Make De-Cluttering a Family Affair

By Cathy Elcik

If you’re ready to bring order to your hectic, cluttered life, don’t buy even a single drawer organizer before you learn the principles of organization.

Time to Get OrganizedWhether we’re searching every nook of our homes for a child’s missing shoe or we can’t seem to follow a schedule that gets everyone out the door in the morning, most of us dream of the day we’ll head an efficient, organized, clutter-free household.

Fortunately, being organized and clutter-free is a skill that any parent can learn.

“So many people start off with shame and feel like they’re somehow failures – that they should be able to do this,” says professional organizer Elizabeth Golding. “But it’s such a widespread problem.”

If you’re ready to bring order to your hectic, cluttered life, don’t buy even a single drawer organizer before you learn the principles of organization. Like a dieter who loses weight by keeping track of portion sizes and eating a balanced diet, you can’t help but get organized when you remember these two principles:

Follow the mantra: A place for everything and everything in its place. Generally, a room becomes cluttered for one reason: There are no clearly designated places for your things. If you don’t have a system and you’re holding onto everything that comes through the door, it’s going to be difficult to stay neat.

“Have the things that you love around you, and the other stuff either you can get rid of or you can find an alternative place to store it,” Golding advises. “It’s a balancing act between allowing yourself to be sentimental and having some mementoes. There’s a difference between saying, I should keep something versus I want to keep something. You don’t have room or time to deal with the shoulds, so give yourself permission to get rid of those things.”

Look at your house as a collection of zones.The two biggest principles of organizing are collecting like with like and then storing things in the room where they’ll be used, Golding says. “Look at an area of your house and ask what activities typically occur there. Whether it’s relaxing, watching TV or getting ready to get out the door, you have to create zones for that and then communicate them to your kids.” Remember, organization doesn’t happen overnight – it’s a process of changing the way you think about the stuff in your life.“Organization is a collection of new habits that have to be built up one small piece at a time,” the organizer notes. “When [the habits] become solid, like getting keys on the hook, you can add another thing. It’s like putting beads on a string; one at a time.

Getting Started

As you tour your house looking for areas that need to be organized, the entire process can seem overwhelming. The good news is that you can make steady progress by committing as little as 10 minutes a day to organizing. Here are a few tips to help you tackle the beginning stages of your organization .

Purge. Families need to be as tough as possible when it comes time to get rid of clutter. Organizers suggest periodically evaluating whether something’s actually serving your family any more. Ask yourself, your spouse and your kids when they last used an item. If it’s been a while, do they still need it? Is there someone you can give it to?

Freeze your buying. Unless you want to end up with things shoved in boxes and baskets, you shouldn’t buy tools for organization until you’ve gotten rid of the things you don’t need anymore and decided on a system that will best meet your family’s needs.

Keep it simple. If you want even your youngest kids to help, you’ve got to make the system simple enough that even they can follow it. Choose color-coded bins for specific toys – better yet, affix pictures of the kind of toy that goes in each space to each bin. Above all, don’t make your system so complicated that you can’t maintain them.

Organizing a home is a team effort; it cannot involve constant fighting between parent and child about dirty laundry or messy bedrooms. Here are some ways to ensure that all family members participate:

• Delegate tasks according to people’s strengths. Children can become overwhelmed by a room or a space that is filled with too much clutter. With young children, either work on that space as a team or have them do just a little at a time.

Pick your battles. Don’t nag kids about clutter; they’ll end up rebelling by refusing to keep areas clutter-free. But do set rules about putting things away after they’ve been used. Some parents even confiscate a toy or object that was left out and keep it hidden away for a week to teach kids to take better care of the things they use. Don’t stress about a child’s messy room; it really isn’t your space, anyway. But do set rules about what cannot happen in a child’s room – no discarded food, dirty dishes or clean clothes on the floor.

Start with a family meeting. Hold a family meeting about organizing your house. A family meeting gives kids a chance to chime in if they feel their needs aren’t being met – it also helps get both parents on the same page, which may minimize the division that can be caused when one parent is more invested in organization than the other.

• Be firm about your expectations. Create consequences, such as barring certain privileges (TV, play dates, etc.) until some toys that were left out are put away, until a bed is made or a bureau is neatened up. Giving children responsibility helps build organization.

Sticking With It

No sooner do you get your house in order than you have to ask the next big question: How do I keep it that way?

“A lot of people think that they’re going to get organized and it’s going to stay that way,” says Monique Chaplin, a professional organizer and clinical social worker. “The reality is that you have to maintain the organization and that can be a real hurdle.”

Here are a few suggestions to make sure your newly organized space stays that way:

Purge again and again. Go through things periodically rather than collecting an entire year’s worth of riff-raff. You may even find yourself wondering why you kept things when you went through your desk drawer the month before.

• Make time to stay organized. Too many busy parents schedule every minute of their day without leaving wiggle room for the unexpected demand – let alone any time for maintaining organization.

Learn to say no. Make a list of the things that are important to you. “When you prioritize what matters to you, it’s easier to prioritize what you need to do,” Chaplin says. Remember to think about your big goals. If a piece of clutter doesn’t fit into the big picture, parents have to give themselves permission to say no.

Related reading:

Always follow the The 10 Commandments of Conquering Clutter

Cathy Elcik is a freelance writer and a former editor for United Parenting Publications.