Jan 162011

My girls and I do a major clean-up of their bedroom and playroom twice a year – during the summer, in preparation for the new school year, and after the holidays, to start the year off right. When I say major, I mean we clean out everything. All the toy bins, both of their closets, their bookshelf and dresser, under their beds.

This weekend was our New Year clean-up, and I was so proud of my girls. They agreed to part with all of this stuff!

Yes, the novelty of Mrs. Goodbee has worn off. 🙁

I’ll list the larger, more valuable toy sets on eBay for them tonight, and the rest will go to either the consignment store, or Goodwill. Any money received belongs to them, and they’re excited, especially Bee, because she set a savings goal of $200 for herself. She currently has $113, and this week I explained to her how to fill out a deposit slip, and she made a deposit in her savings account all by herself. Her piggy bank was so full that she couldn’t cram any more money into it.

I help my children organize regularly because they’re calmer and more content in an orderly environment. Look how happy they are in their nice, clean room. They want to spend time there.

Last night, Cakes was just sitting in her bed, looking around her clean bedroom in awe, and exclaiming, “This is so awesome!” Bee stretched out on her bed, and sighed. “Ahhhhh….this is so much better!” She was especially excited to see her neat, organized bookshelf. She said, “I can find all my stuff now!”

I also believe that organization is an important life skill that children need to learn in order to become successful adults, which is why I try to teach by example that more stuff doesn’t equal more happiness, and while people are more important than things, the order of things affects people. I stress the importance of organization, responsibility, taking care of their things, and being a good steward of resources, just as I stress the importance of politeness, kindness, or doing their homework on time. Children look to us, as parents, to help them organize their environment because they’re often unable to do it for themselves, and if you’re interested in helping your kids get, and stay organized, here are some tips:

1) Quit buying them so much stuff. Kids today just have too much, far more than they’re capable of taking care of, and toys do not equal love. A couple of years ago, I sent a polite e-mail to our friends and family, requesting that they please not buy the kids toys. I gave them some gift alternatives that could provide an experience, a lasting memory, such as passes to the Children’s Museum. We also set strict budget limits for birthdays and holidays, so we don’t overfeed the stuff influx ourselves.

2) Insist on order. Children need to learn from an early age that part of their responsibility as members of the family is to care for their home, and the things they use. I always tell my kids that yes, their room is their room, but it’s on loan to them while they live under our roof, so certain standards of cleanliness and order must upheld. It’s not fair to the rest of the family if kids are allowed to destroy the house. Make your expectations very clear, and establish consequences when they’re not met.

3) Teach the importance of charity. For example, each year we donate unwanted stuffed toys to our bank’s collection for fire and police departments, to be given to children in difficult or traumatic situations. This year, Bee is also donating our musical instruments (triangle, cowbell, maracas) to her school’s elementary music department.

4) Make picking up and putting away easy for them. Make sure that bins are easy to reach, and to open (I recently took the lids off our toy bins because the girls had trouble getting them off), and that everything has a designated place. If you want organized kids, you have to give them the proper tools.

5) Acknowledge your space limits. The space you have is the space you have. Teach your children to accept this, and accept it yourself. You can’t have more books than will fit on your bookshelf, or more clothes than will fit in your closet. Be a good example for your kids by keeping your own space in order, because they learn the most from what they see.

6) Make organizing a regular part of your routine. People often don’t believe me when I say this, but my girls look forward to organizing because they’re used to the process, they know how good they feel when it’s done, and I…

7) Do it with them. Don’t just send the kids to their room with orders to fill a trash bag with stuff. Children, and often adults, need help when making difficult decisions, especially when it comes to things that may have sentimental value.

8) Take a picture. If your child, (or you!) has trouble letting go of a special, but outgrown item, take a picture of it, and write a journal entry about your memories for their scrapbook. This makes the letting-go process much easier. I had to put this into practice just this morning when Cakes, without a second thought, decided to let go of her Teletubbies:

Getting rid of them didn’t bother her in the least, but I still remember when she couldn’t go to sleep at night without all 4 of them with her. I had a pretty big lump in my throat when she put them in the eBay pile, but I can’t allow my own emotional attachment to affect her choices. Her stuff = her decision.

9) Try a trial separation. If your kids have an item that they just can’t make a decision about, try putting it away for a trial period, such as a month, or even three months. If they don’t ask to play with it during that time, you can feel free to let it go. I do this with my kids all the time, and with the exception of two or three items, they’ve never asked for anything back.

10) Praise and reward them for their efforts. When we finish decluttering, I always hug my girls and tell them how proud I am of them for making those tough decisions. Then I give them a treat – but NOT a toy! Today, I’m going to make popcorn and cookies, and watch a movie with them, and they couldn’t be happier. Remember, the only real, valuable commodity any of us has here on earth is our time, and it’s been my experience that my time and attention are what my kids want more than anything else.