Being organized is an important life skill. Many organizing clients tell me they never learned how to do it. Either their parents were extremely, chronically disorganized, or they did all the organizing for their children. Although kids learn a lot by seeing what their parents do, I do believe there is an issue in recent years with kids not having a chance to manage themselves enough. I say this as a parent of 3 kids, and I know I’ve been guilty of acting as the gatekeeper of their stuff and time. Sometimes it’s a matter of survival! But we parents can do our kids a big favor by teaching them how it’s done, or joining them in the process of learning.
Chaos is stressful to anyone. We all function best when we feel our lives are structured, orderly, predictable, and safe. For children, this is why organization is really important. Learning how to organize will also help them gain confidence and independence as they develop into adults. The good thing is, anyone can learn organizing skills!
The best way to teach is by doing. Involve kids in the process of getting organized. Explain to them how and why it’s important. Some big reasons to be organized include:
- So you can find your things
- To keep your things in good condition
- To function efficiently in your home and life, and enjoy it while you do.
It helps to start with what is already happening. Do things end up in a pile by the front door? Let that area become your natural landing zone and create a “home” for those items, such as wall hooks, a bench or even a large basket. Is your teenager unwilling to fold their clothes and put them in their dresser? Just skip the folding and let them pull clean clothes from a laundry basket. Don’t try to recreate the wheel or force the issue. Some parents spend a lot of time putting systems in place that fail, because they look pretty but don’t work best for the child or family. And often, the real problem is that the kids haven’t been taught how or given a chance to use the system.
There are a million ideas out there for organizing kids’ things: toys, artwork, clothes, legos, etc. This article is more focused on the importance of teaching organization skills to kids, but I will offer some ideas for how to organize kid stuff. Here are some basics for parents to start with:
- INVOLVE THE KIDS: Get them in on the conversation. They may have ideas you’d never consider. Or could find ideas on TikTok faster than you could.
- START YOUNG: It’s never too early to start. Developmentally, toddlers and preschoolers often enjoy picking up, putting away, and being responsible. Although that stage might come and go, it is a foundational time for developing some organizing skills. Of course, it’s also around this age that many kids appear to be hoarders, developing random attachments and collections. You can use that as a teachable time too, by providing them means to contain and care for their things. Every stage of development will reveal new needs and opportunities.
- CREATE HOMES: Items that don’t have their own space will float aimlessly around the house until they find one. Containers such as baskets, bins, even bowls, cut own on the appearance of chaos. Shelves, bookcases, boxes and baskets are great for collections of treasures and for collecting important papers. When people know where to put things, those things are more likely to get there.
- PURGE OR STORE: It’s common for households to become overrun by children’s items. There are two type of kid things that present challenges:
- Daily toys: Toss broken or donate unused toys every 6 months or so. For the rest, consider packing some away to rotate in periodically or seasonally.
- Kids creations: These can be challenging for parents to get rid of or manage. Artwork, special projects or papers can be stored/filed for the year. Spend some time going through these things with your child (between school years is a good time for this) and let them decide what they want to keep. OR, take pictures of the items and keep the digitized version instead. Have a bulletin board for rotating art installations. Ask the kids how they want their work displayed or kept.
- GET THINGS OFF THE FLOOR: Anywhere you can see wall space, you have usable storage space. You can use clotheslines on the wall for hanging art, hammocks for stuffed animals, shelves for books and treasured items, etc.
- DEVELOP ZONES OR ‘CENTERS’: Think about a kindergarten classroom and arrange your home similarly. Have a designated space for different activities, such as school work, crafts, games, but also mail and home admin. Try to use areas of the home that aren’t often used, such as a formal living room, to make every space functional. And I do NOT suggest that the dining room table becomes a storage space – I see that a lot.
- CREATE A PAPER FILE SYSTEM: Even in the digital age, paper is still a thing. There are a variety of methods for filing: the classic filing cabinet or file box with hanging file folders for each child or project is just one (a clear desktop box if you want to keep things in view). For those who prefer or tend to “file” in piles, you can also file horizontally with these. That being said,
- BE COGNIZANT OF YOUR DIGITAL CLUTTER: Digital life can get chaotic too. This may be an area where your children could give you some tips.
It’s important to remember that there is no “right” way to organize. When you let the kids in on the process, they may come up with ideas you never considered and will be more likely to follow through with the plan. And hopefully, they will develop the skills necessary to be organized adults…around the time I’m ready to retire anyway.