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Method For: Organized Kids

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Organized Kids sounds like an oxymoron. I don’t know any organized kids, though I’m sure some exist out there in the world. Not my world, someone else’s. In my world kids’ rooms are messy, they leave a trail of stuff throughout the house and they never, ever hang anything up. These truths hold whether said kids are 6 or 19; one of the things I’m looking forward to when all my baby birds have left the nest this Fall is a truly tidy home. And less laundry. In this week’s post I have wisdom to impart on instilling some organizational habits in your children. This wisdom, born of experience and hindsight, takes the form of 4 strategies.

Sharing wisdom from raising these 3 rascals

The keys to success with anything you are trying to get kids to do are:

  1. Make it EASY

  2. Make it FUN

If something is a pain in the butt your kids are going to go for the shortcut (cue dumping outerwear on the floor.) Removing as many points of friction as you can in a process will enable your children to more easily complete a task and eventually form a habit. Similarly, if you turn an undesirable and potentially overwhelming chore into a fun event (a strategy I liken to hiding the vegetables) by associating it with fun you will be rewarded with compliance. The younger your kids are when you begin implementing these strategies, the greater chance they will form habits for life.

toy storage: open bins with handles

Light, open bins with handles are even manageable for toddlers

Make it easy for your kids to tidy up. How? By using a simple receptacle that they can easily grab. I recommend bins or baskets that are A) open, B) light and C) have handles. Keep the bins in cubbies or open shelves that are low to the ground. Kids as young as toddler age can carry light bins with handles. No lids means one less thing to get lost and also an open top makes it easier to just pile things into the bin. This is a simple, easy strategy that requires little effort to implement. There are infinite choices of storage bins and cubbies out there, you can certainly find one that fits in with your aesthetic, be it basket, fabric or plastic.

arts & crafts: triage station

Paints and pom poms and feathers, oh my!

Arts and crafts can be particularly messy. There are lots of great solutions out there to keep your art supplies contained (I love this caddy for instance) but the key to success for taming the overflow from artistic pursuits is having a place to keep in-progress and finished works-of-genius. I often see families who have made a good effort to keep their supplies organized but have no solution for what happens after the art is created. Given no alternative what will kids do? Leave it out of course! But the killer isn’t actually the finished piece-de-resistance, it’s the in-progress creation that isn’t quite finished and the creator has to leave it there until inspiration strikes again (if it ever does.) So, my strategy here is simple. Designate a spot specifically for things that are almost or actually finished. A paper storage solution like this works great. Or, if your budding artist(s) are really prolific and you have the space a baker’s rolling cart with trays is another potential solution, you can get one from a restaurant supply store. Whenever they are finished with an artistic ‘session’ their work goes to the designated spot to dry or be appraised later. When the designated spot is full of works you can go through it with your little Picasso and decide what to display, give away, discard, etc. This little exercise teaches begins to familiarize them with the art of prioritization, a life skill that will continue to serve them for decades to come!

Maximize closet space

What kid hangs up their clothes on hangers? This is a cute photo but I do not advise this as a closet strategy

One of the first investments I made in our first house was converting the kids bedroom closets to better suit our storage needs in a fairly compact space. I’m a huge advocate of maximizing closets throughout the house but the kids’ rooms in particular should be prioritized. Why? Because kids need little to no hanging space for one and most closets are fit for adults. So you end up hanging clothes (emphasis on YOU) that would be better folded, waste the vertical space provided in the closet and your kid hardly ever interacts with the place they are supposed to be keeping their stuff. This makes for bad habits down the road. If you invest in a system designed specifically for your space (lots of options from Elfa to Ikea to California Closets) you can design pullouts that store the every-day things where kids can reach them and reserve the higher spaces for occasional-use items. If you design right you may also be able to forgo a dresser in the bedroom. One recommendation on closet design is to pick something with some flexibility as kids’ needs change as they grow – they won’t always be small so it’s nice when things can move around to accommodate later stages.

the ritual purge

Toys coming out your ears? Start a Ritual Purge practice with your kiddos

Does anyone else have a hard time with birthday or holiday gift ideas because their kid has everything? Our kids have so much crap, it seems to pile up incessantly and we are not prepared for the big influx times when all of the gifts from outside sources add to the mayhem. Because I’m such a geek and get so much pleasure out of purging I started a ritual when my kids were small that has served us really well throughout the years. About once a year (it was twice when they were small), timed before birthdays or Christmas I would do a purge with them. When they were young the purge focused on toys, as they got older we focused on clothes. We would sit together and pull out their stuff, pull out the things they wanted to donate, find things that had been lost for months and reorganize what was left. If this sounds like a not-so-fun project to you I hear you. It’s all in the positioning. I have 3 kids and so positioned this time as special on-on-one time for me and said child. We played music or put on a special movie in the background while we worked. They got their favorite thing for lunch. And we celebrated at the end with ice cream/frozen yogurt/Starbucks, depending on the age/stage. The chore was cloaked in everything they love – it got the dopamine-dispensers acting up in their brains. Because of the positive associations my plan worked like a charm and my kids got so used to the purge as a ritual that there was little-to-no resistance to it as they got older. In addition to the obvious pleasure derived from the finished product of an organized space, they also learn about prioritizing, donating to others less privileged and being mindful about future purchases. Full disclosure we have not done one of these together in a while but I have grand plans of execution for each of my 3 as they fly the coop in the next couple of months.

Kids are simple creatures but they are also really smart. They are always watching and learning, even when you don’t realize it. If you make habits easy for them to adopt and fun to execute they will be more likely to carry those habits throughout their lives, even with the inevitable bumps in the road (there is a reason I am not using images of my children’s rooms for this post.) Helping your kids stay organized makes life a little bit easier on you as well, and you may even get some quality time with them in the process!

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