Stuffed animals. Blocks. Tiny action figures. Clothes. Piles just for the fun of making piles. Kid bedrooms are dumping grounds for all manner of stuff, and trying to keep their rooms clean and organized can seem like an impossible task. Here are some practical tips from organizational experts to improve your game plan and get your kids to help with keeping their rooms mess-free.
Keep the toy selection minimal
When a space is too cluttered, keeping everything where it belongs can become overwhelming for parents and especially for kids. Emily Conley, owner of The Minimalish Mama Professional Organizing, suggests quality over quantity when it comes to toys. “I am a big believer that less is more when it comes to how many toys kids have access to at any given time,” Conley explains.
She says that playing is the work that children do and having too many tools can make them stressed and confused.
“Imagine if you went into work and found three laptops, a couple iPads, and six phones for you to use,” she says. “It would be overwhelming!”
Conley suggests limiting the toys available to a small number in each category: Building toys, imaginative play, vehicles, and creative play such as Play-Doh or kinetic sand. “Store the rest in totes out of sight, and after a month rotate out the toys,” she says.
Be sure every item has its place
Whether you choose to keep toys only in a child’s room or allow them to migrate to other areas is a personal choice, but Laine Hardman, a professional organizer with Tidy Up in Alexandria, Virginia, says that keeping play items solely in the child’s room could encourage organization. “Sometimes keeping all the little Legos or dress-up clothes in one room versus all over the house makes it more fun for them and is easier to manage,” Hardman says.
What’s more, establishing a designated spot for every item in a child’s room will help keep clutter and disorganization at bay. “Everything needs a clear home,” Conley says. “When kids are having a difficult time picking up, it’s usually because there’s no clearly designated home for their things.”
Help kids learn to organize from an early age
Categorizing, sorting, and organizing items are all important parts of early childhood development. “Kids actually have a sophisticated sense of order and love consistency,” Conley says.
Both experts agree that encouraging children to group similar items together — without being too detailed — is a great way to set them up for success when it comes to cleaning and organizing their rooms. Depending on their age and understanding, create organizing opportunities that keep them interested, increasing the skills as they develop. “If Legos always go in the red bin, and toy cards always go in blue, they can learn the system and maintain it,” Conley says.
Or, Hardman suggests, “you can print out a picture of a car or a doll and put it on that bin.” As they learn to read, you can change the labels accordingly.
As children get older and have formed these habits, you can get their input and implement more structured systems. And if they need a break, flexibility is key. ”If they have had a bad day, you can have one medium ‘sort this tomorrow bin’ and put those away tomorrow,” Hardman says. “Maintain it daily as much as you can.”
And set firm rules for hygiene. When you hit the dreaded teen years and suddenly all of your cups and spoons have disappeared from the kitchen, make sure you set some ground rules with your always-hungry adolescents. “My kids’ rooms were never spotless,” Hardman says, “But I did always ask that dishes and glasses be removed.”
How to organize clothing
During hurried school day mornings, getting kids dressed and out the door can be a messy race. Instead of having kids panic-select their outfit that day, Hardman suggests planning ahead. “I encourage picking outfits the night before so that clean clothes don’t get thrown around in the morning,” she says. “Also, pajamas should be hung on a hook or put under the pillow.”
Instead of saving the task of sorting clothes for the dreaded seasonal turnover, Conley recommends having a designated spot for periodically culling your child’s wardrobe. “Keep a basket or a bin in the top of your child’s closet labeled ‘too small,’” she says. “Anytime they’re getting dressed or you’re folding clothes and find something you know is too small, throw it in there.”
When that basket of “too small” clothing becomes full, Conley says it’s time to decide what to keep for younger siblings and what to donate or sell. “Only keep the best of the best — the items you are positive you will use for a younger sibling,” she says. “You do NOT need to keep all the clothes your kids outgrow stacked in totes in your garage or attic!”
Rotate and donate kids’ items
In addition to having her clients donate clothing, she also encourages them to get rid of toys they no longer need. “Please let them go serve someone else!” she says. “I guarantee there are plenty of families in your community who could really use them.”
For toys that you wish to keep, Conley reiterates her “less is more” philosophy, proposing a small, rotating selection of interesting options. “They play much better, they’re less stressed, and they can quickly put them away when needed,” she says.
Maintain clean habits
A clean bedroom can help lift a child’s mood and make playtime more harmonious. Encourage your child to get into the habit of making the bed each morning, even if it’s as quick as pulling up rumpled sheets. Tuck folded jammies under the pillow, line up the stuffed animals that live on the bed, and stash away the toys. They’ll be happier when they get home each day, and you’ll have less to tackle when they’re not around.
Building your organizational system for keeping a kid’s rooms organized may take some time and revision, but with helpful tips from seasoned experts, you and your child(ren) can rest a little easier at night.