Monday, June 11, 2012

Monday Motivation: How To Teach Your Child To Organize and Clean

Yes, we do have to go there.
We're parents and it's our job to teach our children how to clean and organize what they own.

Now, lest you think I have all the answers and my children's rooms were visions of organized bliss - I have news for you - I'm a failure.

My kid's rooms were decorated. They were creative spaces. They had plenty of storage. And they were almost always a mess. Not a mess that couldn't be cleaned up in 20 minutes but a mess that indicated that a child lived there.

Let me confess - I had to get used to that.  I had an idea that my children's rooms should look like the cute photos in magazines.  I soon found out that just wasn't practical.  It was more important that our children live in a comfortable space where they could learn and be creative. 

I had to get used to stepping over toys and craft supplies. Dolls and legos. Books and books. And did I mention books. We love books. I still have our library of children's books and my children are 21, 27, and 30. My excuse is that I'm a grandma and a preschool teacher and I need them. 
So why, if I never got a handle on my kid's room am I telling you how to organize one? Because it's not about how perfect the room looks. It's about the regular process of purging "the stuff".

Children outgrow and wear out an amazing amount of "stuff". That "stuff" has a tendency to multiply in no time flat and then children get lost in that pile of stuff. Other things get lost in that pile of stuff too. Things like library books, birthday money, retainers, or the last pair of shoes that fit.

To keep the family semi-sane I'm recommending a purge-fest at least twice a year. We always liked to do it during the summer and right before or after Christmas (before Christmas is best but can be a crazy busy time for most families).

Since summer is approaching, why not say "hey kids, wanna have some fun and clean out your rooms?". They'll think you're the coolest parent on the block - not.

Since this is a skill that all children really need to learn, it's time to pull up our sleeves and get to work. If at all possible, DO NOT DO THIS WITHOUT YOUR CHILD. It's their "stuff"!

Here are the steps:
1. Gather your supplies - black trash bags (so you can't see what's in them) for trash, boxes labeled "donate", "belongs elsewhere", "save for sibling", "keepsake", and "to be fixed". I also like to have a piggy bank handy for found money.

2. Start at one side of the room and work your way around. Pick up all clothing you find. Remember, your child is helping you. Don't go through the clothes yet. Just gather into a pile that it out of the way. You'll probably find a few other pieces as you clean and I guarantee you'll find some socks and underwear.

3. Now, start at one side of the room again and pick up large toys. Sort the large toys into either a keep pile or one of the other boxes (see step 1).

4. Start again at one side of the room and gather all of your books. Stack them on the book shelf for now and you'll sort them later. You're just getting them out of the way right now.

5. By now you should be able to see the floor. Gather up toy bins (if you use them) or whatever container your child stores their toys in. Line them up against a wall and begin to pick up the toys on the floor, sorting them into the containers. Sorting is a very valuable skill and most children can do it by the time they are 2 years old. Be sure to check for broken pieces as you sort.

7. If your child is at a reasoning age, have them decide which toys they should keep. Are the toys too young for them? Are they played with regularly? Could someone else use them more?

8. After all of the items are picked up, go back to the books and sort through them, asking the same questions. Be sure to put any books that need repair into the
"to be fixed" container. (see step 1)

9. Check behind and under furniture for any stray items. Try not to be grossed out.

10. Put toy containers away and straighten books. Put larger toys back in their place.

11. Go through clothing, making sure to sort out all clothing that is not being worn or that needs to be repaired or laundered. Put clothing and shoes away. Throw away the trash, add the donate box to your car to drop off at the thrift store, and put the "need to fix" container where you'll be reminded to make repairs.

12. Help your child make their bed.

13. Take a look around the room and compliment your child on a purge well done.

Disclaimer: Your influence on your child will only last so long. Once they are independent enough to go away to college, they will have their own method of purging which usually involves dumping all of their laundry in your laundry room during holidays and leaving most of their belongings in the back seat of their car. Yup. Enjoy their childhood while it lasts.

As we come to the end of the school year, we're faced with a dilemma. What do we do with all of the schoolwork our children have brought home from school. If you're like me, my sentimental side wants to keep everything my child has touched. However, the practical side of me screams "what do I do with all of this stuff?" I'll give you some ideas to keep both sides of your brain happy.

