floors, and high chairs — will be dirtied and sometimes even stained by grubby hands, crayons, markers and food. For most messes, all-purpose cleaner will be enough, but for more stubborn stains on hard surfaces, a Mr. Clean Magic Eraser can be, well, magic. Be aware, however, that you should always test the Magic Eraser in an inconspicuous spot.
● Laundry stains: Shout Triple-Acting Laundry Stain Remover spray is excellent on chocolate and other food stains (though it should not be used on wool or silk); an enzymatic stain remover like Zout or Krud Kutter Sports Stain Remover works well on protein stains like vomit, grass, and mud; Dr. Bronner’s Pure-Castile Liquid Soap, which offers an unscented formula for babies, is excellent at eliminating smells in washable items; and oxygen bleaches like OxiClean or Clorox Oxi Magic can be used to presoak badly stained clothing.