Mess SOS

THE SPACE RACE: Helping Kids De-clutter Their Rooms

by Heather Cameron

Spring is the time of year when we happily shed our heavy winter coats and clunky winter boots and all the other excess stuff that has weighed us down through the long winter. So why not help your kids shed some of the excess clutter in their rooms? They can reclaim their space and also feel like they have a little more control over their domain.
Helping kids to organize their rooms can be overwhelming for both kids and parents. While part of a child’s reluctance can stem their preference for playing a video game or reading a book instead of organizing their space, there is a very real reason that kids find organizing pretty challenging. Research has found that the frontal cortex of the brain — which has a key role in controlling higher cognitive functions such as the organization of complex tasks — continues developing right into our twenties. So be patient and savour your children’s simple organizing victories. It can be as straight ahead as returning a library book to school on time or finding a favourite DVD the first time they look for it.
Your role as a supportive parent is to 1) assist them in getting rid of stuff they no longer need or want, and then 2) help them set up an organizational system that works for them — one that they can understand and maintain even when you aren’t around.

There are some good ideas to keep in mind as you set out on your space race:

Start by sorting like with like.
Use a number of laundry baskets, clear garbage bags or clear plastic bins to separate the stuffed toys from the Lego from the Barbie clothes. This is the best way for the kids to see how much they have of something — and can help them to determine how much they really need of particular items.

Letting go.
When you start to sort out what to keep and what not to keep, be careful how you present it to the child. Don’t ask “What do you want to get rid of?” when you begin. Instead, ask them “What do you love?” Have them choose their top 10 items. Then have them choose 10 more and go from there. This will help them to prioritize what is really important to them and what is not. Pay close attention to your children’s reactions to letting go of their stuff. If they start
to get stressed, step back from the task at hand and address their concerns. You want to make sure that the organizing process doesn’t leave a bad taste in their mouths or they may always fear it.

Appeal to your child’s altruistic side.
Be sure to point out that there are some needy children in our community who would love it if your child would pass on some of his no longer needed items to charity.

Hands-off policy.
Do not let the children touch the items if they are having a difficult time letting go of them. Emotions can be very tactile. Squeezing a soft and cuddly toy can make it difficult to give it away! Just hold it up and ask them to reply with a “yes” or “no.” You might even turn it into a time-limited game show-like event with you as the host holding up each toy while your child yells out their answers. (For example: “So, how items can we get through in the next 60 seconds?”) Don’t pressure your child if they are not ready. This tactic is for a kid who wants to beat the clock and make the task fun.

Location, location, location.
Take a look and carefully consider what really needs to be in the bedroom. If the children already have a designated playroom or family room, do they really need to be storing more toys in their bedrooms? Perhaps the bedroom can be set up for reading and relaxing instead. (Before automatically moving those toys down to the play area, be sure to take a good look at them to see if they are really being used and enjoyed or whether they could be donated to a deserving charity.

A place for everything.
Photos, hand-drawn pictures, word labels — use whatever form of labelling is best suited to your child so they can understand what gets put away where. The kids can even create their own labels by drawing pictures or printing images from the Internet.

Keep it accessible and easy.
Easy-to-use hooks (rather than hangers) hung at child level (not yours) can make staying organized easier for children. Similarly, keep shelving and storage units easily accessible so the kids manage their own things.
Think outside the (usual) box. Shallow, clear plastic under-the-bed storage containers are great for any toys or collections consisting of a number of little pieces. These containers within them, making it easier for children to find exactly what they are looking for without dumping out the contents on the floor.

Be realistic — and specific.
Your idea of organized could be very different from your child’s. Set clear and simple goals that are attainable so your child can be successful in learning this new skill. Instead of saying “Keep your room tidy” you might say “Please make sure any dirty clothes make it into the hamper each night.”

Give it time.
It is said that you need to do something 50 times or for 50 days before your brain recognizes it as a habit. Yep, that’s a lot of reminders to get your child to put his clothes in the hamper or make his bed! But think of it this way: While 50 days of urging can be tiring, there may be some hope that the good habit will stick after the 50 days are up. But if you do not encourage, urge or nag — whatever each of us may call it — after the 50 days you will most certainlystill be in the same place as when we started.

Change won’t happen overnight and — realistically speaking — change may just never happen for some kids. But know that you have tried your best to teach your child a good life skill in letting go of “stuff” and organizing their space. And if worse comes to worse, you can take some satisfaction in knowing that they too may be parents one day!

Heather Cameron is a mother of two and a professional home organizer and decorator with Ottawa-based Edited Interiors.

Make it Fun
If your kids are up to it, make organizing a little more interesting with these fun approaches:

• Set the timer. Give them 60 seconds and a laundry basket to pick up their clothes. Then start their mission again with the goal of having them gather up all their books and paper on the floor. If your kids like a little friendly competition to spur them on, have your children compete against each other.

• Encourage the kids to think about others. Remind them that whatever they put in the charity bag will benefit a child less fortunate than them and suggest they picture another child’s reaction to a great, new-to-them toy.

• If you have some items you don’t want to simply give away to charity, consider encouraging your child to take them to a consignment shop. You will find that promising them the proceeds from their sales is a great motivator!

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