1. At the beginning of the school year, label a small file box for each child.

Storex Economy Portable File Box, Black (61502U01C)

2. Label several hanging files for different areas of paperwork you might want to save for your child. Each child will be different according to their age and activities. Some examples are art, handwriting, poems/stories, awards/pictures, research etc.

Pendaflex Recycled Standard Green 1/5-Cut Tab Hanging File Folders, 25 per Pack (81602)

3. Every time your child brings home a paper, decide first if it is a keeper. You don't have to keep everything. In fact, if you try to keep everything, you will be overcome with paperwork very quickly.

4. If you love it or your child loves it then you might consider keeping it.

5. Once a month, go through what you've kept and decide if anything needs to be thrown out. Maybe your child has a final copy of a poem he wrote. You can safely throw out the rough drafts.

6. At the end of the school year, go through your files and keep only what is special and represents the school year. You should have enough to fill a large manila envelope or a 2 pocket folder. Label the file/folder with the child's name and school year. Place it in a storage bin and store in a dry place. At the end of 12 years, your child will have a bin of memories to enjoy.

Sterilite? 16 Quart Basic Clear Storage Boxes with White Lid

7. If your child has a large piece of artwork or a bulky project, the best thing to do is take a picture of the item. Maybe you can take a picture of your child holding the item. Some artwork is nice to frame. I've seen some very simple artwork matted and framed and it looks beautiful.

8. Now that my children are leaving the nest, I've given them their keepsake bins to keep. Some of the items were kept, but some were thrown away. I feel like I've done my duty and protected their childhood memories. Even so, some of my favorite memories were not my children's memories.

9. If my child made me a mother's day card or a special picture that was just for "Mommy" then I have kept it in my own keepsake box.

 The best way to train our children to take care of their "stuff" is to take care of our own "stuff".   Our own work ethic greatly influences our children. 

Truth is, though, children need to learn to take care of their own belongings and be a part of the family work team.


As parents, we are our children's first teachers. It is our responsibility to teach them the skills they need to be productive in the real world. And really, it's never to young to start.

As soon as children are aware of their surroundings, they are learning about life. If they watch their parents working around the house and their siblings helping out, then they learn that working is important. As they learn to toddle around, they can be shown how to pick up items and put them in a basket.

3-5 year olds can straighten the covers on their beds, pick up some of their toys, set a table, fold dish towels, or feed a pet, learn their phone number and address.

5-7 year olds can wash dishes, sweep a floor, empty waste baskets, put groceries away, make a better bed, set a better table, dust, clean out a sink, or scrub a tub, make phone calls, and order for themselves in a restaurant.

8-10 year olds can empty the dishwasher, fold laundry, clean a bathroom, wash a car, weed a garden, write a thank you note, vacuum and dust, write their activities on a calendar.

11-14 year olds can wash and dry laundry, iron, cut grass, wash cars, cook meals, start a savings account, and babysit.

15-18 year olds can make a budget, grocery shop, detail a car, clean the house - top to bottom, wash windows, make appointments, hold a part time job, and plan for their future.

Lest you think I'm all about child labor, it's really more than that. In our effort to keep "the peace" in our homes, sometimes we find it's easier to just do the work ourselves than go through the effort of teaching and supervising our children as they learn.

I've discovered a few ways to help the process along:

1. Work alongside your child - children learn their work ethic from you. Model and Coach well.

2. Never tell you child to "Go clean your room". That's too big of a job. Give them one job to do at a time.

3. Inspect what they do. If you never inspect their work and give them feedback, they'll never improve. Don't expect perfection at first, just expect the best they can do for their age. Whatever you do, don't let them see you redoing their work. If they have to redo their own work, then so be it.

4. Let your children know they are part of a team - your family team. Learning to work together as a family is good preparation for working outside of the home.

5. Praise your child for a job well done. Teach them to find their reward in working hard and getting things done.

6. Help your children pace themselves and set fun things to do after their hard work. Life is about balance.

Any ideas from parents out there? How do you teach your children life skills?

* Special thanks to my grandson, Jonathan, who is in the photos in this post.  He's a very hard worker and has a wonderful work ethic. 

1 comment:

  1. As I read your post, my favorite line was: "5. By now you should be able to see the floor." At that point, I knew you really understood my kids!!! Haha :) I'm a neat person, but I'm the only neat person in my family. All my attempts to make my children be tidy have failed. At this point I have only one child left at home. (Sigh of relief) Thanks for this post -- much good advice!


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