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Helping Kids Organize

So, you want to organize your child’s room. You’ve had enough of the cluttered, disorganized mess and you are FINALLY going to go in there, wade your way through the chaos, and get this room in tip-top shape. My professional advice to you is this:

RESIST THE URGE TO ORGANIZE YOUR CHILD’S ROOM WITHOUT YOUR CHILD’S INPUT!!!!!

Yes, I know. It’s sooo much easier to just go in there and DO IT YOURSELF! However, I’m telling you, that is just a short-term fix. If your child does not have a say in how his or her things are organized, you will be fighting an uphill battle that you are destined to lose. This goes for children as young as toddlers up to until they cut the apron strings. Children need to feel a sense of control and ownership over their things. (Let’s face it, they have so little control in their young lives. This is the LEAST we can offer them.) Plus, if they don’t understand the system behind the way YOU’VE organized their stuff, it’s unrealistic to expect THEM to follow it.

There is hope, though. With some patience, understanding, and lots of teamwork, if you work side-by-side with your youngster to put their bedroom or playroom back in order, you’ll have much greater success and a better chance that they will maintain the organization.

Now, this single blog entry is certainly not big enough to go into all the details of specifically how you should set up a system. However, I have put together a list of three general rules that, if consistently enforced, should not only help your child maintain a less cluttered environment for themselves, but also teach them some basic organizing skills that they can take with them throughout life.

RULE #1: Everything needs a place to call home

Don’t tell your kids, but this rule is actually code for “Put things back where they belong!”  It’s an odd phenomenon, but just by changing your approach and using this new phrase, you can actually get your kids to start returning items to where they belong.  Basically, teach kids to decide on a “home” for all of their items.  When they play with a toy, read a book, or take out the cereal box for breakfast, for example, they are removing that item from its home and taking it on “vacation.”  And just as WE like to come back to the comfort of our own home after a vacation, these items always need to find their way back home when THEIR vacation has come to an end.

RULE #2: If something comes in, then something goes out

This rule is imperative if you want to keep collections and clutter under control. Stuffed animals can quickly take over a room. Toys from fast food kid’s meals can seemingly multiply overnight.  Even worthwhile possessions, such as books, magazines, and craft supplies, can get to the point of disorganized excess. At some point, a parent has to lay down the law and say “NO MORE!” Rather than arbitrarily setting limits (or secretly tossing things out when your unsuspecting children are either sleeping or at school), enforce the rule that if your child wants to add a new item to his inventory of “stuff,” it must be in exchange for an existing item that now either needs to be donated or, depending on its condition, trashed.

By its very nature, this rule gets kids into the practice of making priorities. For example, if, while out shopping, your son begs to spend his birthday money on yet ANOTHER toy truck, you simply explain that he can only make this purchase if he purges one of his existing trucks.  He is now forced to re-evaluate his collection and decide if this new truck is worthy of replacing one he already owns. If he knows he has one at home that either is broken or he does not play with anymore, it may be a worthwhile purchase. If not, though, he will need to consider seriously if the purchase is necessary. Setting priorities is a vital component of organization and this rule not only controls the clutter, but teaches a skill, too.

Of course, this rule does not have to apply to EVERY new item that comes into a child’s possession. But, when there is clearly an excess in certain categories, it can be a huge help.

RULE #3: Leave things ready for the next time you need them

For the most part, kids despise cleaning up after themselves. (And, for that matter, most adults aren’t particularly fond of it either!) Nevertheless, it’s a fact of life that we all have to deal with if we aspire to be productive, successful and independent.

To help kids stay organized without making them feel like it is just a useless chore, try explaining to them that the goal is to leave their things ready for the next time they need them.  For example, after coming back from her soccer game, your daughter leaves her cleats in the mini-van, one shin guard in the garage and the other on her bedroom floor. Instead of making the vague request for her to clean up her “stuff,” explain that she needs to get her soccer equipment READY for the next practice. You may need to walk her through exactly what you mean the first time, but hopefully as you continue to insist that things are left READY for the next time they are needed, your kids will start to catch on to how easy it is to get out the door quickly for soccer when things are READY.

Now, at first these rules may seem lofty and impossible, but GIVE THEM A CHANCE! Most kids are eager to learn new things, and these new approaches to the same old problems may just be novel enough for them to want to try, and ultimately master.

Just remember: always include the kids in all organizing projects that directly involve their things. Look at it as yet another teaching moment and life-lesson that you pass on in the hope of raising productive, independent offspring. It may seem like more of a chore than just doing it yourself and getting it over with, but if the kids don’t have a hand in the process, you’ll be back where you are today, wading through too many toys, dealing with too little organization, and not having nearly enough hair to pull out in frustration! Good luck!!

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Virtually Organized Debbie Jordan Kravitz is a Professional Organizing Coach and the Founder of Virtually Organized by Debbie LLC. For more tips about anything and everything related to organizing and simplifying your home, time, and life, you can check out her blog at VirtuallyOrganized.com.

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