This blog is my place to vent and share resources with other parents of children of trauma. I try to be open and honest about my feelings in order to help others know they are not alone. Therapeutic parenting of adopted teenagers with RAD and other severe mental illnesses and issues (plus "neurotypical" teens) , is not easy, and there are time when I say what I feel... at the moment. We're all human!

Sunday, March 20, 2011


I'm writing this post in the spirit of, "Those who can't, teach."

Did I ever mention that when we were wrongly investigated for child abuse, that we were also cited because the house was too cluttered? Honestly one reason (admittedly not the biggest one) that we haven't pursued adoption again was having to keep the house perfectly clean all the time. We're not filthy people, but I am a packrat and sometimes it's not worth it to me to argue with the kids to keep things picked up. (Funny story: Once Kitty asked if we could adopt again. I told her we'd have to keep the house picked up all the time, and she said, "Never mind then.")

Our biggest solution for baby clutter while satisfying my packrat, cheapskate green ways, was:

"Mary's Closet."
We were planning on adopting and didn't know what age child we would get, so we kept everything just in case. Every time my child outgrew a size or type of toy, I put them in big Rubbermaid tubs - carefully labeled "Boy" or "Girl" the size and season if applicable. 

My kids were the first grandchildren so there was no one around to hand stuff down. I had a girl then a boy - so most of Bob's stuff couldn't be handed down to Ponito. When my sister's first child was born he was only 6 months younger than Ponito so we really couldn't hand down much, but we tried. My sister returned the clothes with all of my nephew's clothes too (and he was the first grandchild on her husband's side so was pretty spoiled! *grin*).

I continued this practice with friends, family, neighbors... pretty much everyone. Trying to keep what eventually became the "Wall of Clothes" out of the house. I told all the borrowers not to worry about anything getting damaged (I buy almost everything second-hand so I wasn't terribly worried about it), and if they didn't want their own child's stuff when they were done with it then they could throw it in when they returned the rest of the stuff to "Mary's Closet."

I realized that things had gotten out of control one day when I ran into a woman at a thrift store who was unexpectedly getting custody of her two year old nephew, and needed clothes and items for him. I arranged a time for her to come by the house and started pulling "Boys 24mo/ 2T Warm weather"... there were easily 6! of those huge Rubbermaid tubs, several lawn trash bags and some toys!! It was ridiculous, and the worst part was the woman ended up not getting custody and brought it all back!

By the time we were ready to adopt Bear and Kitty (who were teens!),  you'll have to use your imagination about what the "Wall of Clothes" looked like. Of course Bear and Kitty wore mostly adult sizes, so needless to say they didn't need ANY of those little clothes.

"Mary's Closet" had become "Mary's Storage Warehouse." I had one last friend with several small children approach me and I told her that she could have the entire storehouse if she promised it would never return. She could sell it, burn it, whatever, I no longer cared!

So that's my best solutions for clutter.


Two to three times a year we declutter the kid's stuff. A few weeks before school starts and about a month before Christmas (Thanksgiving Break or the start of Winter Break). Sometimes I'll throw in a Spring Cleaning over Spring Break. 


Santa is Coming
My goal is to have the kids go through the house and de-clutter their own stuff. It works especially well to do it over the Thanksgiving holiday. I think I've blogged about this before. Basically I tell the children that Christmas is coming and they have too much stuff. Lots of kids would love the stuff that they no longer use or play with and the more they give away the more room they'll have for new toys from Santa!

Numbers Game
When going through items they had many of, I told them they could keep "X" number of items. I tried to make it sound like I hadn't just pulled the number out of the air. Sometimes it was based on their age, how many they needed (7 days in a week so 10 shirts), or how much room the toy took up (Ex. Ponito got to keep more match box cars than his age that year, but Bob could only have 10 stuffed animals). I didn't tell them my reasoning, just said, "You can keep 10 stuffed animals." I'm still a little shocked that they never questioned having to keep only a certain number of items!

This way the control issues were kept to a minimum and they didn't argue with me about what should be kept (it wasn't my decision it was theirs!). This helped them learn to prioritize what they like and wanted.
If it came down to they had a few too many items and couldn't decide, then I helped them.

For example, Kitty could only keep 10 stuffed animals, but had gotten down to 14 or 15 and was stuck. I picked up each stuffed animal and asked her why it was special and she wanted to keep it.  One or two, were in the pile only because someone had given it to her and she didn't want to hurt their feelings, but she didn't actually care about it. We discussed whether or not the giver would know if she still had it or not (boyfriend wouldn't know because he wasn't allowed in her room!) and how much some child would love it, then into the bag it went. If she waffled, then it went in to the donate bag. One stuffed animal had been given to her by her birth mother and she didn't want to give it away, but she didn't want it on her bed either. It went in to her Memory Box, and therefore didn't count against her 10!

