EACH PERSON HAS A DESIGNATED SPACE
Most classrooms have an area designated for each child to hang his belongings. This fact is made clear by either a photo or name hung in the space. Children don’t toss their jackets on top of another child’s because they have their own space. Not only is this functional, but it also provides a sense of ownership. Cubbies are wonderful, but a simple series of hooks on a wall works quite well. Label them (by name, by color, by design) so that each family member has his/her own.
THE ROOM HAS “ZONES”
Ever notice this? There is typically a small seating area for reading, maybe a table for crafts, a few bins or a mini coatrack for dress up clothes, a couple of shelves with blocks, etc. This helps define “what we do where.” Perhaps you like to read on a couch in the living room, so this is where book storage should be. Crafts typically take place at a kitchen table, so having a few clear (and labeled!) shoeboxes with crayons/markers/pencils in a kitchen cabinet is handy. Blocks can be stacked on a shelf or kept in a bin near a big open floor space. Watch where you gravitate for different activities, and move the supplies nearby.
THERE ISN’T “TOO MUCH”
While classrooms offer a wide variety of play & learning options, they aren’t unlimited. We choose from what we see, and can be overwhelmed if there is too much. Always donate/pitch anything you are no longer using. In addition, consider cutting the number of “available” toys in half, and storing the rest in an out of the way place (e.g. closet, attic, crawlspace). Rotating toys & books keeps them exciting, and limits the amount of clutter. Likewise, always remove holiday items after the holiday has past and store them with your decorations. Limited access to holiday DVDs, games, and toys is what makes them feel special.
STORAGE IS EASY TO USE
Getting family members to clean up isn’t easy, but getting them to reach into cabinets and pull out boxes from underneath piles and pry off lids and squeeze supplies into overstuffed spaces… well, that’s herculean. Frankly, people resist cleaning up if putting things away feels difficult. Do everything you can to make sure each item has a designated “home”, and minimize any obstacles which make tidying unpleasant. Bins on a shelf (without lids!) work well, as do hooks. Use boxes and trays to subdivide large spaces so it is clear what goes where. Finally, ensure that there is sufficient space in the storage location for whatever items are supposed to be kept keep there.
RESTORING ORDER IS PART OF THE DAILY “FLOW”
Watch any classroom and you will see that the students regularly clean up: before snack, before recess, before lunch, before rest time, before the end of the day. See the pattern? Before they move on to another type of activity, they restore order. Avoid leaving a day’s worth of “mess” to be cleaned up at the end of the day, when everyone is exhausted.
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The beauty of these principles is that they aren’t limited to young children. Each one is just as useful to teens and adults as well. By designating simple and appropriate storage spaces for each belonging and family member, limiting the amount of stuff we surround ourselves with, and restoring order regularly, we can be just as organized as a kindergarten.
Which of these do you think you might try? What other techniques work in your space?