Updated: Nov 7
Getting your own self organized is an effort. Getting other household members on board with your mission for an organized life is a completely different animal. And when those other household members are children or young adults, the struggle to keep a tidy home can be intense. This combination of self-work, leadership, teamwork and teaching can be overwhelming.
Many of our organizing clients are parents or caregivers who are struggling with this very issue. You may be asking yourself these same questions:
How do I organize my home and keep it organized with kids and all their stuff around?
How do I teach my kids to keep their own spaces organized?
How do we manage the enormous wave of stuff that comes into our home every holiday and birthday?
Is it even possible to have a family and a tidy home?
Yes, it is possible to have a tidy home with a family and not become a tidiness tyrant. Will you have a perfectly tidy home all the time? No. Expecting perfection from your kids or yourself will only result in more frustration. But we do have some ideas about how you can help your kids gradually learn the skills they need to contribute to the family mission to keep chaos at bay. First, let's talk about the why.
Why is it important to teach children about being organized?
Organizing principles empower independence. When the child's space is organized for them and maintained by them (or at least with their participation) the child can locate things they want when they want them. They can reach the things they want to play with. They can choose how to engage with the space. They can choose how to express themselves in the space such as displaying their favorite Lego creations on a shelf or prioritizing easy access to their craft supplies so when the muse appears, your little artist is ready.
Organizing principles teach personal responsibility. When a space is organized with children in mind, they get to contribute to the family efforts for tidiness and beyond. They also learn about consequences. When toys are left on the floor, they are subject to being stepped on and possibly broken. When I don't put my Lego creation on a shelf, my little sibling can disassemble it. Consequences can be painful, and that's one of the ways we learn to take care of the things that matter to us.
Organizing principles reduce stress and promote play. We all know play is how children learn. And play is different than entertainment. Play is creative and active, while entertainment is passive consuming. Play can be harder to get into than just switching on a tablet or a TV. If they don't have systems and environments that allow them to play freely, they will desire the ease of entertainment. So it's our job as their caregivers to make play as accessible as entertainment. Organizing the play space for the child and teaching the child to contribute to its maintenance can be one way to foster more play.
So maybe you are on board with me about the why, but how do we do teach organizing to our children? There are many ways, and none of them are a magic pill. A big ingredient in success is knowing that organizing is never really "done." There will always be maintenance, adjustment, backsliding, improvement and revision because our lives are always changing and so our systems and methods are always changing, too. My point is this: If something doesn't work the first time, don't give up! Try again or try something else.
Here are some methods and ideas to get you started with teaching your children to be organized. Psssst... These strategies will help other adult members of the household learn the benefits of being organized as well. In case you were wondering.
Modeling: If we want our children to learn to organize and maintain tidy organized spaces, we have to lead by example. Kids are very observant and very curious. If we don't "practice what we preach" they will see it and they will call our bluff. So start with modeling the behavior your want to see. Let your kids see you organizing a space and editing your belongings. Let them see you discarding things that no longer serve you. Let them help you sort through the kitchen junk drawer. Lovingly (Your approach is key!) tell them why it matters to you to live in a tidy space and why it matters to you that they get to live in a tidy space. And let them see you mess up, too. Let the see you backslide or feel overwhelmed by the stuff or forget to put your keys on the hook. Let them see how you recover because that is very important, too.
Make it a game: We've already mentioned how important play is to a child's growth. And, as Mary Poppins said, "In every job that must be done, there is an element of fun. You find the fun and snap! The job's a game!" If you make a task fun for the child, they will be much more likely to engage and learn. Is your child a builder? Let them use their biggest truck to gather toys and dump them in the proper bin. Does your child love to pretend? Let them dress up as a superhero or a character they love and be in character to tidy up. Is your child competitive? Challenge them to a speed pick up and see who can tidy up the most toys in 3 minutes. I know you want to just get it done. I know because as a mom of two young kids. I've been there, and I am there, just like you. But if we want to teach the skills, we've got to muster the patience and creativity to make it FUN!
Make it simple: One of the most common struggles I encounter with our organizing clients is TOO MANY TOYS! They call me because their kids' toys are taking over the entire home. It's not just the kids' bedroom and play rooms any more. The toys have crept into the living room, the backyard, the garage, the dining room, the bathrooms and more. And when I say toys I mean traditional toys, play sets, building sets, art supplies, gross motor structures, ride-on toys, outdoor toys, all of it. I am here to tell you, it is OK, in fact, it is healthy and positive to place appropriate boundaries on how many toys your children have and how much space in your home is dedicated to toys. While the entire home should be safe for the children, that does not mean the entire home should be the child's play space. Too many toys is overwhelming for everyone. And studies show that children play more with less toys. Editing can be hard and many times it requires that we, as the caregivers, make these executive decisions for our children's best interest. And it will make a huge difference in not only how your children play, but also in how easily they can learn to maintain a tidy space.
Make it for them: When we look at play spaces on Pinterest or Instagram, it's easy to get caught up in the aesthetics and want to design a beautifully curated space for our children or use the latest product that promises cleanup will be easy. While there is nothing wrong with a beautiful space and some products can be helpful in organizing, if we want our child's participation in the maintenance, we've got to first design the space for them. - Storage needs to be low, lightweight and easy to handle for little kids. - Categories need to be clear and straightforward. - Systems (and contents) need to be age-appropriate and child-appropriate. A teenager's workspace is going to look different than a pre-schooler's. Systems will ideally grow with the child and change as the child's interests change. Before we as caregivers project our own desires and needs for the system, we should first consider what needs the space should meet for our kiddos.
Organizing with kids isn't easy, but it can be done, and it can bring a good deal of stress relief with it. Again, if an approach or system doesn't work the first time, don't give up! Try again or try something new. If you're really feeling stuck, try hiring a professional organizer to help or strategize with you.
The Element of Fun Organizing team works with families all the time to solve these very issues, and we'd love to work with you. With our new virtual organizing service, we can even work with clients who prefer to do the hands-on work themselves but could use a little guidance and accountability. In whatever capacity you need us, we're here to help you find organizing solutions that work for YOUR home and YOUR situation.
Contact Us if you'd like to learn more about how we can help.