I've also been known to let them keep one or two extra of something because I'm a nice mom. 

Memory Box
Like most kids from trauma, my kids tend to be hoarders. They keep every scrap of paper, empty wrapper, McDonald's toy, sparkly rock, dried out tubes of who knows what...  So we created a Memory Box out of an old Paper box. I wrote Memory Box on it in fancy lettering and let the child decorate it. When we were decluttering a child's room, we put things that had special meaning to them in the box. With a reminder that when the box was full, it was full. If the child wanted to put more in, then something had to come out. Most of the things kept were small (like medals and awards) so we never actually had to deal with it getting so full that things had to come out.

Back to School Fashion Show (usually before school starts and again when they come back from Winter Break)

I don't know how the clothes manage to accumulate like bunnies (except for socks of course, which disappear singly). Rather than just having them try on clothes, we make it a little more fun with a "fashion show." Once we have clothes pared down to just what fits and they still like, then they have to pare it down to just what's needed (the rest can go in the Clothes Closet or Good Will bag), usually one for every day of the week, plus a couple of extras. The girls enjoy shopping for new clothes needed to fill in what's needed (the boys not so much, so I tend to shop for them).

Again keeping control issues to a minimum, because they get to choose which clothes they want to keep.

Clothes Closet

Clothes are back to being a huge issue for me because the girls and I wear similar sizes and all of us fluctuate in weight so it's harder for me to get rid of the clothes (I want to hang on to them just in case). I tend toward classics so it's not as easy as throwing away all the acid wash jeans with zippers and the ripped up off the shoulder sweatshirts (am I showing my age)?

Garage Sale Prices
I paid the kids $1 a bag (large kitchen trash bags) for all the toys they got rid of - the theory was I would sell them at some future date in a garage sale and this way they got their share of the money now instead of waiting and hoping it would sell. We got rid of a lot of those McD*nald type toys that clutter up everyone's toy boxes!

Trading Spaces/ Big Girl Room

Trading spaces is a reality TV show where you have 48 hours to redecorate a room in your neighbor's house. Kitty wanted to convert her room to be more "grown up." For Christmas, I got her a "big girl bed" (queen size) with more sophisticated bedding. I'll paint the walls the same neutral color as the rest of the house (we're planning on selling the house in the next couple of years), but we can have fun with the rest.

Follow-up: As expected, Kitty was unable to do the clean up on her own and kept refusing my help. One day as she was walking out to hang out with a friend, I informed her I was working on her room today as it was convenient for me then. It went from this to THIS in 4 hours. I put all non-trash items in bags and boxes in her closet and told her we would go through them together - knowing this would be hard/ triggering for her. {I let her put me off for 2 days, then I finally got her to sit down with me and go through everything. I used the Numbers Game and the Memory Box for most of it.} 


I posted the AFTER pictures on FaceBook and tagged Kitty which put the post on her page. All her friends saw what a good job I did and told her how awesome it looked and how sweet it was of me to do that for her. That way she couldn't get away with blaming me and complaining to all her friends about how mean I was for cleaning her room!

Moving Time

Every time we move stuff around (like when I had to give up my sewing room to Bob for a bedroom), I try to go through it again with an eye to "what have I used recently... or never"? What do I have space for in the new location? How do I want the new location to look (cluttered and messy? or uncluttered and organized?) 

After Ponito graduated high school, we decided to downsize (4250 sq ft to less than 1800 with 6 people living there - my disabled MIL moved in with us). To put the house on the market, we had to move out at least 1/2 our stuff. I can't believe how much stuff we had that we hadn't used in decades and didn't even know we had (I found infant feeding stuff - spoons, dishes... and the baby was 18!). I grabbed a sharpie, a ton of trash bags, and some Rubbermaid tubs and moving boxes. I did a room or area at a time. I labeled the bags, "trash," "sell," or "donate." If it went in to storage, I put it in a tub or box. I cleaned as I went. After the room was decluttered, I painted it if needed (it usually was).

"Donate" bags and items went into the trunk of my car and I can't tell you how many fully loaded trips I made to the local Charity/ thrift store. If an item didn't sell in a reasonable amount of time, it got donated. 


Kid school projects

For all the cute school stuff the kids brought home, I'd put it in a folder marked with their name and age/school grade. A couple of years later, surrounded by the detritus of 2-4 kids' massive amounts of awards, report cards, writing, art projects I am able to go through it again and be fairly vicious. Come back a few years later and it's even easier to pare down more. You can also take a picture of the item and trash the original.

