Few people are born organizers, so it’s up to parents to help kids organize their rooms as part of the process of teaching this important life skill. Doing it for your children might be faster, but it doesn’t teach them anything.
Although it takes a good bit of time and commitment on your part, helping your kid organize their room eventually pays off when they take over the task of keeping their rooms clean and organized.
Start When They’re Young
One way to make this transition smooth is to start when they’re quite young — even toddlers can learn to help put away toys, throw away trash, and tug sheets into place on the bed. From there, you add on additional organization tasks as they can handle them, tying natural consequences to refusing to clean their room.
Sally didn’t want to put away her toys? Then, since Sally didn’t do as asked, Mom or Dad won’t be taking Sally to the play date with her bestie like she asked.
Did Johnny play video games instead of moving all of his dirty clothes from his bedroom floor to the laundry hamper? Then Johnny doesn’t get to play video games for the rest of the evening and, once he’s done picking up clothes, can do some kids’ chores, too.
Yes, they’ll argue. They’ll sulk and pout and stamp their feet. So what? That’s what kids DO! Part of their process of becoming independent involves pushing boundaries. Part of your job as a parent is enforcing them.
That’s not to say your home needs to be a War Zone, but you aren’t doing your kids any favors when you do everything yourself. In fact, that just adds to the reasons cleaning stresses you out.
It’s never too late to start.
But what if your kids are older? Maybe they haven’t caught on to the process of organizing, or maybe you’re not the most organized person yourself but are working to change that. If that last bit describes you, congratulations! You’re taking a big step to change your mindset and setting a beautiful example for your kids at the same time.
Remember to use natural consequences, like those described above, when your older child’s room turns into a pigsty, or they will gladly turn the hassle of cleaning their rooms back over to you at their first chance.
Kids are kind of smart that way — cleaning and organizing a room isn’t nearly as fun as playing or hanging out, so why do it when they know you will eventually? Don’t fall for it!
Start with a Clean room (and a checklist)
While it’s important to work with your child to clean and organize their room initially, after that a child over 10 is perfectly capable of cleaning a bedroom without supervision. (Worried yours will forget a step? Use my printable cleaning checklist for kids’ rooms, which was written specifically for children.)
Once you’ve got the room clean, check out these ideas for organizing what’s left.
Help Kids Organize Their Rooms
1. Choose Kid-Friendly Furnishings
Ruffled pillows, bed canopies, and billowing curtains that puddle on the floor may look fantastic in a celebrity’s kid’s room, but they’re not practical for the average person unless you happen to employ a bevy of maids and nannies to keep it all clean like the celebs do. No? Me, either.
Instead of using adult-sized furniture or decor, go for kid-friendly surfaces that can be easily cleaned and withstand rough and tumble play or crafts. Painted wood and plastic are great; mirrors, unwashable fabrics, and glass are not.
2. Make Bed-Making A Snap
An unmade bed makes a room look much messier than it is. It also encourages more messiness since a child won’t see leaving her toys out makes much difference. Teach your child to make his bed, but don’t make it harder than it needs to be.
Yes, hospital corners are nice, and a bed does look lovely when the top third of the spread is turned down just so, with decorative throw pillows added. But is it necessary? As far as a kid’s concerned, all of those sheets, blankets, and pillows are a veritable mountain!
Get your child into the habit of making her bed by swapping the top sheet and fussy comforter or spread for a covered European-style duvet. Then all they have to do is pull the duvet up and, voila, the bed is made. Come laundry day, all you have to wash is the cover.
Once the bed-making habit has taken hold, you can add a top sheet back into the mix, and later resume using a bedspread or comforter if you’re not hooked on the convenience of a duvet by then.
3. Keep storage easy to use.
Rows of canvas baskets with dangling chalkboard labels look nice in kids rooms on Pinterest. In reality, when kids can’t see where to put a toy away at a glance then it’s going to end up on the floor while they start playing with something else.
Take a tip from kindergarten teachers and go for see-through containers for very young children. Immediately seeing what container a toy goes in makes it easier for them to put things away. Also, skip tight-fitting lids because they’re hard for little hands to open and will be a barrier to cleaning up.
