Do you need to involve your children in the KonMari process? Sorting toys the Montessori way!

I don’t know if you’ve heard about the KonMari process, which has helped millions of people to declutter their space. In a nutshell, the process involves getting rid of the stuff that doesn’t spark joy in you. Marie Kondo doesn't specifically talk about children in her book.

She mentions that children over 3 should be able to participate in the process. She also says that you should take care of your own belongings and don't try to declutter your family's things. In extension, many parents have understood that they shouldn't sort their children's toys, clothes and books without their permission. Therefore, parents ask their children, at least as young as 3, "do you want to keep that toy?" or "should we find 5 toys to give to children who don't have any?". When this tactic could "potentially" work with a child over 7 years old, it will unlikely work for younger ones.

I believe that Marie Kondo is the Queen of decluttering but she doesn't have a clear knowledge of child psychology and child's development.

Children don’t understand the concept of property as we do.

Children under the age of 7 - and certainly under the age of 4 - lack empathy. They cannot see the world through someone else’s perspective. They’re unlikely to grasp the idea of charity fully. They might agree to donate to please you. They also might think that their toys will be back magically when they ask for them. They will be very “attached” to all their toys if they see them.

Object permanence is another concept that is still developing in the very young ones. “Out of the sight, out of mind” is true for babies and toddlers. Seeing a toy during the process will surely reignite interest for that toy. What happens when you ask your child? For sure she will be willing to keep all her toys. That includes the broken toys, the ugly toys, the toy she never played with until you showed it to her, the noisy toys that drive you crazy. That also includes that book that was offered by your family, the one with an awful naughty child who must go to his bedroom without supper. It just doesn’t match your parenting’s style and you wish you never had to read it again!

When you involve your child in the process, you’re setting yourself up for failure.

Maybe you will manage to remove a few toys or books, but the huge amount of junk that you wish you could dump will remain. From your child’s perspective, every toy sparks joy!
Keep in mind that we, the parent, either bought the toy we want to get rid of or allowed a well-intentioned person to bring that toy in your house. Therefore, it’s my opinion that we should take responsibility for sorting and decluttering our children’s toys.

The decluttering process confronts us with the sheer volume of our children’s belongings. It gives us time to reflect and understand why we ended up buying so many toys. Hopefully, it will help us to never reach that tipping point again!

I am sure that you already know which toys would be missed if you dump them. The beloved toys have to stay, even if you don’t like them. Store away any toy that you are not sure about and observe if your child misses them.

Why you involve, with good intentions because Marie Kondo suggested it, your child in the process, you will have little success. Maybe you will manage to remove a few toys or books but for sure, the huge amount that you wish to remove will remain because every toy, when you ask a child, sparks JOY!

I give you now my own analysis of my own toy's situation in my own home. While in general, we don't have many toys that I don't value, we were starting to have too many in some categories and for some, now very clear, reasons.

  • books: I used to go to the charity shops with the kids to buy them a cheap treat. They were allowed to choose books. Because it was cheap, it was always "yes" and I didn't check much the content of their choices. We ended with many books that I didn't like to read at all and were far from what we wanted our children to learn (some very heavy on the fiction side)
  • magazines: when I was back to work, I used to go food shopping after work with both children who were cranky and demanding so I was saying yes to a magazine that they were barely reading when back at home.
  • small toys that come with magazines and Kinder Surprises: for the same reasons as above, I bought Kinder Surprises quite often for 18 months. Out of guilt and to have 5 minutes peace!
  • educational toys: as a Montessori teacher, I couldn't resist an educational toy and I had, for example, multiple rhyming games, letters games, stacking games... And we didn't make enough use of all of them to justify to have so many (to be fair when I was back to work, some were at work with me and obviously came back to my house when I left)
  • art and craft: that category was overflowing and so untidy that I had given up doing craft with the kids. I couldn't face the time it was taking to start a craft activity as I had first to dig into the mess to find what we needed.
  • soft toys overflowing too: My daughter has 53 soft toys (she counted then yesterday!), my son around 20. My daughter has pocket money and she was allowed to buy whatever she wanted when going to the charity shops. She always wanted a new soft toy. For the past 9 months, I stand firm and told her that she cannot buy a new soft toy at all. In addition to this collection, we had made a habit to "offer" a soft toy to the children when we were going to Ikea. Well then, how can we complain about having too many soft toys when clearly we, the adults, have said yes to the extra ones every time.