Sort Immediately
Paperwork is my other big clutter issue. Hubby keeps every bill we ever had - mostly not opened because he pays online - and that's a LOT! Now that I'm in two NAMI classes, trying to study for my social work license, and keep up on my reading, that adds up too. I try not to even go to the mailbox unless I'm ready to sort right then. Hubby's, Old Company, Mine, and Trash (recycling). Coupons and stuff go in my car - which I usually end up throwing away as they expire. 

 3" 3-Ring Binder 

I have IEPs, psych evals, applications, reports... for both kids. I've gotten a little more organized about that, because otherwise the piles will eat me. Now I use a 3" 3-ring binder for each child and I can't tell you how much easier it is, especially at IEP meetings and when a child is being admitted to a hospital. All those documents at my fingertips and neatly organized. 


I read books about de-cluttering (and donate them when I'm done!), watch lots of trash TV including things like Clean House, Hoarders and other decorating shows for inspiration. 

Company's Coming

I make plans to have guests over (especially my friends who are neat freaks/ OCD), and it motivates me to frantically clean before they arrive. 

 Accountable Organizing/ Cleaning

I signed up for Fly Lady at one point - which was really helpful. Of course the kids are old enough now to do lots of stuff for themselves (laundry, dishes, etc.) as evidenced by our chore chart

40 Bags in 40 Days Challenge

Over a 40 day period (or longer) each day you take at least one bag of clutter (trash, donations, whatever) out of the house. This blog post has several charts and ideas on how and what to declutter and stay accountable (they also have a tutorial, but you have to pay for that). I joined a very motivational Facebook group called 40 Bags in 40 Days, where you can post about your own progress and dilemmas and see how others are handling it. 

Why I Strip Declutter My Children's Rooms

It is sometimes necessary to simplify a child with trauma issue’s life a LOT to lessen the feeling of “overwhelm.”  This can be like childproofing – avoiding and removing things and events that can be triggers.  This can be making their world smaller and lowering expectations. 

Because our children are easily overwhelmed, our children's therapist recommended that we strip their rooms to a bed, a toy, and a book. It was NOT a punishment, and not something they could "earn" back (or actually not earn back, because my kids are afraid to be emotionally attached to things as it gives others power over them so they pretended indifference to them. ).

For a time, I even took my daughter's dresser out of her room and had her check out her clothes each day (this cut way down on the wet pull-ups stuffed behind dressers and other places). It sounds extreme, but too much stuff was overwhelming. {Structure and Caring Support}

Remember - your child may struggle with the process of cleaning/ decluttering. My kids emotional and developmental ages were much younger than their physical age {Therapeutic Parenting Based on Emotional/ Developmental Age} so what most kids their age could handle, often triggered Rages and Dysregulation (Meltdowns or Shut Downs).

While my neurotypical biokids could be told, "go clean your room," despite being a teenager in body (and attitude), Kitty was easily overwhelmed and often couldn't handle directions with more than 2 tasks (One task if she was Dysregulated).

We had to cut way back on the chore expectations that she "should" be able to handle. I would break down tasks into small steps and give them to her one at a time. 

Instead of saying, "Clean your room," which was overwhelming and just didn't happen. I would say, "Empty your trashcan." and when that was done, then I would say, "Put your dirty clothes in your laundry basket." Then, when that was done, I would say, "Put your laundry basket next to the washing machine." Then"put all your dirty dishes (which aren't supposed to be in their rooms at all!) in the sink. Then, "Put your stuffed animals on your bed and your toys in the toy box." 

Three or more tasks, even if they were written on a checklist, was too much for her to handle.

95% of the time, I needed to be with my child and help them clean/ organize/ declutter to help keep them on task and calm. Sometimes I had to do it myself when my child wasn't present, because it was just too much for them to cope with.

Most of the time, I would have to do these things with her (not for her, but be present in the room, often helping clean near her). Chores, Responsibilities, and Other Things My Kids Can't Handle. 

Eventually, she got to where she could do a few tasks at a time, but the chaos in her head will always be reflected in the chaos of her room. I still help her keep it regulated.  Therapeutically Parenting the Adult Child

What happens when I don't help my adult child clean her room: 


Mama Drama Times Two said...

A recent flood in our basement is all the inspiration I need to do a de-clutter and clean out.

GB's Mom said...

I am decluttering- and I don't know why. I am not planning on adopting again. Go figure.

Last Mom said...

I love your Mary's Closet idea! What kindness! I can see how it can quickly get overwhelming, though! The organization I work for operates a children's clothing closet and the stuff quickly piles up like crazy.

Tara - SanitySrchr said...

My poor husband has moved the very same 10 boxes of "paperwork" four different times, and each time I SWEAR I'm going to go through it and get rid of stuff. We're moving in May, so we'll see where it lands after that!