The new school year is in full swing, which means loaded backpacks and kids frazzled by homework, responsibilities at home, sports, and activities. Helping your child get organized so they don’t forget to bring homework to school or cleats to the football game will not only keep your stress level down but also help your child feel more in control of his own life.
“Looking neat is a surface presentation; feeling organized and under control goes much deeper,” says Lisa Bates of Sandwich, mother of three teens and author of Barbie’s in the Horse Bin – Living Better with Organized Children. “Feeling organized is a way of living that I believe allows you to live life to its fullest.”
Bates’ book covers everything from what it means to be organized to tips and tricks that will help families get — and stay — that way.
It’s easy to forget, or not realize, that children are not born organized.
“Organizing is a skill like many others that needs to be taught,” Bates says, adding that organization is about creating routines and systems that are easy to follow. “When systems are developed that morph into daily routines and habits, you are once again tapping into that powerful feeling of control that being organized enables.”
Messy vs. Neat
Thinking organizationally doesn’t come naturally to everyone. People have different temperaments and personalities that all play a part in how someone views the world. One person may be laid back and can tolerate existing in a messy environment, while someone else may be more of a perfectionist and need to have order at all times. This can be tricky for parents if they have one child who is neat and another who is messy, and the two children share a room. “I think the important piece here is to teach them to negotiate their differences,” Bates says. “The ‘neat’ one will have to learn to tolerate a level of ‘messiness’ from other people. The ‘messy’ one will have to learn that her actions have an impact on other people.”
She adds that being neat or messy isn’t the issue, but rather whether a space works for you. The key is being able to easily access the things you need.
It’s true that some kids are born with a natural tendency towards organizing, however that doesn’t mean you can’t teach a messy child how to be more organized. This is why Bates says parents shouldn’t expect any child to have the necessary skills to get organized by a certain age. Instead, she advises that they take into account their child’s strengths and weaknesses and help when needed.
Teaching your child about organization will take patience since these skills need to be developed over time. “Helping them understand that work/organization are ongoing in life from an early age will help them to be self-disciplined in the future,” Bates says.
She adds that opportunities to teach these skills occur daily as a child plays and accomplishes tasks and chores. Simple activities like having your toddler help sort socks or organize books help them learn the skills needed to master organization. Asking your tween or teen to help plan a birthday party is also a way to put the skills into practice.
15 Skills for Organization
Because the concept of organization is so broad, Bates breaks it down into 15 skills that make up what it takes to achieve organization. Some skills overlap, but they all have their own value (this list is not in any particular order).
1. Categorizing – What items are alike?
2. Chronological thinking – What happens next?
3. Containing – How should you store or contain items?
4. Creating – Using imagination to envision what the room or project looks like
5. Estimating – How long will something take? How will it fit in a container?
6. Evaluating – What is the problem?
7. Memorizing – Being able to recall information (Where do we keep items?)
8. Order – Can order be restored easily when things get messy?
9. Planning – What will the project look like?
10. Reusing – Can you give this item, or space, a new purpose?
11. Referencing – Being able to find information to solve a problem
12. Revising – Can this system be more efficient?
13. Sequencing – What should we do first?
14. Sorting – Categorizing items
15. Timing – How long will things take?
Applying these skills in everyday life is essential to helping anyone become more organized.
Whether it’s helping your child organize a room or create a homework routine, Bates offers these simple steps:
1. Step back
Look at things with a fresh perspective by asking a friend or family member to help you see the space in a new way. Sit with your child in the space that you want to help them organize and ask them what they want to use the space for and how they envision it.
2. Have a plan
Know what you’re going to do before you begin. It’s important that you help your child visualize the space (or folder system), then create a plan for getting organized, i.e., what needs to happen first?
Decide what your child will Save, what will go in the Trash, what needs to be Organized, and lastly, stay Focused. If you start organizing a closet, don’t suddenly start trying to organize the bureau in the process. Stay focused on one project at a time.
It may feel like the work you do to organize a room is the hard part, but actually maintenance is the hard part. Also, it doesn’t matter how obvious the plan is to you, no one can read your mind. Make sure everyone in the house is aware of the new system and set your expectations for keeping the space organized. Label things for babysitters, grandparents, or your kids’ friends so that they know where things go.
“Organization takes maintenance and it is an ongoing effort,” Bates notes. “It’s never going to be a one-and-done activity. Spending time organizing is like any other daily, or weekly, activity.”