How To Help Kids STAY Organized

posted by Andrea | 09/26/2011


This post has been in my “drafts” for quite some time because I’ve never been brave enough to publish it… until now!

Over the years, I’ve helped lots of busy moms organize their homes, offices, lives, schedules, purses, cars, closets, pantries, basements, garages, and pretty much anything else you can think of. I love working with them, I love seeing the progress we make, and I really love it when they are able to implement and tweak my suggestions to fit their own families and lives.

However, one question I’m asked over and over again is…

How can we help our kids stay organized?

That’s a tough one, isn’t it!! I have all sorts of suggestions, tricks, tips, and product ideas to GET kids organized, but I have no magic wand that I can wave to help them STAY organized!

I also don’t have any of my own children {yet}… which is why I’ve been hesitant to publish this post 🙂

But living with our two international students for the past month has confirmed what I’ve always suggested to all my inquiring moms…

Kids will stay more organized if they see YOU stay organized.

I know that this is not the case in every situation, but for the most part, it is WAY easier to tell your children to do something if you are already doing that same thing yourself.

For example:

  • Do you think your kids would eat vegetables if they never saw you eat vegetables?
  • Do you think they would make their beds if they never saw you make your bed?
  • Do you think they would clean their rooms if they never saw you clean or pick up any room in the house?

Probably not!

I’m not naive, and I know that even if you DO eat your vegetables, make you bed, and pick up your house, your children still might not follow in your footsteps, but it’s more likely than if you didn’t do the above mentioned tasks.



Kids are extremely smart.

They quickly pick up on patterns, routines, and they are very good at mimicking what they see — I’ve learned this from watching our international students over the past month.

So as the parent, if you model cleanliness and good organized habits {and continue to encourage/teach/show them to do the same}, they will be much more likely to STAY organized.

Obviously, all children are different and some children {like myself} are just naturally more structured and more organized than others; however I’m convinced that almost any child will be more organized if they see their parents modeling that behavior first.

It’s so interesting for me to finally be able to put this theory into practice now that we have our two international students living with us. Even though we gave them a bunch of “guidelines” and rules when they moved in, we certainly didn’t micro-manage every single detail of living in our house.

But after a month, they have quickly adapted to our routines and the way we live each day.

They know how to rinse off their dishes and put them in the sink/dishwasher

They know that they need to pack their lunches every night right after dinner is finished

They know what to recycle and what to throw away {and where to throw it away}

They know that they need to make their bed and pick up their room before school each day

They know that Saturday is the day they can do their laundry, they know now to do it, and that they should fold their clothing and put it away immediately after the laundry is finished

They know what foods are available for breakfast, lunches, and snacks — and where to find all those foods

They know that if they bring projects or homework downstairs to work at the kitchen table, they have to pick it all up again before dinner or before bed.

They know that they need to get their homework done before they can have free time, and the know what they are allowed to do in their free time.

They know to do all these things — not because we TOLD them — but because we SHOWED them how we did it and they naturally followed. 

So even though I’m NOT a parenting expert, I have seen it time and time again {in our own house and via many of my clients} that children do as they see — so if you want your kids to stay more organized, my best advice is to start modeling that behavior for them.

It will be more difficult to “convert” older kids to be more organized…especially if they were not brought up this way; however there’s always hope and starting now is better than later!

Am I just being overly optimistic or am I on to something here?

Can any parents out there confirm that my theory is correct… and/or do you have any other suggestions or tips that you use to help YOUR kids stay organized?


Filed under: OrganizingKids Stuff

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  1. Steph


    Right now I’m on a big ‘enabling environment’ kick.
    My kids are 3 years, 19 months, and 9 weeks old. Being so busy with them has forced me to be and stay organized.
    I hung some hooks low at the front door and my oldest hung up her coat and hat without being prompted. She noticed the hooks and just did it, so my second followed her lead. This has saved me from picking up after them as much if I just create an environment where they can be more independent.
    I’m also working on toy bin labels with a little photo on it of the bin’s appropriate contents. This way they can see (can’t read yet), what goes where when it’s time to tidy up (Dora’s clean up song is pretty fun! Available on iTunes).
    Also buying some extra step stools helped. My little ones can turn off the lights when they come upstairs now, and get on the toilet by themselves. All helpful when nursing a newborn!
    Those are just a couple of my tips! Seems to work for us!
    Thanks for all you do! Keep up the great work!


  2. Michelle


    As the mom of 4 kids, I’ve come to realize that sometimes clutter is inevitable. For starters, the school sends home more papers than necessary. At their ages (all under 10) I don’t expect them to deal with that – they are just too young to determine which papers are important and which should be tossed into the recycling bin immediately. The sheer amount of paper makes me batty.
    I was a horribly disorganized child but as soon as I started living with my husband (who has ADHD) my organization skills switched into high gear to compensate for him. Now Ive got systems. For my kids, I’ve got a place where all their school stuff goes – a folder for their to-do homework, a drawer for complete work, hooks in the mudroom for their school bags and separate one for their jackets. In their bedrooms, I let them have a lot more free reign, but still, I set up systems for them and help them whip things back into shape once a month.


    Brandy Reply:

    This sounds all too familiar…I have 4 kids under 10 with an ADHD husband. I am not a naturally organized person and see how clutter affects him (and now my son is is ADHD also). I am trying to get organized and am SO glad I found some great info and great comments too.


