Blog: Can We Have Some Order Here?
Organizing Your Kid's Room
Keeping your kid's room in order can seem like an insurmountable task. You put things away, and they just end up in a pile on the floor again. You set up systems, your kids use them for a half a minute, then you're right back where you started. You create a neat environment, and it just gets torn apart. You could spend your life cleaning, straightening, and tidying your child's room -- and never see any improvement. What is a parent to do?
Most kid-sized organizing fails because it is aiming for the wrong end result. It's natural for parents to want to be able to walk through the house without stepping on Barbie shoes and toy soldiers -- but the larger goal should be to help your children to get and stay organized into adulthood. Simply telling a kid to clean his room isn't teaching him any useful life skills (well-intentioned though the concept might be) -- he's just doing it because you said so and doesn't really understand "why."
The hardest part for parents is recognizing the difference between "neat" and "organized." So much of the kid-related advice out there focuses solely on eliminating the piles (15-minute clean-ups before bed and baskets for collecting loose toys) -- but clutter is just a symptom of disorganization. You know the saying, "Give a man a fish, you have fed him for today. Teach a man to fish, and you have fed him for a lifetime." I've got a new saying for the moms and dads out there -- "Tell your kid to clean his room, he will have a clean room today. Teach your kid to be organized, and the house will automatically be neater every day."
The trick to helping your kids get organized is to involve them in the process -- organizing with them rather than for them. This means working together, explaining the logic behind the systems you set up, and letting your kids have a hand in deciding where things should be stored. Parents must look at kids' rooms in a new way -- one that matches their schedules, activities, and lifestyles. One size does not fit all when it comes to organizing children (especially children of different ages and ability levels). Kids have more "stuff" than ever before, they play inside more than out, most have their own rooms, few have a stay-at-home parent, and they all live very fast-paced lives. It's important that you take these societal factors into account when designing the right systems for your kid's room.
Developing A Profile
The first step to creating an organized environment for your child is understanding his or her needs. If you think that reading a book or watching a TV show (then setting up that exact system in your own home) is going to solve your clutter woes -- think again! Organizing is a very intimate and personal activity -- and if any system is going to work (for a child or an adult), it must be customized.
Your child can learn to be organized, with the right methods and supplies. You have to choose those techniques and tools that best suit that kids personalities and preferences -- and the way to do that is to ask the following questions about your kid's habits before beginning:
- What are your child's interests (what activities does he currently enjoy? what is he losing interest in?)
- How are your child's behavior patterns changing? (starting / finishing a school year? moving away from toys? toward adult activities?)
- What kind of personality does your child have? (introverted? extroverted? laid-back? tense? easy-to-please? difficult?)
- What does your child's schedule look like? (lots of structured functions? not much free-time? school? extra-curricular activities?)
- What is your child's ability level? (can he open drawers? reach the closet rod? read? understand categorizing?)
- What are your child's social habits? (lots of friends over to visit? more time visiting friends? socially active? loner?)
- What habits has your child developed? (throwing clothes on the floor? picking up before bed? collecting Beanie Babies?)
- What are your child's priorities? (spend less time cleaning? have a big space to play? be able to reach everything?)
Once you identify your kid's behaviors, attitudes, habits, and way of maneuvering through the world, you are more likely to create systems that "synch" with these behaviors -- and more likely to make lasting organizational changes with your child.
One constant in organizing kids' rooms is the need for centers -- distinct areas within a child's living space, each set up for a different kind of daily activity. If you've ever sent your little one to preschool (especially a Montessori facility), you will recognize this concept -- a section of the room for finger painting, another for playing with blocks, a third for nap time, and a separate area for lunch.
It's a great way to teach kids how to categorize objects and supplies, as well as how to store things closest to the point where they are used. Setting up centers makes clean-up easier -- and a change in geography smooths the transition from one activity to the next. These are the building blocks for developing good organizing skills later in life.
