Raising The Next Generation Of Organizers

Yesterday I finished with my bi-annual project of helping each of my girls deep clean their rooms. I spread this project out over different days and times, because I wanted to make sure I had a fresh reserve of patience for each child. Because, lets face it, young children won’t have quick decision-making powers or super focus or long attention spans for cleaning. A lot of parents might use that as an excuse to deep clean a child’s room for them, because that would be way quicker and easier! BUT, this process is about so much more than the result of a clean room, we are building skills in our children so that as adults they don’t have to struggle with disorganization.

Let’s get into the details of how to make these deep cleans successful educational experiences. First of all, deep cleaning each child’s room should happen at least a few times a year so that any buildup can’t get too awful. I suggest making traditions out of it (like I talk about in Find Your Reason To Purge). In our home, we do it two times a year, in the spring and fall, because my girls get the proceeds from selling their unwanted toys at the bi-annual consignment sale or neighborhood garage sale.

How it works:
– You’ll need 3 bags or boxes, so that you can separate things that are leaving the room into 3 categories, TRASH, DONATE/SELL, PUT AWAY.
– Send other children to play elsewhere and don’t bring distractions (like a phone) into your child’s room. You want to give your child your undivided attention.
– If the bed isn’t made, make that together.
– Start with pulling everything out of the closet, drawers, dresser tops, and other crevices. Bring it all out to the center of the room and start sorting into the 3 boxes.
– Put items you are keeping away, making sure to keep “like with like”.
– Finish this off with dusting and vacuuming, and the job is done.

The plan sounds easy enough, right? Kind of. The hard part is actually letting your children feel in charge of what they keep and what is trash. I have varying levels of organization within my children. One personality in general wants to keep everything. Over time I’ve already noticed an improvement in her ability to let go! *Organization can be learned, it does not have to be instinctive! So, when this child wants to keep something that I think might be trash or is no longer of use to her, I gently tell her my opinions about WHY it might be trash or WHY I think she doesn’t need it. This is where that reserve of patience is needed, because we have to go slow and give our children a chance to process. The most important part is: honor their choice without judgement. And watch out for the judgement we give with facial expressions and our tone of voice. I’ve noticed that when my daughter feels in control and not on the defensive, she relaxes and actually gets rid of a ton more!

When we stop to explain the WHYs of getting rid of things, that is when our children start to learn vital organizing skills and practice asking themselves important questions. Would this be of use to anyone? (trash) Do I use this anymore? (give/sell) Do I still love this or have my tastes changed? (decorative or whimsical things) How and when will I use this? (keepers)

Raising the next generation of organizers doesn’t end with the bi-annual deep cleans, there is some maintenance involved.

Put your kids regularly in charge of cleaning their own space. Each of my girls is lucky enough to have their own room, so their personal space is clearly defined. If your children share a room, you may want to start by helping your children understand the boundaries of their personal space, and so, their area of responsibility in their room. Maybe your child’s area is half the closet, their own bed and dresser, and the floor space next to the bed. You don’t need to partition anything off with tape, but it is good for children to have clear expectations, so when we say “go clean your room”, they know what that means. Important: STOP YOURSELF FROM CLEANING FOR THEM! You are not helping them, you are handicapping them. None of my children’s rooms are as organized or clean as if I had done it myself. Still, I can honestly say that it doesn’t bother me. Their rooms are clean enough. They clean them once a week, including dusting and vacuuming.

Some kids take to this a lot differently, just like personalities vary so much from person to person. My youngest is so organized that Matt and I often joke about how we are raising her to take over my organizing business when she is 12. My real hope, however, is that by then I’ll have 3 little professional organizers, 1 who came by the talent naturally and 2 who came by the talent with a lot of work, coaching, and love.


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*Sometime I’ll have to tell you Matt’s transformation from a hoarder when we got married  (such as, he had 2 rooms of computer equipment, neatly organized, just more than any 1 human could ever need) to someone who makes completely sensible decisions about what to keep – it has been an amazing journey! You could say my daughter who tends toward hoarding comes by it honestly. But, like her dad, I expect a full recovery.

11 thoughts on “Raising The Next Generation Of Organizers

  1. I can’t wait until my little one gets big enough to start training her to be involved in maintaining the household. And I look forward to your “Hoarding Husband” story. My mother is a hoarder, so in the meantime, I’ll be taking the list of questions to her soon so she can maybe learn to let go of things. I really just want to get her to pack things up so its out of her wee, little house and, at the very least, in storage. Yep, that would be amazing.

  2. Mary I love your blog! I wish organization was as natural for me as it is you! I hope the business is going well and we can’t wait to see you this summer!

  3. I am a hoarder but this year I have been making a really big effort to become more organised. I am buying small storage bins, clear jars, drawer dividers (some are hand made just out of cardboard) putting labels on things, and purging. My husband finally took some notice last night and that gave me a little thrill. Part of my hoarding problem stems from my love of yard sales and being able to buy an item for less than $5. But in my attempt to let go of items, I am realizing that I only paid $5 for it, it can go. I just found your site a few days ago and I’ll be following it closley. My son is 4 and I think it is time that he start cleaning his own room. Thanks for the tips.

  4. Mary…I don’t have children of my own, but being a school teacher has taught me plenty about letting others learn through the process of doing. My mom did all of the cleaning in the house when we were growing up. Today, I keep a tidy house, but I never really learned to declutter. I love your strategy of putting the children in charge and owning their own choices. Bravo!

  5. Hi, I would like to take this time to thank you so much for your help. At the age of 10 my mother got sick and I had the responsibility to take care of the household. Cooking, cleaning and doing laundry. Not an easy task for a 10 year old, and what of course I did as a child I also did as an adult, yea sometimes when I cleaned I did a good job, but it never last long before things got out of control again. It wasn’t until I came on this site that I learned about stability and how to keep with one project at a time. Although my home is not the way I would like it to be yet, I can, and I will be one of your success stories. These past few weeks have been difficult because I haven’t been feeling well, and everything was left for me to do when I felt better. Place is a mess again. It’s not easy when nobody is on the same page as you, but that’s not going to stop me, oh I felt like throwing my arms up in the air and say to hack with this, but I am determine to get my home the way I want it to be. Even if I have to take a few steps back I would be taking a few steps forward into a successful future and learning how to stop doing the same old thing of failure. Thank you for helping me press forward. :D <3

    1. Thanks for sharing your story. Please keep moving forward, there is so much more peace there than in focusing on things outside our control. Hugs to you!

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