Why I Removed (Almost) All Toys, Clothing & Books from My Kids’ Room – And How It’s Working Out for Us

Clean Boys Room

If you follow KOAB on Facebook, you probably already know that last Friday,  I hit a breaking point with the state of my boys’  (ages 10 and 7) shared room.

It was a disaster.

(Showing you these pictures is an act of love. Please know that.)

Messy Kids Room BeforeI had cleaned, decluttered and organized my boys’ room on numerous occasions in the past.

But inevitably, within a week — or less, you’d never have known.

I had asked, told, cajoled, punished, and rewarded. And still their room was a horror show. Worst of all, it was a horror show that was starting to smell.

So last Friday at 12:05 p.m., I headed into their room with two big Rubbermaid tubs and two even bigger trash bags.

I started in the corner closest to the door and worked my way around the room. First, I picked up the obvious trash – and filled nearly a whole bag. On the first pass. Gross.

Then I made a ginormous pile of dirty clothes (everywhere, there were dirty clothes everywhere) and a smaller pile of kippot and hats (and yet, with the umpteen million of them, they could never find one in the morning before camp).

Minimal Kids Closet

I went through their dressers and closets and selected a bare minimum wardrobe. They each got seven t-shirts, two sweatshirts, enough shorts for the week, plus two more that work for Shabbat, and three “Shabbat shirts”. I went thru socks and undies and purged the ripped ones. Each boy got two kippot and two baseball caps. I bagged up the too small clothes to pass on to friends, and put everything else into those empty tubs.

For now, it’s being stored in my bedroom. If — and when — they can stay on top of the clothes in their room, we can reintroduce some of the packed up ones.

I moved on to Legos — collected them all, tossed them in a tub (the tub they were supposed to be stored in) and dragged them out of their room. Next up: Their baseball cards. I gathered all the stray ones and tossed them into one of their three baseball card boxes, and stacked them in the hallway on top of the Legos tub.

Books were next. Books are great. I love that my kids love to read. I hate that they have books all.over.the.place. I reached deep under their beds and pulled out dozens of books. I sorted out the library ones and put the rest into a cardboard box, which eventually was moved down to our basement bookshelves. I left each child with the current book they are reading next to their bed, plus two others on the bookshelf.

Once the horizontal surfaces were finally cleared, I took a microfiber cloth and scrubbed the gunk off the floor boards. I dragged the furniture into a more logical arrangement and finally vacuumed until neat little lines appeared.

And then I rushed off to pick up the kids from camp.

When they left the house in the morning, it looked like it does on the left. When they came home seven hours later, it looked like the picture on the right.

Before & After Boys Room From Entrance


Before & After Kids Room Clean-Up

There were some surprised – and not entirely of the pleasant kind – reactions.

But I told them, once they stopped fussing at me (“Where’s all our stuuuuuff???”), that there was a plan in place for them to earn it back.

And just how do they do that?

By keeping their room picked up.

Each  night, and a few times during the day, I’ve gone into their room and pointed out items that needed to be dealt with: A wet bathing suit on their carpeted floor, a pair of dirty socks that didn’t make it to the hamper.

Before, the room would go from 0 to 60 in the blink of an eye – and I, like my boys, felt completely overwhelmed. None of us knew where to start.

With so few things in their rooms now, I don’t feel overwhelmed when I go in there. I can see what needs to be dealt with — and help them figure out how to do it.

Today is Friday. It’s been a week. Here was their room this morning. I didn’t move a thing – this is as it looked when they left for camp.

One week after cleaning boys room - still clean!

As you can see, their beds aren’t made (baby steps here; besides I am a terrible example of this as I don’t *gasp* make my bed everyday). And there’s a pair of shoes left out. But other than that, I think it looks pretty darn awesome!

For their good work this week, they each have earned the privilege to “reclaim” one thing that I had removed from their room last Fridy. My seven year old his chosen to earn back a second stuffed animal for his bed; my ten year old is still weighing his options.

Each Friday they can add something else back in. I suspect that as time goes on, many of the items I removed will hold less and less appeal to them. One night this week, I already overheard my 10 year old telling his brother, “I miss our [baseball] cards, but I do like our room better this way.”

Have you ever taken drastic steps to help your children get their rooms under control? How’d it work out?


  1. You are my hero.

  2. I didn’t remove things last time we did a major cleaning, but I am going in at bedtime and and claiming anything left on the floor. They can work on earning them back the next day/days by doing things for me.

    But I just look at your closets and smile.

    • Mara Strom says

      After doing many major cleans (and getting nowhere) I decided we just needed to go extreme! Let me know how it works out for you! (And I totally smile at their room now, too!)

  3. Stephanie H says

    I’m going to try this approach! Awesome idea 🙂

  4. Kol HaKavod Mara!

  5. Yofeh! I’ll happily watch with baited breath as the weeks roll on…..

  6. love it. but I wouldn’t know where to put all the confiscated stuff. especially the clothes. I have 4 kids!

    • Mara Strom says

      Do you a garage or storage room? Utility rom? Just box it up in Rubbermaid tubs and stick it *somewhere*!

      So freeing!

