Start the Year Off Clutter Free
Tired of the chaos and clutter? Well-known organizer Pam Young, aka The House Fairy, offers the following suggestions:
• Plan ahead. Tackle those harried mornings the night before, by packing lunches and backpacks, and choosing the next day’s clothes. Hang a plastic organizer on the back of a door, designating two rows of pockets for each child — anything a child might need quickly in the morning. Use this idea for sports equipment, too, with a tote bag for each sport. The moment a child finishes with cleats or shin guards, they go in the bag. After a uniform is washed, it goes there, too.
• Opt for simplicity. The more toys and belongings kids have, the messier their bedrooms and playrooms. For each new toy received over the holidays, one old one goes to charity. Let the child choose what to give away.
In addition, help children learn to hang on to memories rather than things. Help them take photos or make a scrapbook.
Avoid clutter altogether by weeding out items before they go to the child’s bedroom. Go through party and take-home gifts to decide what your child really wants and needs. Sell everything else at a garage sale. While it may appear that kids tend to want to keep everything, the number of items they will willingly sell may surprise you.
• Make it easy to organize. If closet bars and shelves are too high, or dresser drawers are hard to open, kids won’t bother. A box or basket system can help in organizing closets. Label each box with words for older children or a picture for nonreaders. With this system, Dad, too, can figure out that the ball must go in the bin marked “balls.”
• Invest kids in the process. Kids’ rooms can be fun to organize. Whether you do it with their participation or not is open to debate. Some kids consider it an invasion of privacy. Others like coming home to a room that is efficient and organized. Besides, if kids know a parent will insist on cleaning out the room, they are less likely to hoard or collect unwanted stuff.
• Limit toys. Play areas are challenging to organize because there often is myriad toys, many with small parts. Teach children to pick up and put away one toy or activity before going to another. This concept takes practice and patience.
Consider rotating toys so that they are not all available to the child at the same time. Keep a small toy basket in each room where kids play, or have a bin of toys in the attic or garage that gets switched with the toys in the house after two months.
Enlist children in the cleanup 15 minutes before the end of play time. Assign each child one thing to pick up and one place to put it. Say, “John, pick up all the Legos and put them in this container.” Make it a game by having a race to see who picks up the most toys the fastest.
• Tame the paper tiger. Papers can clutter a child’s life. If you keep too much, you can’t find what’s really important. Consider using a family filing cabinet with a drawer for each child for school papers, soccer schedules and other information. Provide each child a large cardboard “memento box” that leaves the house with the child once he reaches adulthood. The idea of carrying a single box of papers on to adulthood can help kids judge which drawings are worthy of keeping.
Also, use a bulletin board to post weekly activities and possibly one art drawing to be displayed for that week.
• Keep it off the floor. Clothes often land on the floor because there is no hamper in the immediate vicinity. The farther children have to carry dirty clothes, the more likely they will end up in a heap on the floor. Same goes for garbage. Make it fun — install a small basketball hoop above the area for the laundry or wastebasket. This creates a fun way to encourage kids to put socks in a hamper or papers in a basket.
• Be creative. The highway department in Portland, Ore., tags cars that are left abandoned. After 24 hours, the cars are impounded. Use bright orange stickers to tag any belonging that is out of place. If it is still there 24 hours later, the owner is charged 25 cents. Kids love telling on other family members and collecting quarters, too.
Clearing out the clutter and setting up routines for processing your stuff as it comes in the door, can be life-altering. You no longer will hear a small voice ask, “Mom, where is ..,” or “I forgot my homework and got another detention” or “Where’s my clean uniform for the game today?” Try a couple of ideas for three weeks to see if new habits begin to form.