Technology is a wonderful thing… except for when it drives you crazy!
If you have children, you may wonder how to involve them in getting and staying organized. Here are a few ideas of what you can do by age.
PRESCHOOL (age 2-5)
Preschoolers are still developing basic skills, so the idea at this age is you lead, they follow.
- Set up the systems. Assign a “home” for all the child’s belongings (including clothing, toys, craft supplies, child-sized dishes, etc.)
- Label as much as possible. At this age, labels should be pictures (drawn or printed from the computer).
- Designate times throughout the day for putting items away, and include the child in the process (even if they are reluctant).
- Periodically cull through belongings and decide what to give away/trash.
- Monitor the rate at which new items enter the space – you are the gatekeeper!
The children can be expected to:
- Make their bed in the morning (once they are out of the crib… and it won’t be perfect)
- Return toys to any location they can reach (e.g. open shelving for larger items, open topped bins & baskets for smaller items)
- Hang clothing on hooks (including dress-up clothes)
- Put books in a basket or bin on the floor
- Sort toys by color or category (e.g. dolls vs. trucks)
- Put dirty clothes in the hamper
- Help put away groceries and dishes
ELEMENTARY (ages 6-10)
Kids are rapidly acquiring skills during this timeframe, and they will be able to do more each year. Remember to keep entrusting children with more responsibility, while being cognizant that every child will be a bit different.
- Talk with children about where to store new items when they come in the house (rather than just assigning a space)
- Adapt spaces to emerging interests and changing needs (e.g. homework, activities, hobbies).
- Introduce labels with words
- Provide incentives for maintaining a space well (e.g. checks on a chart, week-end rewards, etc.)
The children can be expected to:
- Make their bed each morning
- Put toys/school supplies/toiletries away where they can reach and access. (Older kids can remove lids, but since they can be a hassle, avoid them when possible.)
- Hang clothing and towels on hooks. Older children can use hangars/towel bars.
- Return books to a shelf, spine facing out (Keep library books in a separate spot)
- Put dirty clothes in a hamper, sort laundry into categories, carry laundry baskets, put clean clothes away
- Take paperwork out of the backpack and put it in a tray/location
- Bring lunchboxes to the counter, open them and throw away trash
- Unload groceries, load & unload the dishwasher.
MIDDLE SCHOOL (ages 11-13)
Middle school represents a shift from a space primarily filled with toys to a space filled with school supplies, electronics, and recreational supplies. By the end of middle school, your goal is for them to be the primary managers of their own things.
- Provide storage space for supplies the young person needs (bags for each activity, racks for sports racquets/sticks/skis, drawer space for dance clothes, etc.)
- Provide a workspace where the student can work on a computer and charge electronic devices
- Ask children where they are going to put any new item that comes into the space. If they can’t identify a sufficient space, offer to help. If they refuse to identify a space, consider removing the item until they are willing to find a home.
- Start enforcing the “one in, one out” rule. Teach them to understand that space is limited.
- Discuss calendar management and planning. Include them in a weekly planning meeting to overview what they have coming up in the week, including activities and school deadlines.
Young people can be expected to:
- Make their beds and maintain their room (or part of a room) according to a routine schedule (e.g. once a week)
- Put their belongings away in shared spaces
- Do their own laundry
- Be responsible for getting parents to sign any necessary paperwork.
- Take ownership of schoolwork deadlines
- Maintain a planner or assignment pad to track their responsibilities and commitments
- Own the responsibility for having what they need, when they need it.
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This is certainly not a comprehensive list… and NOT a list to make you feel guilty if you haven’t hit particular milestones. Consider it a tool and guideline (for more on what to teach teenagers before they leave home, click here.)
What organizing skills have you worked on at specific ages? What skills are you still trying to develop as an adult?
Are you ready to get organized, but aren’t sure exactly what to do? Once you’ve sorted your belongings, its time to establish storage. But what exactly does good storage look like? Here is what you need to know.
GOOD STORAGE IS…
The odds of you putting an item away (instead of simply setting it down) increase dramatically if you make it easy. When setting up storage, remove any barriers that discourage you from using it:
Don’t like hangars? Install hooks.
Hate removing lids from boxes? Add shelves so boxes don’t need to be stacked on top of each other.
Hate going upstairs? Establish a storage location on the first floor, or designate a container on the stairs to grab whenever you go up.
When deciding where to store something, always ask yourself, “If I had to find this, where is the first place I would look?” After all, it’s important to store items in a place where you can easily find them… it’s all about what makes sense to your brain.
Not every item needs to be equally accessible. Some things you use every day, some you use periodically, and some you are holding onto “just in case.” To maximize efficiency, store items according to how frequently you need them. For example:
- If you work at a desk, the drawers you can reach without having to get out of your chair are your “prime real estate.” Reserve these drawers for the supplies you regularly need, such as pens, staples, paper clips, and current files. The same concept applies to all products you regularly use. If you touch it (almost) daily, it belongs on the eye level shelf, the nearby drawer, etc.
- For those items you pull out periodically, such as reference files or the fine china, designate storage locations that are accessible, even if perhaps a bit less convenient. Examples here include the file cabinet across the room, the top shelf of a pantry, or the back of a corner cabinet.
- Lastly, for those items you are keeping “just in case,” utilize the most remote locations in your space, such as the attic with the pull down stairs, the box at the bottom of the stack, or even an offsite storage location (for more thoughts on self-storage click here.)
Putting a label on a container/space is the single most effective tool you have for ensuring that users put items away properly. Labels help us remember what goes where, and make us feel guilty if we put something where it shouldn’t be. Labels are also helpful when multiple users share one storage location (e.g. the junk drawer or the supply cabinet.) A label can be anything from a handwritten piece of masking tape to a decorative decal.
[NOTE: if you really struggle with putting items back in the right container, utilize clear containers. Seeing what is inside is like a giant label!]
To read more about labels, click here.
Storage containers need to “fit” the items they hold. Toss a handful of paper clips loose into a drawer and you will shortly have a mess. Always subdivide large spaces when storing smaller items. Drawer organizers, shelf dividers, bins, baskets and boxes can all be used to define areas of a shelf or drawer. And while there are many products on the market, you probably have at least some items on hand (e.g. a cereal box you cut to size) that will work.
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Effective storage is the cornerstone of an ordered space. What storage tricks work well for you?