By Kristin Bailey Murphy

Mom Buried in Toy Landslide

When your kids' organizational system consists of cramming every toy, book and article of clothing they own into the closet, a clutter avalanche is just waiting to happen.

It may be easier and faster to take care of it yourself, but that doesn’t help your kids learn responsibility and gain organizational skills. And if you don’t teach them how to pick up after themselves, they’re not likely to do it.

Help your kids take control of their stuff with this step-by-step guide.

Give Them a Say

Asking your kids where they want things to go will help them feel invested in the new system -- and motivate them to stick to it later.

“If you don't involve your kids, then all you are is the maid," warns Debbie Williams, who wrote Organized Kidz: E-Z Solutions for Clutter-Free Living. Or worse yet, the dreaded taskmaster.

Sort It Out

Get four boxes and label them “Keep,” “Trash,” “Give away/sell” and “Undecided.”  Start with one item and ask your child what box it should go in. By having him think about what he actually uses -- “Do I really need four watches and six baseballs?” -- rather than just trying to find room to store it all, you're teaching him to live more simply, according to Williams.

Take Action

Once you've sorted through everything, it's time to deal with the boxes. Start with the one headed for the trash. Walk it out to the curb with your child and talk with him about how good it feels to get rid of things that really belong in the garbage.

Next, tackle the “Undecided” box. Help your child make the tough decisions about what to keep and what to give or throw away. Go through the box, sorting the remaining items into one of the other three categories.

Finally, talk to your child about where he’d like to give the items in the "Give away/sell" box, whether it’s to charity or to extended family members as hand-me-downs. Reesie Maple, 35, of Helena, Ala., gave the contents of her son's latest giveaway box to an orphanage. "At first it was difficult for Nash to let his things go," she says, "but once I explained how he was helping someone else in need, he actually enjoyed cleaning out his closet and toys." Another option is to take items to a resale shop and use the profits to buy new shoes and clothes for your child to grow into.

Find a Place for It All

Now it's time to organize what's in that "Keep" box."A lot of organizers tell you that everything in a child's room should be low to keep items at their eye level, but remember that as kids grow, their eye level gets higher," says Williams.

Choose stacking tubs or basic stacking shelves that you can place low and horizontal when children are younger, then stack vertically as they get older. Label bins or shelves with pictures to help reinforce what goes where. "Whenever my daughter or I put things away," says Gemima Smith, 35, of Los Angeles, "we talk about where everything goes to help her remember next time."

For storing shoes or random little doodads, try over-the-door compartmentalized shoe bags. "I like clear ones so kids can see what goes where instead of your having to label it," says Williams.

For outgrown or out-of-season clothes, get under-the-bed tubs. Every six months, switch out winter clothes for summer and give away the castoffs. You could also consider rotating toys in and out of these tubs. "Every few months I bring out the ones I've put away and replace them with ones Ava hasn't played with in a while," says Smith, "so that cuts down on her wanting new things."

Keep It up

To keep clutter at bay, schedule seasonal “sort-throughs” with those same four labeled boxes. You should also set a regular time for daily 15-minute tidy-ups with your child so she learns to pick up her things before messes get the chance to multiply.

Now congratulate yourself and your child -- you just moved a mountain!

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Organized Kidz: E-Z Solutions for Clutter-Free Living


Parenting - Mom Buried in Toy Landslide