Little kids can make a big mess. Toys everywhere, juice boxes perched on tables, teeny tiny shoes and sneakers tossed here and there and pastel colored everything. You get the picture. And whether you have or had children you’ve probably visited a home that was simply a shambles caused (mostly) by these messy pint sized tykes.
It really doesn’t have to be that way. As a professional organizer in NYC I’ve learned that children might be naturally messy (and notice that I said “might”) but they can certainly be trained to be organized. And if they are simply too young to absorb such training, well, there are ways to keep things organized on your own. My home organizing tips have proven invaluable for parents.
The very first thing that you must do when you share your home with children, young or old, is to come to terms with your definition of organized. What worked when you were single or even when you became a couple (and that’s when the definition probably changed as well) is simply going to be different when you have children. Children come with “stuff.” You might have a designated “place” for it but it is “stuff” nonetheless. You’ll be less stressed and frankly more fun to be around if you can establish a realistic definition of an organized home. That’s one of my most important home organizing tips for parents.
If your children are old enough to participate in keeping their space organized then they must do so. We don’t expect a 6-month old to put away their rattle and pacifier. We can easily expect a three year old to put away their toys after they have played with them. It’s up to you, the adult, to set the rules, teach your child what to do so they can start to develop good habits and it is also up to you as the parent to make certain that they are observed. Establishing rules that are then broken at every turn is a waste of time and sets a very poor example. Break a rule and there must be some sort of consequence or you can never change behavior.
Make it easy for your children to put things away. There are so many fantastic containers and storage units that are perfect for little hands and the storage of games, dolls, and all sorts of toys. The key is to make certain that these containers are easily accessible and not out of reach. Make the act of putting things away a game in itself. Set a (realistic) time limit, play some music and don’t make it an onerous chore.
Make certain that you clean up as you go. Finished with the trucks and toy soldiers; great, then put them away before you and / or your children embark on an afternoon of coloring or Legos. It’s so much easier to clean up a small mess than to wait until the end of the day when the entire room or house is in disarray. As a professional organizer in NYC, I’ve needed to master this art myself. It works!
Depending upon the size of your home you may want to designate a specific location in your house as the “play area.” This doesn’t mean that the children cannot play in other locations; it simply means that the majority of their toys and play activities will be conducted in this part of the house. Some rooms can even be off limits and while there is certainly a school of parenting that calls for kids to be allowed to do pretty much whatever they want wherever they want to do it, boundaries often help to keep everyone sane and the space more organized. Kids need to learn how to live “with” the rest of the household and understand that everything has its place, even Mommy and Daddy’s “stuff.”
It’s difficult to just say “no” to the idea of buying more fun “stuff” for your kids but it’s wise to ask yourself “do they need it” and “do I have a place for it” before taking out your credit card and buying the newest toy du jour. Learn to recycle the toys that you already have. Put some away for a few months and it’s remarkable how interesting they will be once they re-emerge.
Keep “like” toys and play things together. Art supplies should be separate from blocks separate from dolls…you get the idea. Keeping things separate by category makes it easier to keep them organized and saves lots of time when it’s time to put everything away.
Remember that children mimic what they observe and so if your own “stuff” is strewn everywhere you can’t much expect that your children will do anything differently. Having children can be chaotic enough; keeping their “stuff” in check will help to bring a measure of calm and orderliness to your home.