Here's my step-by-step guide for clearing the kid clutter in an hour or less:
1. Forget about audience participation. Now is not the time for your kids to help. Sure, you can have them make their beds and take their Frozen t-shirts to the laundry room, but you really don't want their help right now. They will just slow you down with cries of "I NEED that!" and "That's not trash!" Send them out for the afternoon and consider this much-needed Mommy time.
2. Take a quick pass (5 minutes). With a garbage bag in one hand (plastic grocery sacks work great for this -- green AND useful!) and a clothespin on your nose (what IS that smell coming from under your 16-year-old's bed??), make a quick swing through. Grab everything that's clearly trash -- old tissues, crumpled papers, candy wrappers, broken crayons, etc. Also grab anything that belongs elsewhere -- like the TV remote you've been missing for three weeks, the cereal dishes, and your iPod charger you thought you'd misplaced.
3. Divide and conquer (15 minutes). Quickly sort items into piles -- clothing, books, toys. I also create a "junk" pile for stuff that has no clear home or category (rubber bands, stray game pieces, artwork). Don't worry about winnowing down the piles -- right now, you're just trying to see exactly how many Webkinz your little darling has.
4. Triage (20 minutes). Once you've sorted your piles, go through each category and decide: Keep, Donate, Toss. Clear out the obvious losers, such as outgrown clothing, toys that haven't been used in months, ripped books, used-up pens, and Happy Meal toys, placing them in the appropriate group. Push yourself to go a little further than is comfortable (does Elle really need 23 Smencils? Can she make do with 3 pair of tights and two leotards for her weekly ballet class?).
5. Box it (5 minutes). Immediately box or bag the items for the trash or donation, and store them for later drop-off. Don't leave the giveaways where your sweeties can break into them and start reclaiming their lost possessions.
6. Organize. (10 minutes). Place the "Keep" items back in their appropriate drawers or shelves.
7. 5 minutes for Mom! Take your well-earned 5-minute break in the bath. Steer clear of the mojito, though, because bubbles and Bacardi don't mix.