One Barbie at a Time: Organizing Your Kids’ Rooms (with Their Help)

Some kids are convinced that a room is clean if everything is shoved in the closet and out of sight; others think that as long as they keep their door closed, no one will be the wiser. We adults know better.

Now that another school year is filed away and the kids are home during the day, it’s a perfect time to take on organizing their rooms. Incorporating your child into the process is the only way to go; if (usually in a fit of “I can’t stand it any more!”) you do it yourself, you’ll end up always doing it yourself and you won’t empower your children toward their own independence.

Julie Morgenstern, author of Organizing from the Inside Out, recommends that you be an “organizing consultant” to your children. Sit down with them and make a list of what they want in their bedrooms, along with what’s working and what’s not. Do they want an art headquarters? How important is an easily set up sleepover zone for friends? Are they bookworms or dress-up queens? What’s most important to them?

Once you’ve come up with a list that accurately represents what they want, set aside a couple of days that work for them and for you, get all hands on deck, and start the transformation.

Linda, one of Org&Relo Boulder’s Professional Organizers and mother to two teenagers, says that kids respond to structure. “Our job as parents is to impose structure, and their job as kids is to push back against it. Even though they may say they don’t like it, their actions say otherwise. Over and over again I saw how much more my kids relaxed when they knew what was expected, what their parameters were, and what was next.”

Start by simplifying, sorting, and storing. Simplify things by inviting your kids to help choose which outgrown toys and clothes can be passed on to other children. It’s never too early to introduce them to the concept of passing on well-loved items to others in need! Show them how to sort like toys with like, and delegate those with small parts--legos, doll clothes, blocks--into piles that they can corral in clear plastic boxes with lids. Label these using a large font or even with picture labels if your children are pre-readers, and store them on shelves they can access.

Make sure the solutions fit the child. Take their height into consideration, and organize from the ground up. If you’re working with a younger age group, you want cubbies they can reach, lower shelves, step stools for light switches or higher shelves, and kid-size hangers in the closet. Let them choose what goes where. Think about hooks for hoodies and backpacks and hanging organizers or large baskets for action figures or stuffed animals. For the younger set you might want to organize and keep art supplies out of reach until you are sure they can use them unsupervised--high shelves that aren’t reachable with that step stool are perfect.

Maria Montessori, the Italian physician and educator who developed the Montessori system of education in the early 19th century, used a simple system in her classroom to keep her students engaged. She would display only so many materials for them to work with at a time on the shelves, and others would be packed away. Then she would remove the old ones and display the new ones. Adapt this logic in your younger children’s rooms. Instead of having everything out all at once, keep some toys and books sequestered and rotate things in and out on a bi-monthly basis. You’ll be amazed how fewer things can hold a young child’s attention for longer!

Implementing an organizing routine at a young age will make everyone’s life easier in the long run. Assign tasks that give your kids a sense of empowerment. Making their beds in the morning, picking up books and toys in the afternoon, and straightening the desk or dresser before bed helps them understand that even a little order can be a beautiful thing. Everyone sleeps better. Just a few minutes a day here and there gets them used to--and, with luck, desirous of!--a clean space to play and entertain their friends.

Happy Organizing!

Sheryl