Turn Spring Cleaning in to a Teaching Moment for Kids

by Jennifer Little

Spring is officially here and spring cleaning is a great opportunity to teach kids about donating the toys, books and clothes they have outgrown. I'm not an expert organizer, but here's how I tackle cleaning and organizing my son's toys and books. We've done this together since he was about 4 years old. He's now 9 and it still works for us!


  • Pick a time when your child is looking for something to do and make this a fun activity you do together. I talk to my son about how we need to go through the room to make room for new things and help find things that other kids might enjoy more. Paying it forward is always a part of this process.
  • Turn on some music to keep things fun and upbeat. (Don’t turn on a movie or tv show. You’ll lose your helper!)
  • Get 2 large black trash bags -- one is for trash and the other is for donations. (The opaque bags keep contents out of sight so things don’t come back out of the bags and onto the shelves.) Get a box to collect books your child has outgrown.


  • Start in one section of the room and go through shelves, baskets, and bins, sifting through all the stuff. Toss the little restaurant toys, broken things and any trash you find along the way.
  • Make a pile of toys that are missing a match or pieces or need to be matched up. (If no match is found when you’re done, throw it away!)
  • Sort through books -- save any books with special meaning, like gifts from family members or books your child wants to pass down. Keep books that are favorites and appropriate for age and reading level. Donate books the child has outgrown or no longer needs. Contact us at info@littlehandsbookbank.org to arrange your donation! 
  • My child gets distracted playing with toys or keeping things he shouldn't. That's okay. When your child is distracted, that's when you deal with the items that would otherwise lead to an emotional response or a battle to keep.
  • I also send my child to other parts of the house to collect toys and items that might be in other rooms. This gives him a chance to get up and "hunt" for things instead of being forced to sit in the room with me.


  • As you go through each section of the room, create place to put the things you will keep: basket for cars/trucks, certain shelf for video games, shelf for books, etc. Use baskets, bins and plastic containers to keep like items together. I know all the design shows might disagree, but your containers don't all have to match perfectly -- it's about keeping things organized as a first priority. We have wicker baskets, wire baskets, wooden boxes and plastic containers, and I think the variety makes the room look interesting!
  • Save any toys or baby items that you might want to pass on to future generations. I put these items into special plastic containers in the attic or out of reach to preserve them.  

When you feel like your child has had enough, "release" them from helping with a thank you and job well done. This is the time to throw away or donate anything your child was keeping that needs to be reassigned! My child never notices. I make sure to take the bags into the garage or put them in the trash immediately so he can't dig through everything again.

Yes, maybe you could do his more efficiently and faster without kids. But I view including my child as a matter of respect (these are his toys and books) and an opportunity to teach and reinforce the importance of donating to others. My son now says, "I think this needs to go to another boy" or "this book can go to the book bank." That makes the cleaning process worth it!