What parent hasn't gone into a son's or daughter's room and wondered, "Where did I go wrong? How could I have created someone who creates such a mess?"
At this point it is essential to recognize that not everyone is born organized, just as not everyone is born with a talent for art or mechanics. But anyone can learn the basic principles of organization given sufficient motivation and instruction. These principles will serve as a sound basis for personal growth and development throughout life and will contribute greatly to a more peaceful living environment for the entire family.
You can help your child begin to use organizing skills at a very young age by creating an orderly living and playing space. As soon as a child can identify colors, you have a major building block for good organization.
Picking up toys can be a game for your toddler when you have colored boxes or shelves where similar toys can be stored. For example, all the Lego blocks can go in the green box and the rest of the blocks in the yellow one, while all books can go on the red shelf and the audiotapes in the blue one. Pictures can be used to help identify what belongs where. Although the child may be unaware of it, you are teaching one of the basic principles of organization: Put all like things together.
Spend time with your child sorting through belongings to decide what is to be kept. Be sure you have a good idea of what it is you need to organize. Then browse through closet shops, office supply stores and mail-order catalogs to discover creative ways to store the essentials. All children (as well as adults) are more inclined to put things away when it is readily evident where they should go and convenient to do so. Pegboard, hooks, plastic cubes and bulletin boards make items easily accessible and can be clearly labeled to make putting away an easier task. Let your child help decide on a specific place for each item or group of items. Make that place as accessible as possible. Set up a table or area where unfinished puzzles and building projects can be left out until completion. An older child will need space for doing homework.
Conventional closet shelves are often too deep to be conveniently organized. Add more shelving, or use portable shelves and dividers available at hardware stores or closet shops. Games can be returned to shelves easily if they are stacked five or six deep.
If your child is a collector, provide boxes for storing various treasures- one for stamps, another for rocks- and when that container is full, help with the weeding out. This is excellent training for the choices children must be able to make as adults. No storage system will work effectively for very long if the containers are not properly labeled, so provide large colorful markers to make labels. Show your child how to arrange the boxes on the shelves or in the closets so that the labels are always visible without moving the boxes.
Clothing can be organized to make dressing and putting away clothes less difficult. Again, group all like items together-all shirts in one drawer, pants in another; dresses at one end of the closet, blouses at the other. Use shoeboxes or plastic containers to separate socks and other small items. Be sure the clothes rods are an appropriate height for your child to reach. Treat the child to bright colorful hangers that are easier to use and will improve the appearance of the closet significantly. Large hooks make hanging pajamas, robes and coats much easier too. Simply keeping the lid off the clothes hamper will encourage children to put their dirty clothes inside it, instead of on the floor.
A word of warning: There are no ironclad rights or wrongs about organization. We all need to have an environment that suits our individual personalities. Be sensitive to your child's likes and dislikes, and be patient while new habits are being formed.
In the meantime, take a second look at you own room. A good model is worth a dozen lectures.
Barbara Hemphill is the author of Kiplinger's Taming the Paper Tiger at Work and Taming the Paper Tiger at Home and co-author of Love It or Lose It: Living Clutter-Free Forever. The mission of Hemphill Productivity Institute is to help individuals and organizations create and sustain a productive environment so they can accomplish their work and enjoy their lives. We do this by organizing space, information, and time. We can be reached at 800-427-0237 or at www.ProductiveEnvironment.com