How to Help Your Child Get (and Stay) Organized

Neat freaks are made, not born. Organizing pro Liz Jenkins reveals the most effective ways to teach your child good habits -- and ensure that they stick.

Some kids have natural organizational tendencies. Others are “clutter blind.” But they all experience frustration when they can't find what they need, and they all can learn to avoid those moments by staying ahead of clutter. Parents, try these tips from Liz Jenkins of National Association of Professional Organizers to get kids revved up about organization -- and to take some mess-management pressure off of yourselves.

Photography by: Helen Norman

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Let nothing be homeless. This basic organizing principle is especially true for kids. How can they pick up after themselves if they don’t know what that means? Let them help you define a “home” for each item by asking questions about their play habits. Do Barbie and My Little Pony always hang out together? Do the markers all work, and should they perhaps live near the coloring books? Will sorting Legos by size make it easier to build an awesome tower? Creating a workable order will engage and empower them, and give maintenance an incentive beyond “because I said so.”

Contain the madness. I recommend using labeled bins in a standard size and color. If they’re too young to understand written labels, a fun alternative is to let them draw their own -- say, a teddy bear to represent the stuffed animal bin. You can laminate these pictures and tape them to the outside.


Whatever you do, please don’t shove everything into one of those old-fashioned toy chests! Everything falls to the bottom -- kids will pull it all out to find one thing, and then flee the scene to play with it. You don’t have to go overboard sorting bits and pieces, but your system should be more complex than just “visible” or “hidden.”


Make it to go. A great way to keep hobby-related gear under control is to make “go bags” for dance, soccer, swimming, and the like. Each activity gets its own tote or duffel, which can be a permanent home for related paraphernalia that you keep in a mud room or by the door. It doesn’t need to be the bare minimum for one practice -- go ahead and keep all the soccer jerseys in there, or load up a few extra towels. Doing this saves you the hassle of packing a bag each day -- not to mention you’ll never show up for practice unprepared. Just remember to do routine checks for stray granola bar wrappers and items that need washing.

Hoard smart. Every kid needs two things: a “memory box” and a “treasure shelf.” A memory box is a standard bin to hold art projects, birthday cards, and other sentimental objects. It can live under the bed, on a closet shelf, or even in another room, but it should be accessible enough that kids will surrender their memories in good faith. Flashier items like trophies and craft projects can go on the treasure shelf, which should be a high bookshelf or freestanding space. It makes much more sense to store items here than on a desk or dresser you use every day, and this will put a cap on the number of things worth hanging on to.


Model good behavior. Let kids observe how you manage your own time and belongings. Of course they won’t want to stand there and watch you sort socks, but if you think aloud for their benefit, they’ll grow to understand the reasoning behind how you run your life. This extends to things like purchasing patterns, which have a huge impact on what you’ll be organizing later! I might say, “I was looking through my shoes the other day and realized I need some new pumps for work. I think I’ll put them on my shopping list.” Then, when we’re out and I find some shoes, I can reference that conversation to show how the need comes full circle. It adds an extra layer of accountability for me, and it helps my daughter learn to ask mindful questions on her own.


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