How to Give Kids the Gift of Giving: Clean Out a Closet

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For Women & Co., by Cynthia Hutchison, VP, Marketing Operations, Citi Retail Services

There is a chill in the air, fall is in full swing, and the holidays are right around the corner. Most people do spring cleaning, but I like to do mine before the holiday season when I'm going to drag down boxes of decorations, and need to make room for the inevitable new stash of toys that will soon be arriving. I think of it as clearing out the clutter and cobwebs to make way for the new year ahead.

If your kids are like mine, they already have more toys than they can play with at any given time. o I keep a bag in the back of my closet where I toss things throughout the year -- toys they have outgrown or stopped playing with. I pull them out about this time and donate them or take them to a kid's resale shop.

I didn't think anything of it, until the other day when I was picking up toys off the floor when my youngest son Reece, 5, said, "Mommy, are you going to give my toy away?"

I had been discovered. I realized the toys I was picking up were ones I had stashed in my "donate" bag. I had pulled the bags out to take them for donation, but the kids found them before they made it to my car. They had pulled them out and played with them on the floor -- just because they were in a new place, they were suddenly NEW toys to my boys.

So I choked back tears and guilt and said, "Well Reece, do you still play with this toy?" He of course replied an unyielding, "YES!" By this time, Cole, my older son, had come in the room to back his brother up. I had to use my best mom skills to put both their minds at ease: "Ok then, can you boys help me pick out some things you don't want any more so we can give them to other kids who would like some toys? Not everyone has toys or will get new ones like you do." The boys had seen us collect things for donations in the past, but this was the first time it was personal. It was their stuff. It took a little more time and a reminder of their holiday wish lists, but with some coaxing they eventually agreed.

So this time when we took the toys along with the others items we were donating, the boys went with us. They got to help hand the items to the man at the big truck. They thought that was pretty cool. It's funny how the moments that teach our children end up teaching us something as well.

Now I try to involve the kids in the process more so they can feel good about giving to other boys and girls. It's hard for many of us to carve out time for volunteering, especially around the holidays, when we are trying to manage school, activities, work, holiday planning, and everything else. But remember that giving back comes in many forms -- giving of your time, your money, and even your things that you don't need any more. If you feel too stretched with life right now to give your time, clean out a closet.

Here are a few good tips I learned that can help get you started:
• At least once a year, clean out your closet and turn the hangers around to the back. Once you wear something, hang it back up as normal. If anything is left with the hanger still backwards or untouched after a year, you probably don't need it -- and someone else might.

• Keep a bag in the bottom of your closet year round, and when you get tired of trying to fit one more new thing in your closet, pull out a couple of old items and toss them in the donate bag.

• For kids, group their toys in buckets with lids and rotate them every couple of months -- they'll be like new again. After a couple of rotations, if they are not on the favorite play list, it may be time for the donate bag.

• Get your kids involved in the process. Even better, make it a holiday tradition. Teaching your kids the value of giving back and helping others is a holiday gift that will last a lifetime.

Women & Co., a service of Citi, is the go-to personal finance source for women. By providing financial content, commentary and community, Women & Co.'s mission is to get women thinking and talking about personal finance. Founded in 2000, Women & Co. is one of the longest running personal finance websites dedicated to helping women strengthen their financial futures.