Life with children can be unpredictable. Things pop up out of the blue that you need to manage: various accidents and spills, an unexpected illness, birthday parties, and the dozens of other things you need to respond to week in and week out. While you can’t always plan for those things, there are elements of life with children that you can predict. And having systems in place is the key to staying organized even when life throws you a few curve balls.
As a professional organizer and mother of two active children, here are some tips that I use and recommend to clients for getting and staying organized with children:
Empower your kids
I’ve said it here on the Mabelhood and I’ll say it again: You can help teach your children about being organized, but they need to be an active participant in the process. Like many things in parenting, you can teach, guide, and support, but you cannot do it all for them. By helping them learn about being organized, you’re giving your children the gift of a sense of empowerment and responsibility for their living space and a deeper understanding of the consequences of their own actions. This will pay off in other areas of their lives.
One step at a time
Getting organized can be overwhelming for adults, so imagine how it feels for a kid! Start slow, one category at a time and build from there. Pick your biggest pain point – coats and shoes, clothing in their room, toys – and start there. Work for 15 minutes at a time and take a break. Pick it up later, the next day, or the next week. You know your child best and how they will best respond.
Get kids excited with bins and baskets that they love
A great way to get kids excited about getting organized is to get them involved with choosing how things will be organized from the very beginning. Take them to the store or have them look at websites with you to select bins, labels, and any other organizing products that you might need. For kids, I recommend clear bins whenever possible so kids can see what’s in them. It makes it much easier to put things away.
Have a specific place for coats, jackets, shoes, backpacks
One question parents often hear is “Mom, where’s my jacket?!” We can eliminate this question by having a specific place for your child’s coat/jacket and shoes. Have a place for them to put it away every time they walk in the door. Have them put their things there every time. If you don’t have closet or a mud room, just find a spot. Put up a hook and put down a little tray for their shoes. Problem solved! If coats and shoes aren’t your child’s issue, try this with whatever category challenges them.
Put it on their level
Place things at a level where kids can reach them and put them away. In the kitchen, clear out a space in a lower cabinet or drawer for kids’ plates, bowls, and cups. This way, they can put things away by themselves.
Make your kids a list of daily tasks
Make a list of tasks that your kids need to take care of each and every day. This can vary from child to child and needs to be age appropriate. I would recommend that you make the list concise so that it is not overwhelming. But things like “Put toys away in bins” and “empty school backpack” could be good items to put on the list. Make it a colorful, fun looking list! I have my kids’ lists hung on cute clip boards that they picked out and hung on the wall. Use your Mabel’s Labels on the list!
Create a memory box
I recommend regularly going though toys and clothing with kids and parting with things that are no longer used or needed. But your child will want to hang on to certain keepsakes and items that have special value. Start a memory box for each child in your house to hold these things. Remind your child that these bins are for select items of significance and not for everything. The memory box can help get your child into the habit of parting with things that are not being used, but still have a special place for things to keep.
Try the #Family15
Try this with your whole family: Set a timer on your phone or the stove for 15 minutes. Have everyone in the family do as much as cleaning up, putting away and decluttering as they can in 15 minutes. You will be amazed at how much you can accomplish! If you don’t get it all done in 15 minutes, no problem. If you want to keep going, set the timer for another 15 minutes. If not, you’ve gotten a lot done and can do it again the next day or another time. Make this a regular part of your family’s routine. My own kids respond well to the Family 15 – they like the team effort and don’t feel singled out. This definitely works in my house. (If you try this, post about it on social media and tag us at @neatnikdc and hashtag #family15. I’d love to see how it works for you!)
Katherine DiGiovanni is a professional organizer and principal at Neatnik in Washington, DC. When she's not helping clients organize their homes and lives, she's trying to keep up with it all and spend time with her husband and two children. You can find her on Instagram at @neatnikdc and at www.neatnikdc.com.