Knowing that I was mainly responsible for the kind of toys we had and the amount, I did most of the decluttering process myself, swearing every second of the process that I will never ever again buy a soft toy at Ikea, never ever again buy a Kinder Surprise or magazine out of guilt, never ever again buy any kind of toy without making sure it was really purposeful or truly desired for some good reasons.

Personally, I haven't involved my youngest in the process and I decluttered my 9 years old bedroom before asking her about the remaining. Here what I have cleared out by myself with no regret or guilt:

  • clothes: I know which ones were the favourites and I donated the too-small ones, the ones with holes or stains (these ones to the recycling), the ones that I bought for my children but they didn't like them (the clothes on Sale or for example, my son refuses to wear jeans as they are to "crunchy") and I donated some good clothes as I had just too many and some were in the bottom of the drawers all the time.
  • hair accessories for my daughter, she uses the same hair bands constantly and wasn't even aware that she had more in a drawer.
  • bath toys: I donated all the babyish toys and kept only the ones I have observed them playing with.
  • broken toys or incomplete toys (so many puzzles with missing pieces!)
  • books that I don't want to read because of the inappropriate message (I received some children books with a very strict and punitive parenting style and I didn't want to read about corporal punishment and banishment anymore or I picked some books at the charity shops without paying attention to the very moralistic messages and with a closer look, those stories didn't resonate at all with our lifestyle)
  • toys received with magazines or kinder surprises (collection of Minions, anyone?)
  • most of the magazines
  • I have clear out all the art and craft material by myself (as seriously my children didn't have a clue how many paints, glitter, or kind of paper we had)
  • if you want to follow the Montessori principles and offer a non-overwhelming play area, I would encourage you to sort all the batteries operated toys by yourself and keeping them to a minimum (we have a remote control car and a pair of walkie talkie, the only battery-operated toys we have)
  • duplicate toys if you have (like stacking toys, different kind of blocks), here you can definitely rotate.
  • I also cleared out all the board games by myself. I know which ones they like to play with and the ones I bought because I found them "educational" but clearly they were not attractive to either of my children.
  • if you have many character toys, I would suggest that you have a good clear out in this category too. Those are very prescriptive toys with a clear scenario and don't allow much exploration. However, children can be seriously attached to those toys. If this is a big category in your family, maybe observe your child at play for a while. Observe if he plays with those toys, put them away for a while and see if he asks for them.
  • I then ask my son to sort his soft toys as it's more of a "sentimental" category for children. Well, guess what, not one went away! But I'm now extra firm and not a single new one will come in.

Regarding my son's toys, not a lot was donated or thrown away. I have mainly divided by two each category and kept half stored away. This is to ensure that it's not overwhelming and that he is able to tidy up the small remaining. He has clearly noticed that some toys were missing and asked anxiously for those toys.  For example, he used to have a huge box of plastic animals. I have sorted by subcategories, leaving only one or two out at a time. I have shown him where those toys are stored and he knows that he can ask for them whenever he wants. He seems, so far, content with the remaining.

Regarding my daughter who is older, I have involved her in the process much more. First of all, she is 9 years old and well able to understand that she might have too many toys. She also observed me decluttering the rest of the house and was curious. For example, she has a collection of Knick-knacks and she decided to sort them the KonMari way: she held every object in her hands, feeling if it was sparkling joy or not. I was very impressed when she let go half of the collection. I asked her about every craft set she had and some other toys in her bedroom, especially the character toys that I didn't particularly value such as Petshops, Disney princesses. We let go of a huge quantity (books, some younger age toys,  craft sets, colouring books...) and even some toys that were brand new that she has chosen to donate to charity.

I haven't finished my son's bedroom especially as he has now received around 20 new toys for his birthday. I have to find a space for those new toys. It's more about rotating, in this case, to make sure those new toys are played with.

Let me know if you are sorting your child's belonging the KonMari way and how it works in your house!

Download your handy sorting list below:

About the Author Carine Robin

Carine Robin has a Master’s Degree in Psychology, specialising in child psychology. She worked for various social services in her home country of Belgium, before moving to Ireland in 2006. It was there that she started working in a nursery and discovered Montessori education. After having her first child, her passion for the philosophy grew and she qualified as a Montessori teacher and managed a preschool. Carine has been running a Montessori based parents and toddler group and coaching families for 9 years. She now also runs an online group for over 14000 parents, sharing her knowledge and passion with people from around the world. In 2018, Carine realised families needed more support and launched her popular online parenting courses and monthly subscription boxes, full of personally designed Montessori materials.

  • […] agree with Montessori-family’s take on whether to involve your child in decluttering: “Since you, the parent, are the one who bought the toy in the first place (or allowed a […]

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