As a professional organizer, I often have clients who are literally pulling their hair out of their heads over keeping their child’s room organized. And as a mother of a now adult child who was not particularly happy that I expected her room to have some degree of order, I promise there were many “hair pulling” moments in our home for many years despite my deep affinity for having order in our home and life in general.
With those teen years somewhat of a distant memory (is it possible for a parent to ever forget the teen years completely?), my 25 year old daughter is currently living in a very tiny Brooklyn studio apartment with her boyfriend. How tiny? 400 sq. ft! Yep, it almost qualifies as a now very trendy tiny house/minimalist dwelling. But if they could have an extra 400 sq. ft. without doubling their already ridiculous rent they absolutely would do it.
But that small space has, to some degree, forced her to develop better habits regarding organizing her “stuff”. That and she really loves her boyfriend, therefore, it has motivated her to be more mindful of the space she is sharing with him. I will take that as a win for me. Nevermind I couldn’t get her to switch the laundry from the washing machine to the dryer before the clothes started to smell and develop mildew when she was in high school. My heart is full knowing something I said or did regarding this matter penetrated deep in her brain preparing for the day when she would need to access it without my help. Whether she will ever admit it, well, that’s a whole other story.
Proud Mama moment…my daughter’s little “shrine” to her favorite grocery store from growing up in Florida. Living in NY she has a plethora of food stores within 10 blocks but nothing reminds her of home more than Publix and I love that she created this for her apartment in Brooklyn. It clearly speaks to my organizing heart.
Anyway, I am a huge believer that it is never too early to teach children great organizational skills whether it be about keeping their room in order or anything else in life. It is so important for them to understand taking ownership and responsibility for anything and everything from a very young age. Otherwise, you really are doing them a disservice. Just ask my freshman year college roommate who never picked up anything off the floor without me threatening to throw it out the window. She was nice but a total slob…and it really was her parents fault for not teaching her to clean up after herself.
Unfortunately, there are some parents who simply don’t care themselves and the children end up mirroring their bad habits while others often feel so guilty about asking their children to do the smallest of chores because there is so little time in any given day for them to get their homework done, let alone put away their toys and clothes. But for the love of whatever you believe in…DON’T LET YOUR CHILD GO OFF TO COLLEGE AND/OR INTO ADULTHOOD without learning how to do the dishes (yes, by hand) and laundry as well as some basic organizational skills. They may never thank you, but I know a lot of people like me that they will cross paths with who will be eternally grateful…just saying.
All that said, some kids, just like adults, will never be able to wrap their heads around maintaining order. And while I am not a doctor or therapist, I would say that if this is a huge struggle for your child you really should seek professional help. There may be an underlying cause, like ADHD, and the sooner you know the better chance you will have for creating excellent habits that they will use the remainder of their lives.
Side note: If you are on the fence and unsure about putting your child through a lot of tests, I highly recommend at the very least reaching out to someone I have come to know and really respect with regard to parenting a child with ADHD and/or executive functioning issues, Cindy Goldrich of PTS Coaching to get a general assessment. She offers virtual coaching and webinars that have been life changing for so many parents around the world…yes world! And I promise, this is only an endorsement…I am not getting any referral fees for mentioning her name. I just know that she is so passionate about her chosen profession. She just finished her second book regarding this subject matter and this one she co-authored with her daughter, a special needs teacher here in Colorado. I have so enjoyed hearing about this collaboration and wish them great success once it is published sometime later this year.
My kids were 3 and 6 when their father and I got divorced and there were countless hysterical calls at 6 am or 10 pm asking whether they had left something at my house. I felt bad for them…it wasn’t their fault that their parents got divorced…but it was just one more layer of keeping track of everything that made those years very stressful at times. So if you think it is hard when a child lives under one roof, can you imagine what it is like if they are constantly searching for stuff between two homes?
I am currently working with a client that has an 8 year old daughter. The parents actually never lived together after their daughter was born and so she has always split her time…and her belongings…between two homes. I think one of the reasons the mother hired me was because I related to her situation to some degree. You never want to work with someone on such a personal level who doesn’t “get you” or will judge you in any way so I highly recommend that you find someone that you do share some degree of life experiences and common values, especially in an emotionally charged divorce where one parent is constantly undermining your parenting. Sadly, that does put the child in the middle of a very adult issue. Such is the case with this client and my heart really goes out to her. Luckily, the child is very mature for her age and when her mother told her I would be coming for a few hours she was very much on board.
When I arrived, the mother actually left the house for about an hour to run some errands and I was flattered that she trusted me to be alone with her daughter. Truth be told, I was happy that she wasn’t going to be around at the beginning so I could have her daughter’s undivided attention. Sometimes I find that the parents end up being too much of a distraction or are too overwhelmed themselves, therefore, removing them from the process is a good thing.
So with her mother out the door, we spent a little time talking about whether it bothered her that her room was always a disaster zone.
Do you like your space messy? … She said no which was music to my ears until, of course, I asked the next question.
Why do you think you don’t put you stuff away after using it? … She said she just doesn’t want to…duh!
