Our children bring much joy to our lives, but it's hard to focus on that when you just stepped on another Lego with bare feet. Kids are the cause of much of our homes' clutter, so what can we do to prevent some of that, or at least feel better about how we're preparing them for their own adult lives?
1. Primarily, we want to be a good example for our kids in many ways, and organizing habits are something that kids do observe and absorb. Start pointing things out to them as they are old enough to understand. "Mommy is checking my calendar first before I say yes to Aunt Judy about the picnic." "I write everything down so I won't forget." "Every day I clean up the toys so I won't step on them and get hurt."
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2. Kids should know that just as we have homes for ourselves, things also have their own homes. The old saying, "A place for everything and everything in its place" is a great adage, but I don't quote that to promote a perfectionistic ideal. It's a rule of thumb, and I do hope that you live joyfully and messily in your homes as a part of real life. The key is that things do have a home where you know how to put them back quickly and easily soon enough after using them. Labeling shows kids where the homes exist and even helps younger kids with reading skills.
3. Teach children as age-appropriate how to use calendars, to-do lists, and checklists. Schools often provide kids with a daily planner, and you can help guide them to write in it and check it each day. When there are chores or tasks they can do, always write them down on paper and put a check box next to each so they can experience the satisfaction of crossing things off a list. (Using lists also reduces nagging and makes you one step removed from being "the bad guy" who is making them do the chores!) And when you are packing for a trip, give kids their own packing lists. You will need to check their work, but it promotes the concept of having procedures to follow.
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4. Teach kids that homes need regular routines and habits to stay clean and maintained. Have them help each evening to clean up what they have taken out. Back to school is a perfect time to teach them about going through your clothing and assessing it at least once a year. What still fits? What can we donate? Watch this video about creating a "Donation Station" so kids know where to put things they no longer want to keep. You can take kids with you to Goodwill® when you drop off your items, explaining that donating keeps usable items out of the landfill and the sale of them helps people get jobs and services in your town.
5. Whatever we do, we have to remember that kids are never going to be as diligent as we are about keeping the house clean (unless you happen to have an extremely unusual child who likes to vacuum!). We can teach them many things but they may not "stick" or show up until they are young adults and responsible for their own living spaces. Regardless, we keep on teaching and reinforcing these habits and watch for signs that it's sinking in.
-By Lorie Marrero, organizing expert and best-selling author of The Clutter Diet: The Skinny on Organizing Your Home and Taking Control of Your Life
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