Organizing children. A phrase sure to strike terror in the best of parents! But it is never too early to teach life-long organizational skills. The key is to make it easy and fun. Let your child help pick out storage products and décor. Listen to music while working. Talk and reminisce about the toys and “stuff” as you go through it all. Working with your child to clean, organize, and maintain his space gives you an opportunity to spend quality time together and get to know each other better.
As with any organizing project, begin with an idea of what is working, what is not working, and why you want to be more organized. Hooks in the front hallway may be great for coats and backpacks. The dirty clothes thrown in the bottom of the closet may not be so great. The color-coordinated binder and folders may be too elaborate for a young child, but perfect for his older sister. Parents might want their children organized so they can put an end to morning madness and scrambling for last minute supplies. Children may want to hear less nagging from their parents, have more room for play, and take better care of their toys and supplies. Have fun discussing and setting these goals together.
Next, plan how the room will look and what spaces, or zones, you will create. This depends on your child’s age and personality. A preschool child needs a large play area, a table or desk for quiet play, a dressing area, and a bed. School-age children need a space for games and puzzles, large play area, desk or table for study, dressing area and a bed. Tweens and teen need space for their books and supplies and childhood mementos, a quiet study area, dressing area, and bed. Is your daughter a shoe-hound? You might need to plan for extra closet space. Does your son cherish his action figures? An extra shelf would be handy. This is when you can talk, plan and share ideas. This is also a great time to update the furnishings and décor. When a child is proud of his room and feels it reflects his personality, he is more apt to keep it neat and clean.
The next steps are to sort and purge. Most children have more toys than they will EVER play with. Work with your child to decide which ones need a new home. Broken or worn out toys and games with missing pieces can usually be thrown away. Outgrown toys and other never-used ones can be donated, passed down, or sold at your next garage sale. Toys, artwork, and gifts that are sentimental or part of a collection or set can be stored or artfully displayed. Finally, the played-with toys can be sorted by category or use. Be ruthless! Find everything, in every corner, and decide its fate. If children have a say in the decision making and if the storage system makes sense to them, they are more likely to continue with it.
Every item you keep needs a home. Hammocks are wonderful for stuffed animals and dolls. Clear bins, baskets, and dishpans all work well for toys. Trucks and cars, dolls and accessories, Legos, and action figures, should all be stored by groups for easy access. Labels and/or pictures on the containers make clean-up easier and more fun. Books can go on shelves, in magazine racks or in baskets. You can store CD’s and DVD’s on shelves or in racks. Be creative in your storage ideas! Utilize space under the bed with short bins, boxes, or even an inflatable wading pool for toys. Don't forget vertical space. Over-the-door hangers can hold small toys and supplies.
Go through the same process with clothing. Hang an extra rod from the higher rod to instantly double storage space and make clothes easier for young children to reach. Grouping by outfit works for some children. Pants, shirts, skirts, separated into each category works better for others. Hanging a rack for shoes can free the floor space. Dresser drawers should each hold specific items: sock drawer, shorts drawer, T-shirt drawer, etc. The key, again, is to make it as sensible and easy for your child as possible. Using a laundry basket on wheels or with a removable bag makes it more likely that dirty clothes will make it to the laundry room.
School age children and teens need a specific study space. Make sure their desk has enough room for working, adequate storage for supplies, and is well-lit. If a room is small, or is shared by siblings, you may want a space away from the bedroom for study. A nook in a quiet corner works well. Be sensitive to your child’s unique needs. Some study better in silence. Others need music or white noise to concentrate.
Keeping up with a well-organized system is important. Encourage daily clean up and establish the habit of putting one thing away before taking out another. Some parents follow a “one in-one out” guideline: when a new toy is received or bought, give or throw away another. Plan to go through a similar organizing process every year or so, updating, redecorating and purging. Children grow and mature so fast that they will need this. The best times are after Christmas or birthdays, when there is an influx of new toys.
Finally, remember that every child is different and special. The room may never look how you want it to, but encourage and reward their efforts. Separate a messy room from the heart and personality of your child. As long as your child is able to function and easily find what he needs, it needn’t be perfect.
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