4. Store things at kid height.
Take a look around your child’s room from their point of view by getting down on your knees. Are the toy shelves at waist height or lower from your new position? Can you reach toys and books without having to stretch or stand up?
Keeping things within your child’s reach means they can be played with, and what can be played with can also be put away.
Partner with your child to find out which toys they like playing with the most and make sure these are on the lowest, most easily accessible shelves. Use upper shelves to hold things that require your supervision, like paints or that craft set with a gazillion tiny beads your mother-in-law gave your toddler for Christmas.
5. Round Up the stuffed animals.
Many kids have dozens of stuffed animals they just can’t bear to part with then they only play with one or two. Rather than letting those critters take over your child’s room or bed, give them a bed of their own with a stuffed animal hammock.
Or make a stuffed animal corral by hanging a net or tulle fabric hammock-style from hooks in a corner. Keep the net low enough for your child to reach into, and she’ll be able to get out Mr. Snuggle Bear for tea parties then put him away when she’s done.
6. Schedule the Week’s Clothes
Rifling through closets and drawers every day in search of an outfit to wear to school can turn a clean room into a mess by Tuesday. Stop the mess and speed up your mornings by picking out the week’s clothing on Sunday.
Then hang outfits together using a pop can tab to turn individual hangers into double ones. Or, for casual outfits, roll them together (with underwear and socks) and stash them in a hanging pocket shoe organizer.
7. Display books, not stack them
As a voracious reader since childhood, I kept a “To Be Read” (TBR) pile next to my bed for years. When I finished one book, I’d reach for the book on top of the stack. Of course, every time I bought a new book, it went onto the pile, too. The result was that the ones at the bottom often languished unread for years.
When it comes to kids’ books, you don’t want piles of them for the same reason — plus children tend to knock those piles over and leave them spread everywhere. Bookshelves are a nice yet often pricey addition, but making book racks from rain gutters is an inexpensive and smart solution.
Follow this tutorial from Clean & Scentsible to adapt them to your child’s room. As a bonus, having the covers facing outward encourages your child to pick up a book and read!
8. Use the space under the bed
Storage containers under the bed are a great way to take advantage of unused space and keep your child from stashing dirty dishes, trash, or other messes down there. Stash out-of-season clothing in them, or even board games and jigsaw puzzles.
If you don’t use clear containers, be sure to label them so you can easily find what you’re looking for without having to pull out one after another.
Bonus: Many kids fear that space under the bed is a monster’s home. If your child is prone to such worries, this tip (and maybe a little Monster Spray now and then) will put them at ease.
9. Clear out the excess
Once you’ve made room for favorite toys and stuffed animals, maximized your closet space, organized books, and taken advantage of under-bed storage, it’s time to make some tough decisions.
Do you want to buy more containers for what’s left then have to find room for it, too? Or is it time to recognize all of these things without a spot of their own are excess and unnecessary stuff.
In the beginning, this is a decision you might need to convince your kids to make. Few children like the thought of getting rid of things, but there are a couple of ways to encourage them to do it.
First, point out that letting go of old toys makes room for new ones when their birthday or Christmas rolls around. Then, since what’s often bothering them is thinking of their former favorites as trash, explain that you can donate their old things to make another child happy. They may decide to give away even more toys knowing they’re going to a good home.
10. Take a Picture
Once your child’s bedroom is clean and organized, take pictures of the inside of the closet and drawers, how things are arranged on the art table or nightstand, and any other storage spaces you use. Don’t forget to take one from the bedroom door, too.
Then, print several photos on a page and hang them on the back of your child’s bedroom door where they can easily see them. This will help your child remember where things belong. Plus, next time they clean their room your child will know how it’s supposed to look when they’re done.
Remember, your job is to help kids organize their rooms not do it for them. The first time you partner on this task is bound to take considerable time and effort, but you’ll be imparting an important life skill. Make it a regular part of your household routine and soon they’ll be doing it all on their own while you work on something else… or take the break you deserve!