  7. I just talked with Simon’s therapist yesterday about doing this. She recommended that I take everything out of the toy room and box it all up and allow them to earn back small things one at a time. Our house is very small so it is a little overwhelming. But we are going to start to purge the basement so that we have room to do it. I’m hoping that by the end of the summer we will have the space.

    • Mara Strom says

      With a smaller home, I think you’re right – it’s even harder (and more suffocating). Sounds like a good plan. Take it one room/space at a time. You’ll get there!

  8. Wow! I am totally impressed!! Both of our kids’ bedrooms look like your “before” picture. Ugh.

  9. My first thought was “you are my hero” and then I saw that the first post said exactly that. Wow. Well done. Please keep us all posted.

  10. You know, this just made me feel a little less bad that my kid’s room looks like a tornado all the time. Thanks for letting me know I’m not the only one! Great ideas for getting rid of the stuff.

  11. Rachel Lebovits says

    You are mama bear from the Bernstein Bear messy room book

  12. My mom had a giant bag of things we didn’t keep picked up around the house. If we missed it and wanted it back, we’d have to do an extra chore to get it back. If we didn’t notice items missing for too long, they would go to Good Will. Occasionally, if we couldn’t keep our rooms picked up, she’d threaten to take the “black bag” and clean up for us. That would usually do the trick and help us remember to keep things picked up for a while.

    Good memories. :o)

    • Mara Strom says

      I’ve done the black bag thing before too. I sure hope my kids will have “good memories” of this new “shock and awe” version. 😉

  13. diane rabin says

    you don’t have girls….and each younger girl has more than the next oldest….and the youngest is 13 1/2. 🙁

    • Mara Strom says

      Ha! Yes, I can only imagine.

      I do have one girl (she’s 4) – but it’s true, she has no hand me downs from her brothers, other than a few Royals t-shirts. (Although tons of friends have blessed us with THEIR hand me downs!)

  14. I did something similar with my 10 year old. He plays Lego in the dining room and there is always Lego on the floor, which he doesn’t pick up. I started giving him a warning that if I clean up it’s mine. I’ve cleaned up entire containers of Lego and he has to earn it back.

  15. Love this! That took lots of courage, you brave, devoted mama.

  16. This is a practice done in many classrooms. Materials are put out slowly, so that students learn how to use and take care of them. Their rooms look great!

    • Mara Strom says

      Thank you! I have to say, it’s hard to blame them (at least entirely) when I too felt so overwhelmed by the state of things in their room. Less is more!

  17. My brother’s family recently did something like this a few months ago, and surprisingly, the entire family is much happier. They removed about 75% of the toys and now they find its not only easier to keep clean, but they enjoy the toys they kept even more than before. Also, they no longer look at their room full of toys and say “I have nothing to play with, I’m bored”. I am inspired by both of your families and decided to tackle this on Monday. Hopefully, it will work with a crawling around. ..

    • Mara Strom says

      You know, yesterday as they were deciding what to pick for their “earn-back”, I told them they had to tell me without looking thru their tubs. Just from memory — what are they missing? My 10 year-old actually said, “I can’t think of anything. I guess that’s the point, huh, mom?” I was so proud of him 🙂 (He did end up deciding he wanted his DS back.)

  18. Bravo! You’re doing them such a favor! I think I have to winnow my girls’ clothes down to bare bones, too. Easier to do after summer when they will be back in school uniforms…

  19. Lauren Rosen Gerofsky says

    Wow! I just thought I’d share that while my recent high school grad is away working at camp, I have taken to straightening his room. I too went under his bed and cleared off surfaces. I am hoping to celebrate his recent accomplishment with a mini make-over (new bed covers, curtains, posters finally framed), but also hoping he will keep it clean while he is at home. Some stuff, I am sure he will never miss 😉

  20. this is great! now is there a policy if you retunr their stuff and then then junk it up again? also its not fair that your room now has more stuff in it, but I guess its worth it in the end.. ughh kids! great job, mom!

  21. Kudos to you for following through with your plan!! My boys have no toys in their room because they don’t go to sleep as it is without toys. The only thing in their room is beds. No dresser and gorilla glued lock on the closet door. They are 5 and I’m hoping we will be able to introduce toys (and their dresser) back into their room. They are good kids, they just don’t go to sleep!! The flip side is that the den downstairs is a mess!!

    • Mara Strom says

      Oh wow – that sounds tough. When my boys were younger, I said no toys, just books – for a similar reason (although it sounds like your twins are *not* messing around!).

  22. Love this article and I am so impressed by you. I always thought about doing something like this but I was never brave enough. My kids are grown now except for the 2 in yeshiva so it is too late for me now.

  23. I’m not sure this will work with my 16 year old daughter. It’s all clothes with her disaster of a room. I keep closing her door because I can’t stand looking at it. In the past I’ve cleaned it by now I refuse to. I think she’s nearing the breaking point, though. She wants to take a scuba diving course this summer with the money earned from her day camp work, but she won’t get her pay check until late August. I’ve told her we’d only lend her the money if her room is clean……

    • Mara Strom says

      Good luck! I know some would say that your kids have to be involved in the process, but honestly – I think it was too much for them to see thru their way thru it. I hope the scuba diving class (how cool!) will help her to wade thru it!

  24. This is great. The legos in my boys room are a nightmare. I think stepping on one is worse than labor pains. Definitely going to try this. Kol Hakavod!

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