There’s only one thing more frustrating than not being able to clear your own clutter—and that is coming home at the end of a stressful day and being confronted with your kid’s mess. It feels like facing your own failure as a parent. You want to teach them a life skill that you know will make their life easier and lead to more success... But how can you teach something you yourself don’t even know how to do?
Believe it or not, organizing is not an innate talent-- it can be learned. And, yes, even if you never mastered this life skill, you can facilitate your child’s mastery of organizing. Start by spending time together working on something small, like the fridge or front hall closet—then tackle their bedroom together. Organizing a child’s room is one of the best ways to get to know them, because it’s a window into how they think, what’s important and what is no longer of interest to them as they evolve and grow.
The key to successfully organizing a kid’s room is involving your child in the project as much as possible. As tempted as you may be to sneak in there with a dumpster to clear out all the “junk,” long range success comes only through allowing your child to participate in the design, transformation, and maintenance of his or her own space.
Kids love to solve problems –- which is what organizing is all about. And provided you stay calm and supportive, rather than judgmental, your child will enjoy the special attention and time together with you. Yes, organizing can actually serve to strengthen your relationship.
HERE’S AN AGE-BY-AGE GUIDE TO ORGANIZING LESSONS
PRE-SCHOOLl KIDS (2 TO 5 YEAR-OLDS)
Help you kid learn the concept that all items have homes. At this stage you are undoubtedly in the lead. Your job is to set up systems, and your kid’s job is to help clean up and put away toys before moving on to the next task. Be cheerful with you messaging by narrating how you do this with everyday items (I’m putting the brush back here so we can find it next time we need it!), and involve them in putting every item back in its place.
SCHOOL AGED KIDS (6 TO 10 YEAR-OLDS)
From age 5 to10, kids can learn to arrange their own things. The first step to creating a successful organizing system is to group similar items. Here is the kicker-- for the system to be successful for your child, items should be grouped based on the way that they think (not the way you think). Creating their own unique system enables them to always know where to find and put items. Start with things they use every day, such as: clothes (do they look for things by type of clothing, by color of clothing, or by occasion--school, weekend, dressy?), books (by subject, type, or alphabetical order?), school papers (by class, by due date, in progress or completed?). Once their unique system has been designed, they can be held accountable for maintaining it.
TWEENS (11 TO 13 YEAR-OLDS)
The tween years are a big transition time when kids rooms tend to get really messy as they transition (gradually) between little kid belongings and new, more grownup items. Teach kids how to identify and preserve the most meaningful memorabilia, and giveaway the rest, to make room for the new clothes, books, hobbies that are important to them now. Decluttering the obsolete can be an empowering experience; it creates space for them to reflect on who they were, who they are, and who they want to become.
TEENAGERS (14 TO 18 YEAR-OLDS)
As kids get older, and more social, they begin to understand the value of organization to support a busy life (and stretch hard-earned dollars!). Learning to care for, store and access their favorite possessions aligns with their motivations—to look good, feel good and always be ready to go-go-go.
When kids learn how to get organized, there are fewer frantic searches for homework, soccer cleats and backpacks in the morning. Teaching your kids how to set up systems will make it easy for them to find what they need when they need it, feel comfortable in their space, and spend time on the things that are important to them.
Don’t expect instant results-- organizing is a process, mastered and refined over a lifetime. Do your best to make it a positive experience, and build their confidence as you coach them along the way. Eliminate the phrases “You are so disorganized!”, “You are such a slob,” “Clean your room—it’s a pigsty!” Everybody is organized in some ways. Identify and recognize the ways in which your child is organized, and repeat it to them consistently and confidently.