So you’ve decided to get organized for the new year - Congratulations! This is the first step in the creation of a life for you and your family that has more order and clarity and less chaos and stress. You have many things to look forward to: knowing where something is when you need it, feelings of peace and calm when you enter your home, and you might even benefit financially from the fewer things you’ll likely be buying. In fact, studies show that the choice you’ve made might even improve your mental health, help you eat better, and increase your productivity.
Your commitment to getting organized is to be commended, but we all know it is just the beginning. Not only do you need to follow through on cleaning up your own clutter, but, if you’re a parent, it’s going to require the entire family to join you on this journey. An organized household will improve the lives of everyone who lives there, but it will require their commitment and ownership, too. This does not mean mom or dad nagging everyone to clean up; it means everyone understands that each family member plays a vital role in creating an orderly, functional home.
As a professional organizer, I’ve seen this process play out many times. Over the years of working with both clients and my own family, I have developed some amazing tips and strategies to help the organized lifestyle take hold in a family and create lasting lifestyle changes.
Sit down for a family meeting
Set aside a time to sit down with your entire household together to discuss your new organizing endeavor. With everyone so busy these days, you may need to schedule it, but it’s important to do. Make it an event! Serve a special treat or meal or sit down in that never used living room of yours. Talk through why it’s important for your family to get organized and how each of them plays a crucial role. Remember this is not about mom or dad picking up after everyone and nagging, but is a group effort. Everyone needs to feel a sense of ownership and responsibility and their part in this team effort!
As easy as it would be so say “we all need to be more organized,” you’ll probably need to be more specific. Identify the problem areas in your house – kitchen island, entry way, bedrooms, etc. – and be clear about what needs to be done. Specific actions like putting dirty clothing in a hamper, putting mail and school papers in a designated spot, and putting shoes away will be easier for your family, especially children, to actually carry out and sustain. Writing it down or making a little chart that everyone can refer to could be helpful in this regard, too.
Get bins and organizers that the kids like
A great way to get kids (and grownups!) 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. They will be more excited about using them if they helped pick them out and like them. And this does not need to be an expensive purchase – Target, IKEA, and even dollar stores have functional, cute, and inexpensive organizing products.
Start a family basket system
One thing that can help disorganized families get control of clutter is implementing a family basket system. Each member of the family gets a designated bin or basket that's kept on the ground floor of the house. When things are left around the house, each person’s things can be placed in their basket. Then, that family member is responsible for periodically taking their basket and putting their things away and tossing unnecessary items. This system can reduce clutter drastically by creating an immediate home for everything that gets left around your house. It also fosters a sense of ownership and responsibility for each member of the family for helping to keep the house organized and tidy. Next time someone says “Mom, where’s my homework?” The answer can be, “Have you checked your basket?!”
Reward your kids!
There are many schools of thought on chores and rewards for children. Some parents choose to pay children allowance for helping to keep the family home organized, but if that’s not really your thing, get creative with ways to reward them and give them something to get excited about. You can reward them with a special meal or treat, a family movie night, or something else that will motivate them. Let them know what they’re working toward and it might be just what they need to help keep your house clutter-free!
Assign age-appropriate chores
It’s important to set every family member up for success by ensuring that their organizing tasks are developmentally appropriate. A five-year-old may not be ready for many of the things that need to be done, but they can put their books away and their toys into a bin. A teenager would be ready to help with tasks in the kitchen, garage, and more complex tasks around the house. Just be sure that everyone gets involved and give them a sense of empowerment and responsibility for the tidiness and functioning your home. It’s a team effort!
Start using 'The Family 15'
One way for everyone to pull together as a team is to try the Family 15. Set a timer on your phone or the stove for 15 minutes. Then everyone in the family does as much as they can for 15 minutes cleaning up, putting away, and decluttering. You would be amazed at how much you can accomplish in 15 minutes! 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 and your house will be blissfully organized in no time! (Share your Family 15 story on social media using #Family15 and tag me at @NeatnikDC!)
Take it one step at a time
Rome wasn’t built in a day and your house won’t be decluttered and organized in a day either. This is a process and a family lifestyle change that will take time, persistence, and, most of all, patience. Start with one area of the home or one category of things at a time. If you start to feel overwhelmed when working on a project, just stop and give yourself a break. Try again the next day. The same goes for your family. Take it one room, one category, one step at a time. And be gentle with yourselves – this can be a challenging process and change is not easy for everyone. But don’t get discouraged! Slow and steady wins the race for lasting change to take root in your family.
Getting organized isn’t always easy, but it's always worth it. With your entire family involved, not only will the burden be easier on you, but you’re giving your children a gift of a sense of empowerment and responsibility for their living space and a deeper understanding of the consequences of their own actions. This could even pay-off in other areas of their lives. You’ve just got to start. Just pick a day, host your family meeting, and you’ll be on the road to an orderly household in no time!
I’d love to hear about your family’s organizing journey and how these tips are working for you! Please leave a comment here or tag us on Instagram at @NeatnikDC.
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.