Children naturally crave order. But when kids get home to find their books thrown in with puzzles, art supplies stored in the same drawer as socks, everything mixed together -- it's no wonder they don't know how to keep it all organized! Try breaking your child's room into four basic areas:
- grooming area -- centered near the closet and contains the dresser, a hamper, and any additional grooming supplies (hairbrush, accessories, etc.)
- play area -- contains games, active toys, and a large floor space or table space to spread out
- rest area -- should be free from "stimulating" activities (busy or noisy games, the TV, etc.) -- put bedtime story books on the nightstand and a soft light nearby -- whatever your child associates with relaxing and winding down for the night
- work area -- includes a desk or table, office and art supplies, a good light, and perhaps a bookshelf or computer (as you see fit)
You might also decide to set up other more specialized centers for your child as you see fit -- a "reading" center (with a lamp, bookshelf, and a comfy chair), a "dress-up" center (with costumes and props and a big mirror), or an "art" center (with crayons, paper, paint, clay, and a big drop-cloth for making a mess!)
Different Age Groups
The final step in helping your child develop good organizing skills comes when you recognize and acknowledge his or her current skill level. While it's important to challenge your kids and encourage them to expand their abilities, nothing frustrates a child more than being given a task or responsibility that is beyond what he or she can handle -- intellectually, emotionally, or physically. You must design systems that take your child's size, strength, and mental faculties into account if you ever hope for your organizing efforts to succeed.
The good news is that this is easy -- if you make use of those organizing methods which have been proven appropriate for each age group. For example, toddlers (age 1-3) operate according to the belief that out of sight equals out of mind -- so use open containers and exposed shelving if you expect them to put things away where they belong. And while littler kids may not be able to read yet, that doesn't mean you can't label -- use a photo or drawing of the item as a label (picture of a car, picture of a doll, picture of Legos, etc.)
Preschool kids (age 3-5) are ready to start dressing themselves, but have a hard time manipulating drawers and reaching high closet rods -- so low rods and open crates are best. Adding lettering to your picture labels will allow your child to begin to associating the words with the object -- a good way to encourage reading skills, as well. Just remember that, at this size, your kids may still need a little supervision while tidying their rooms. Don't leave them to do it themselves then get irritated when the task wasn't completed to satisfaction -- show your little ones how until you know they've mastered putting their toys away.
School-age kids (6-11) know how to read -- so labeling shelves and containers will help make sure their belongings end up back in the proper home. Older children will also have strong opinions about where they want things stored, so let them have a little independence. It's not unreasonable to expect children to school-aged kids to keep their rooms and homework areas neat without reminder, as part of their weekly household responsibilities -- a chore chart and consistent rewards/consequences will make this easy.
Adolescents (age 11-17) can be made responsible for more complex organizing jobs -- like cleaning out their closets and deciding which items to donate to charity. If you've trained them well, you will also see them applying the organizing techniques they learned at home in other places -- at school, in their after-school jobs and extracurricular activities, etc. And be sure to give yourself a pat on the back as a parent -- by customizing your organizing efforts to match your child's developmental level, you are one step closer to success each year!
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posted on: 2/4/2010 11:30:00 AM by Ramona Creel
category: General Organizing Tips
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Can We Have Some Order Here?
by Ramona Creel
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I have been a Professional Organizer for more than 10 years, I am a NAPO Golden Circle member, and I was the original founder of OnlineOrganizing. I have worked one-on-one with scores of clients and have trained dozens of newbie organizers as they got started in the industry. I provide both hands-on and virtual coaching to help clients improve their organizing skills and simplify their lives. I invite you to visit my website at http://www.RamonaCreel.com, and I challenge you to find one new idea that you can put into practice in your life, to help you become better organized, starting TODAY! I am passionate about coaching folks toward a more balanced, productive, and enjoyable life -- and I firmly believe that if I can do it, so can you!
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