Raising Clutter-Free Kids

It's never too early to start teaching the ABCs of tidiness. While you may find it easier (and faster) to organize for them, it will save you time and headaches to pass the clean baton.

Kids' Bedroom With White Storage Bookshelf and Green Lamp

Kids' Bedroom With Storage Shelf

Write It Down

Our friend Marci had a great technique we want to share. She jotted down a short list for her 9- and 12-year-old sons. After Marci and her husband agreed on the list, she walked the boys through what they needed to do and offered to help them if needed. The list was simple to start. 1. Organize the family DVDs and video games. Donate discs you don't use anymore to charity and alphabetize and store the remaining ones. 2. Sort through the sports toys. Store athletic equipment on garage shelves and label them. Though it took a few reminders from Marci, both tasks were completed within one week and the boys were ready for more.

Make It Fun and Rewarding

Organizing can be seen as a chore, and we know how kids feel about those. To get real results, they need incentive. While money or gifts are an obvious choice, that may only be a quick fix. If you want long-term rewards, think of ways to make organizing fun. Let them blast their favorite tunes while they are working or give them free reign to make a huge mess before they clean it up. Lastly, when they have completed their task, make a big fuss over what a great job they did.

Follow the 12-Month Rule

Closets are bursting with clothes, 80 percent of which are never worn. Beds overflow with stuffed animals, 90 percent of which are outdated and dusty. Teach children the one-year rule: If you haven't used it in 12 months, chances are you never will. Throw it out, donate it to charity, sell it on eBay, whatever works for you - just get rid of it.

Embrace Technology

This won't be hard for kids today to grasp. Those piles of magazines, photos, CDs and school projects can be stored in a smarter, safer way. For example, reading magazines online takes up zero space. Digital photos can be stored electronically, and you can quickly and easily scan that cherished school artwork.

Make the Room

It sounds obvious, but you'd be surprised at how often this is overlooked. Your kids cannot put things away if there's no place for them to go. Work with them to choose fun (inexpensive) shelves, cubbyholes, bookcases or storage boxes. Help them label and decorate the boxes (they can pick silly names to make it fun). The more involved kids feel in the process, the more dedicated they will be in keeping their space tidy.

Sarah Welch and Alicia Rockmore are the co-founders of Buttoned Up, a company dedicated to helping stretched and stressed people get themselves organized. They are also co-authors of Everything (almost) In Its Place.

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