Being An Example: Helping Our Kids Get Organized By Modeling It For Them

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:


For parents:

  • 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.

For kids:

  • 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

For parents:

  • 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.

For kids:

  • 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

For parents:

  • 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.

For kids:

  • 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?

Online Knitting Class
Delightful kids' crafts delivered to your door!  See sample crates>>


  1. What great tips! I think the one toy in, one toy out rule is a hard one for me to follow. I always feel like I don’t want to give up one because we may want to play with it again. Great idea for the kids to give it away. Thanks!
    .-= Tina @ Ride On Toys´s last blog ..The Razor Sole Skate – What’s The Craze All About? =-.

  2. This is definitely an area where I struggle. I constantly feel like a mini hurricane came through my house dumping primary colored plastic everywhere! I’ve bookmarked your tips and I’m going to start using them. Hopefully, we can get a little more organized.
    .-= Terri´s last blog ..Wednesday Escape… =-.

  3. Another wonderfully practical post. You are so right kids definitely copy what they see!!! I went on a total anti-clutter round our house about two years ago and since then it has just been maintenance – and lots of it!!! I had to involve the kids every step of the way – they are curious and we homeschool so I have no sneaky time!!! Since then every couple of weeks I go through everyones clothes, just a quick check and the last day of every school term my kids go through their drawers. I discovered that they have found the rhythm of decluttering and I can pop them in front of a drawer or box or cupboard and say: declutter, and they are so well practiced that they can just do it!!! Here’s how they do in se7en steps:
    .-= se7en´s last blog ..Se7en Ways to Rescue a Day That’s on the Brink of Failure… =-.

    • I love those 7 steps — what a great way to make it a second nature habit by following the same routine each time!

  4. My 3 year old is better at this whole thing than I am! We hung hooks so she could hang up her jacket and book bag when she gets home from school and she does that great. She knows where all her stuff goes, and I hope to do better to keep her (and get me) in the habit!
    .-= Jackie´s last blog ..What’s holding you back? =-.

  5. I do teach by example but making my children pick up their toys is still difficult.
    The good point is that they will probably end up being very organized people once they move out…just as I did ;o)

  6. I recently got my son involved in our garage sale. He got to keep about half of the money we made on any of the toys he sold. (He’s only 4, so he was THRILLED to put money in his piggy bank.) He got so excited I actually had to convince him to KEEP some of his nicer toys.

    We also use a simple cubicle system (like from Target). Each kid has a canvas cube. What fits in it stays. They have toys that sit on top and in the other cubes, but in general this keeps us in check so the toys don’t take over the house.

    Great post. I need to work on the touch it once rule. I have a bad habit of making piles or putting things in bags to move to another room… but they rarely make it where they need to go.
    .-= Angela´s last blog ..He’s Getting It =-.

  7. In our house, there are 4 keys to keeping the toy clutter down to a manageable rate. 1)Purge toys a couple times a year (with the kids and without) 2) Find a place for everything we have. 3) Make a place for new stuff immediately. 4) Keep the new stuff down to a minimum

  8. The “touch it once” rule is one that I need to work on modeling better. I tend to be one of those “piler” type of people … stacks of books, papers, craft projects … and I am noticing that my kids do this, too. Touching it once would be a good rule for ALL of us to start following.

    And, how did you know about our hair bow situation? 🙂

    Great post, Mandi! Thank you!
    .-= Kara Fleck´s last blog ..Being An Example: Helping Our Kids Get Organized By Modeling It For Them =-.

  9. just what I needed right now…we’re in the midst of a grand purge 🙂 Now, we’ve tried the one set out at a time thing but our 10 year old loves to build “structures” ie: recently he built ancient rome (think the Colosseum) in our playroom using wooden blocks, lego and Playmobil. This uses up a lot more than one set at a time but it is something he loves doing and has a real talent for. Any suggestions on how to handle this specific situation? Our other problem is that because he loves building “stuff”, he also uses lots of bit of other toys that no longer get played with and are really ready to move on to other homes (like the Brio trains and track). We’ve been brainstorming but have had a hard time coming up with ideas on how to handle this. Our kids have waaay too many toys and we need to downsize.
    I need to work on the touch it once rule…I’m a piler by nature and I’m watching my kids growing up becoming pilers too. Not good! Thanks for this Mandi 🙂
    .-= Tanya´s last blog ..rehydration =-.

  10. These are great ideas! Our main struggle is with the outgrown toys. We have a 3 1/2 year old and an almost-1 year old, so there are different kinds of toys that aren’t being used now & will be in the future. My goal is to ONLY keep something if it is special – if it has either special meaning or a special purpose. My house is too small and my life is too short to be tripping over junky toys!
    .-= Jeni´s last blog ..Today… =-.

  11. Great suggestions on how exactly to model to children.

    Without modeling, it is more of a “do as I say, not as I do”, which confuses kids.

    Thanks for all you BE and DO! 🙂

  12. Amen. I have two kids of my own and have nannied for various families over the years as well. I’ve noticed that kids whose parents are organized tend to be more organized themselves but when their parents involve them in the process it makes a HUGE difference.

    One poor kid I know regularly misses field trips because he can’t keep his papers organized and bring them home and if he does manage to get them home his parents lose them!

    We play SUCH a key role in our children’s lives. Love the post thanks for it.
    .-= Krystal´s last blog ..Dreaming a Life =-.

  13. I constantly remind my 4 year old that we have to clean up the first toy (puzzle, game, etc) before we can pick the next activity, and she is always happy to clean quickly. I agree, don’t do it for them. They need to help and learn to be responsible. Now that I have 2 teens, I know how important it is to learn responsibility early and what a difference it can make as they get older.
    .-= Melinda @ Simple Home Organization´s last blog ..Harry Potter party – the magic of Hogwarts =-.

  14. If only my mom helped me be more organized when i was small.. my room might not be as messy as it is now ,, hehehe

  15. When our children were young, we operated on the “10 toys” principle. They could only have ten toys at one time. All the rest were put in the attic. After a few weeks, when they would get bored with the toys they had, we’d swap them with some that the kids hadn’t seen in a while. It was like they got something brand new!

    Of course, another piece of the organizing puzzle is to make sure you do have a place to put the things you need. One way to help with this it to buy furniture that serves a dual purpose, like an ottoman that serves as a toy box, or a patio bench that has storage inside.

    Stan Horst
    Stan Horst´s latest post: Atlantic Outdoor Convertible Wood Picnic Table and Garden Bench

  16. These are some great ideas on how to declutter. I like what Stan says about the ten toy rule. How many toys can a baby really play with at once anyways.


  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Susan Heid. Susan Heid said: RT @simplekids Being An Example: Helping Our Kids Get Organized By Modeling It For Them […]

  2. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Lucy Banta NJ Family, simplekids and Rhiannon Moon, Susan Heid. Susan Heid said: RT @simplekids Being An Example: Helping Our Kids Get Organized By Modeling It For Them […]

  3. […] This week, I had the privilege of guest posting over at Simple Kids, with strategies for helping our kids develop good organizing habits: […]

  4. […] Being An Example: Helping Our Kids Get Organized By Modeling It For Them on Simple Kids{note to self: read this thoroughly!} […]

  5. […] speaking of clutter…  I learned a lot from Being an Example: Helping Our Kids Get Organized by Modeling It For Them at Simple […]