9 Things Every Parent Should Take Away From Marie Kondo's Tidying Up Series
When Marie Kondo first released her bestselling book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, parents everywhere called foul. Sure, it's possible to employ her decluttering methods as a young millennial or empty nester, but for those of us in the throes of early parenthood, the prospect of only keeping things that "sparked joy" was a practical joke. I myself am a tidy person with a passion for organizing, and even I was skeptical of her process. Sorry, but 90 percent of kid gear — battery-operated walkers, plastic sippy cups, grass-stained polka-dot leggings my kid demands to wear daily – doesn't give me the euphoric "ching!" feeling she writes about.
When Marie — a mom to two girls, a 2-year-old and a 1-year-old, who admits that "even my house gets cluttered sometimes" — brought her philosophy to Netflix with Tidying Up, I gave it another chance.
I'm sure glad I did because over the course of the eight-episode series, I learned a handful of skills that would benefit most parents struggling to survive the day-to-day chaos that comes with having toddlers for roommates. It might not feel like "life-changing magic," but the following lessons, if practiced consistently, well help any family become not just tidier, but happier, too.
Fold Laundry in Front of Your Kids
I often waited until naptime or bedtime to take care of household chores — I can breeze through them without interruption that way. This makes sense for some tasks, like paying bills, but for others, like laundry, it's doing my kids a disservice to not have them witness it being done. In the first episode of Tidying Up, Marie tells a family the importance of folding in front of their children — something she does with her own daughters.
"I highly recommend doing this with your kids," she said. "They love it. Like reading a book, it's a habit to fold clothes with my children. We often do it together before bedtime. Of course, sometimes when I fold clothes, my daughters crush [the pile]. I do scold them. I ask them not to pull [folded clothes] out."
If that seems oversimplified, well, it is. But, I have firsthand experience that it only takes a few really annoying folding sessions before toddlers start to understand the process and see the value in the end result. If you make it fun, they'll actually join you in the process. Encourage them to fold their own clothes using the KonMari style and, for preschoolers, get them in the habit of putting their own items away.
Store Clothes Upright, Not Stacked, in Drawers
"Out of sight, out of mind" is an easy enough trope for adults, but for kids, it's guaranteed that if they can't see it, they don't remember it exists. To that end, Marie's method of folding clothes upright, versus stacked one on top of each other, is a genius solution for clothes and toys — think puzzles and board games. That way, the next time they open their drawer, they can see all their shirts at one glance instead of just the top of a pile. A hidden benefit is that, over time, they'll make less of a mess of the clothes inside — no more upending an entire stack to get one shirt from the bottom — and have an easier time putting folded clothes away.
Teach Every Family Member to Be Responsible For Their Own Belongings
In an early episode, one mom found herself in a frustrating cycle of clutter. She organized the entire house her way, but no one knew where anything was, so they'd have to constantly ask her for things. Worse, her kids didn't know how to keep it all organized in her style. Marie made it her mission to "teach the family how to be responsible with their own belongings." As she told them, "You're living together, so it's important for everyone to maintain their space, but not only that, to help each other as well."
Still, Marie didn't expect the kids to do it all on their own. She admitted that it's "perfectly understandable for [the parent] to help create their storage spaces." But whenever they ask her for something, instead of simply getting it for them, she said, "It's important that every time, you remind them where everything is so they start to learn."
Give Everything a “Home”
If you don't have a designated place for stuffed animals, dirty laundry, bicycles, or backpacks, you can bet that your child won't know how to put those things away, no matter how many times you implore them to clean up their room. I've worked hard to give every single item in my house a "home" where it belongs when not in use, and I'm training my family on a regular basis to remember them. Bins, shelves, of even simply a specific spot on the floor, it's a habit that is worth getting into.
Be Respectful of the Things Your Kids Value and Don’t
When one parent brushed off her son's desire to keep an old baby cup, Marie had to remind her that it was his belonging and his choice to keep it. She offered up the idea to make the cup a part of the kitchen decor as a compromise. "Having a family of my own and being a mother . . . it's very important when you're tidying to respect each other," Marie said.
"The things in our house and all the family members in a home function the same way," she said. "We each play a role, and we only have a limited amount of space. And we all need each other."
Although parents can certainly make the judgment call for babies, once kids begin to have preferences, we shouldn't make them feel bad about them. Instead, we should respect their choices . . . even if we don't hold value in items that they do. My daughter loves dresses that I'd sooner donate, and she refuses to wear shirts I adore, but they are her belongings, and she should be able to decide what stays and goes when decluttering.
It’s OK to Get Rid of Sentimental Items That Don’t Spark Joy
For some parents, decluttering the closet is simple, but tackling sentimental items — memorabilia such as old letters, drawings, or photos — is all but impossible. Marie recommends waiting to deal with these items until the very end of the tidying process, "when your sensitivity to joy has become sufficiently heightened."
When setting aside time to deal with these items, I have found it best to push away any tinges of guilt and not constantly worry if my child would have wanted me to keep this finger-painted poster or some plastic cup craft project from school. Instead, as Marie advises, I ask myself, "Does it make sense for me to keep it, treasure it, or say thanks and get rid of it?" Often, easily storable items are saved in a bin, extra-special pieces are set aside to be displayed in a frame or on a shelf, and bulky impersonal items are purged.
Don’t Feel Like You Have to Get Rid of Everything
One of the most relatable episodes for many moms was the one with the couple hoping to expand their family with a potential third baby. They needed to downsize their belongings to make space in their home, but they struggled with letting go of baby clothes and toys they don't use now but might need down the road. Another hitch in their decluttering goals? The mom was still hoping to lose baby weight and struggled with getting rid of clothes she didn't like but were practical.
Marie made it clear that her philosophy wasn't about getting rid of the most stuff possible. "The ultimate goal of tidying isn't to have less but to be discerning in choosing what sparks joy for us and truly treasuring the items we decide to keep . . . to learn to cherish everything you have so you can achieve happiness for your family," she said.
For this family, Marie recommended the mom pick "clothes that fit you right now that you are comfortable with and to go from there." As for all the outgrown baby gear cluttering the garage? Same rules apply: it's fine to keep the baby items you are generally excited to hold on to for a new arrival as long as it doesn't prevent you still, as Marie said, "can live comfortably."
Use It as an Opportunity to Teach Gratitude
Another thing I've learned after watching this series is to instill in my kids a sense of gratitude, not just for the belongings that spark joy, but for the ones of which we are thanking and letting go. They should appreciate the clothes they have, and the privilege that comes with being able to hoist a garbage bag filled with castoffs into the trunk of our car to be donated. Same goes for their toys. If they love it, they should treat it with respect — putting it back in its "home" when they're done playing with it. And if they don't love it, as silly as it once seemed, I'm now making it a point that they thank it for the joy it once brought them.
Make Tidying Up Fun
In most episodes, even those that don't feature parents, the clients say that they wish they learned how to be more organized earlier — that they got to adulthood without some of these basic skills. I for one don't want my kids, once grown, to have the same regret. As an organizer by nature, I tend to do most of the tidying for them, but now I'm committed to teaching them the ropes — starting now. And Marie agrees that it's possible to pass on lessons at even the earliest ages. Her 2-year-old already puts her toys away: "She just watches me have so much fun tidying all the time, so she just learned from me to love it, too."