Do you think you will keep it clean once we finish? … She said she’d get back to me on that. I guess my child psychology skills have not improved since my kids were young.
So once I established where her head was at, we forged ahead and literally removed everything that was on her floor and some items from her closet and on various surfaces out into the hallway. This is a really important part of the process if you are going to attempt to do this on your own because you really do need to truly SEE EVERYTHING you have in a particular room in one giant mound to really provide a visual that you hopefully remember before bringing one more thing into that space again.
From the beginning…this is what the room looked like before we touched anything.
And this was one of the giant piles of “stuff” we removed from the girl’s bedroom…another equally giant pile had to be temporarily staged in the mother’s room or they wouldn’t have been able to get to the stairs.
We then spent the next few hours going through the piles literally piece by piece so the girl could decide whether to keep it, toss it, donate it, sell it or wait on it (aka “undecided”) which unfortunately sometimes is a much bigger sub-pile at first so it usually requires a hard second look either during the same session or at a future to be determined time.
Listen, it is hard enough for adults to do this so asking a small child to go through this exercise is not easy. Be patient and give them some degree of time…not months and probably not even a week but, sure, a few days is fine. I do recommend, though, having boxes, bins or bags readily available to avoid having it visible during the “transition”. If you can see it, you are just going to want to keep it. Hopefully, the “undecided” (or often what I refer to as the “guilt” pile for adults because we tend to attach a lot more emotions to our things as we get older) is somewhat forgotten and more things can get moved to the donate/sell/toss ones in the not too distant future. If it really becomes too difficult for your children to decide then you can always tell them you will keep the box somewhere else for a month and if they don’t ask for anything from it during that time then more than likely you really can let it go.
Side note: When my kids left for camp every summer for two months, I was in their rooms a few hours after their plane had taken off purging everything I could that I knew they wouldn’t miss at all. And the stuff that was somewhat questionable? I did put in a box in the garage until they got home and if they didn’t notice it was missing within the first few weeks I didn’t hesitate to take it to one of the many local agencies that would take children’s clothes and toys. I will tell you they never once asked about any of the stuff which just proves my point…IT’S JUST STUFF…and kids have WAY TOO MUCH of it!
Next step…the closet. There were so many dresses that either didn’t fit anymore or she said she was never going to wear. Sadly this was, in part, the fault of a very well meaning and loving grandmother who has been an unwitting contributor to the chaos. I was, though, extremely impressed at how swiftly the girl removed all of the unwanted items.
In a matter of minutes this girl had created quite the pile of dresses to give away…adults take note!!!
While we ran out of time during this particular organizing session to address the left side of her closet, the right side is much less cluttered after removing so much clothing to sell or donate.
As we continued to move around the room, it was clear that her bed had way too many pillows and blankets that she really wasn’t even using on a nightly basis. A few of the pillows went immediately into a donation pile and the blankets were put in a toy chest that had previously stored some dress up clothes. Those got relocated into a plastic bin now residing on the floor in her closet…still easily accessible but out of the way and the toy chest was moved closer to her bed.
The top photo was obviously “before” and the bottom left shows her bed right before we got rid of three extra pillows and the pile of blankets that had all been on her bed and subsequently moved to the chest in the photo on the bottom right.
The last areas we were able to tackle included an enormous assortment of stuffed animals, her keyboard, bookshelves and a small table.
We got rid of all of the clutter on the keyboard and moved it from in front of her window to where the toy chest had been next to the closet. In my opinion, it just looks better somewhat hidden from the view you see when looking into the room from the hallway. The small table is actually going to leave the room once a new loft bed with a desk under it arrives in a few weeks. And the small TV will be hung on the wall in the space right above it so there will be a little bit of open space against that particular wall.
The bookshelves had a very haphazard appearance and no room to accommodate a large stack of books on the floor that had never made it back on the shelves. And while there is still too much on the shelves, at least she can now see everything. We will be revisiting this area during our next session to try to get rid of some items. I suggested moving it to the wall next to the bedroom door to give this side of the room more of an open feel and painting it white or another color for a little bit of an updated look.
All of her “stuffies” are in a corner until her new bed/desk combo arrives and we figure out whether we will hang a “hammock” from the ceiling to store them or find another solution.
So when all was said and done four hours later, the floor was completely visible, there were bags and bags of garbage and donations and I left them with a significantly smaller pile to still sort in the hallway.
While there is still a few things on the floor that need to find a different home during our next session, the room feels so much “lighter” than before especially with less clutter by the window.
Homework on the left…bags ready to get donated on the right…my work here was done…at least for now.
To say I was really proud of this girl is truly an understatement. I know there is still more work to do and some age appropriate systems to implement that she will be able to actually maintain, but this was the first time she could remember her room looking like this.
And her response to the same question I asked in the beginning, i.e. “Do you think you will keep it clean?”, she kind of just smirked at me. I’ll take that as a definite maybe!
If you have any questions or would like a free 30 minute phone or virtual consultation to discuss any organizing pain points you may be experiencing, whether for yourself or other members of your household as well as a loved one or friend in need of help (especially if they are attempting to downsize to a smaller home or even assisted living) feel free to send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.