The burning question, one that keeps some of us awake at night, say, after a long day of chasing down a little someone’s runaway math book, searching high and low for a soccer ball, throwing up your hands at the latest missing T-shirt, is this:
Is a knack for being organized something a kid is born with, or can it — please! — be learned? Prompted, perhaps, with a few choice doodads and gizmos that come with promises of forever ordering your discombobulated lives?
Next question: How soon can we start?
Good news, all you sleepless worriers. The answers: a) nope, don’t need to be born organized; b) you betcha, you can teach it; and c) ding! ding! ding! It is never too early to get your disheveled little darlings all neat and tidy in an organized row.
Lest you fret that trying to rein in a wee person’s loosey-goosey ways might be ramming a round peg in a square hole, dampening some creative spark from your budding Van Gogh, fear not.
“Kids actually appreciate order,” says professional organizer Julie Morgenstern, author of “Organizing from the Inside Out” (Henry Holt). “What you need to remember about kids is that their worldview is fairly chaotic. If somebody creates order, it creates a pause moment, a reset moment.
“Remember, it’s all about enabling you to have an idea, execute it and make it happen. It’s about setting it up for the next great idea. Show me a human being who doesn’t love that springboard for creativity.
“Think like a kindergarten teacher,” she says, exposing her paradigm for the organized life and the organized home, especially one where little people roam.
Kindergarten rules, in Morgenstern’s worldview. She calls the Land of the Bean Table, the Paint Corner, and the Snack Nook “a model of organizing” and insists they set the stage for lifelong learning.
“The two givens of any kindergarten are cleanup time and ‘everything has a place,’” she says. Both space and time management come into play. You need to set up clearly labeled, simple systems, with a particular place for everything. And you can’t shortcut cleanup time. You need to build it into the pattern of the day.
Don’t confuse “containerizing” with organizing, Morgenstern says. “Organizing is a process,” she insists.
It’s one that ends, not begins, with nifty containers. If you’ve not weeded through the piles — sorted, then ditched, donated or saved, and finally tucked every last “save” into its very own designated place — you are bound to return, like Sisyphus, to the clutter zone.
A parental primer on kid organizing, courtesy of Morgenstern:
- Take it room by room. Ask yourself: What are the activities that take place in this room? Set up simple systems, with a designated place for whatever is needed for those activities. See-through plastic containers, clearly labeled, are smart building blocks. Home in on target zones, the places in your house where kid work gets done: clothing, toys, school materials, homework, lunch, after-school snack.
- Store it where you need it. Look to where the piles are, that’s where you might need your organizing system.
- Behold the SPACE formula: Sort, Purge, Assign a home (where will it live), Containerize (keep every category in its own separate container, clearly labeled in words or pictures, whatever is age appropriate), Equalize (make a daily ritual of putting everything back in its place).
- Cleanup rules. Set the alarm on your phone to clang five minutes before you need to leave; make that cleanup time. Until you get the knack of cleanup, give yourself 10 minutes to get the job done, then cut down to a mere five.