I think we’d all agree that teaching our children to organize their belongings and the space around them is a valuable life skill. Unfortunately, it’s not a skill that always comes naturally for us, even as parents. As with any value or habit we want to pass on to our children, however, it’s important to not just teach our children the what, why and how of organizing but also to model it for them in our own lives.
As much as we’d like to teach them to “do as I say and not as I do,” children are much more likely to replicate the behaviors they see than the instructions we give them.
Today I’m sharing three behaviors we can model and teach our children to give them the tools they need to be organized:
- Make a conscious decision to declutter. While there is a wide gray area between minimalism and hoarding, being able to sort through our stuff and only keep those things that we truly need or truly love is an important part of getting organized. Even the most organized person will fall under the weight of too much stuff.
- Clear out the storage. I’m not saying you have to get rid of all the sentimental or seasonal items you’re currently storing in your basement or attic, but it is important to ask yourself how much something really means to you if it’s hidden away in storage.
- Teach kids the one toy in, one toy out rule. Whenever they receive gifts for their birthday, holidays or just because, have them choose something to give away. Alternatively, clean out toys before the occasions when you expect gifts to make room for the new things.
- Set physical limits and let your children make their own decisions. Rather than cleaning out their toys for them, use bins, toy boxes and small containers to contain sets of toys and let kids make the decision on what to keep and what to give away based on what fits in the defined space.
A Place for Everything and Everything in Its Place
- Follow the “touch it once” rule. Whenever I pick something up, I do my best to put it in its final resting place right away rather than just moving the clutter around my home. It ultimately saves me time and helps our home stay uncluttered.
- Have a place for everything. However, the other side of this strategy is you have to have places for things to go in the first place. Look at the piles around your home and brainstorm strategies for dealing with them. It may mean setting up a bill center for incoming mail or creating a drop zone for backpacks and jackets by the front door.
- Teach kids to take out toys in sets and put each set away before they get the next out. There will be times when they’ll want to keep out an elaborate lego village they’re building or play with more than one set of toys at the same time, but it’s easier and less overwhelming to clean up one set of toys at a time than a large mess of toys that has to be sorted and put away.
- Label kids toys with pictures or use clear bins to make it easy for them to put away toys on their own. Don’t freak out over a doll diaper in the car bin, but encourage kids to put things away where they belong so that the sets are ready the next time they want to play with them.
Photo by hcplebranch
Look for Ways to Improve
- Set goals for yourself. Even as a very organized person, I still have areas where I’d like to improve. For example, I want to do better at putting my dishes in the dishwasher right away rather than stacking them in the sink so that my girls will learn to do that as well.
- Remember that organizing isn’t a one-time activity. As your needs and habits change and you acquire different things, you’ll need to reorganized to find a system that works best for you. Involve children in the process of reorganizing.
- Help kids come up with their own organizational systems. For example, if your daughter has hair bows and barrettes that just end up mixed up in a drawer, and she’s frustrated by not being able to find the ones she wants, help her think through different ideas for organizing them and then help her actually make those changes.
- Don’t do it for them. Even though it can be easier to tackle the process of organizing and decluttering without little ones underfoot, it’s important that you involve them early and often so that they learn how to do it. My two-year-old is fairly good at cleaning up as long as the mess isn’t overwhelming, and we encourage her to sort toys and help us, even though it usually takes longer that way. Toddlers and preschoolers are so eager to help, so we use that as an opportunity to build good habits right from the start.
I don’t expect my children to be perfect little organizing machines by any stretch of the imagination, but I do want to help them build good habits and give them opportunities to see the benefits of keeping things organized and neat.
It took me several years to create organizational systems in my own home because my mom did most of our organizing and cleaning for us while I was growing up, and while my children would probably prefer that approach, my goal is to give them a head start so they’ll be better prepared to run. their own homes one day.
How do you involve your children in cleaning and organizing?