  3. Monica


    This is so, so, so true! Before I get too upset with my children over the state of their {dis}organized rooms, I try to remember what mine’s looking like at the moment. They learn so much (good and bad) just by watching me. Thank you for this excellent reminder.


  4. Johane


    I have to say that as an ADHD parent to 4 girls, 3 of whom also have ADHD, staying organized is most definitely not our forte. Actually, my non-ADHD husband is mostly in charge of organization along with the one daughter who is not ADHD. We try to be organized though… It’s just particularly difficult for us, and with good reason.

    That being said, I agree 100%, kids are little mockingbirds and mimic everything that they see the significant people in their lives say and do. They are little pleaser’s as well, so if you want them to and expect them to do something in particular they will, even being organized.

    Keep in mind though, if your child has ADHD or something similar, it’s harder for them. They really don’t see it and they will need much more hand holding. I know that you weren’t addressing this, and that you would agree that children with such issues would require more specific coaching.

    I say this because, as a child, my parents where baffled by my lack of organization and impulsiveness. They tried everything they could think of, including leading by example. The stress caused by my undiagnosed ADHD caused us serious issues. I’d like to help another family avoid some of the same stresses we had.

    I’m not saying that any or all un-organised child could possibly have ADHD or the like. Like you said, all children are different. It’s the level of expectation that can be detrimental to these kids. If the level of self-organisation is problematic, affects the child in all aspects (home/school/life/friends…) of life, if there is little or no progress in the short term, or if it’s been ongoing for years. Take it easy on them and maybe ask a professional for extra help.

    I must say that I actually kept this post aside so that I could read it when I could really give it the attention that it needed, and I came to find some tips to help us get organised. I’m always looking for organising “how-to’s” because I’m oblivious to it. Like somebody once told me about getting organized “You just do it.” My perpetual response is “Do what?”

    I find your blog very informative and helpful. Thank you for taking the time to share your sense of organisation with us. I can use all the help I can get! 😉


    Andrea Reply:

    Thanks for your valuable input Johane. I work with many clients who are also ADD or ADHD and it is a totally different approach to working with my other clients.
    It sounds like you have a pretty good system in your house and are working WITH your ADHD instead of against it.

    I’m sure your comment will help other readers so thanks again for sharing.


    Jona Reply:

    Thanks for sharing! I strive to be organized, but I have a couple in my family that show signs of ADHD and it’s quite the struggle. We have a small home, homeschool 4 and have a very active toddler. My husband also works temp jobs. The constant change makes it very challenging to establish routine and maintain order. I am task oriented and strive to balance love/relationship with rules and productivity. I truly appreciate the perspective Johane brings to the discussion. Are there more tips on working with ADD or ADHD families?


  5. Ann


    Sometimes we forget that things do need to be taught. Kids don’t know how to clean a bedroom or bathroom unless we teach them what it means. Language which isn’t backed up with actual instruction is often useless!


  6. Megan C


    Watching parents stay organized is definitely a great place to start. I want to note that I am extremely organized now (probably a little more so than my mom and sister). However, when we were growing up, my mom wondered if I’d ever be able to keep a clean house as my room was quite often a disaster. I went from being the sloppiest in our family to being one of the most organized. Change may come later! Lessons are still being learned though.


    Andrea Reply:

    Good point Megan! I do know many people who were disorganized growing up, but became very organized adults. There is always time for change!!


  7. MelissaPete


    Yes, your principles are correct. I only have one thing to add and that is that not all children will be able to follow just because their parents are organized. I am currently reading a book titled, Smart But Scattered, and it deals with Executive Skills. These are the skills that enable us to complete (execute) a task from start (planning) to finish. Everyone is born with a set, but some are able to thrive whether it’s because they came a little better equipped, or because their environment helped them learn and develop the skills. What I am learning is that even though I have set out a plan to follow (I am pretty organized), my oldest is not able to always follow. She has ADD which comes with a glitch in Executive Skills. The reason I bought the book was because of one dad’s review wherein he said he was so organized but couldn’t teach his son for some reason. The book is supposed to be full of tips. I will get back to you when I’m finished.

    Thanks so much for sharing your talent with the world. Your website posts really put a bright spot in my day. I’m a bit of an organizing junkie, and I love reading all your ideas.


  8. Suzanne


    I love this post Andrea, and thoroughly agree. I may not be so organized all the time, but one thing we have in our house are specific morning and evening routines, which really helps with organization. As well, my almost 4 year old son has a sticker chart where he earns a 25 cent sticker for each “chore” or responsibility. It has helped to get certain routines started, and as time goes on, I taper off the reward for it, and instead do a reward for something else, as it becomes a routine. In the morning after breakfast, he is expected to take his cereal bowl to the counter. That’s it. He’ll now (without asking) even take his juice cup, empty it in the sink, take our dirty napkins and throw them away, and not even ask for the sticker. I pack his lunch, drink and any car toys in his “school bag” (he’s in preschool) and he has to carry it out the door, then back in the house and put it on a specific table where I can load it the next day. When we get home from school, he knows to take off his shoes and put them in a basket by the door before he can do anything else. As well, after bath, he’ll take his dirty clothes and go put them in his hamper. Even though those are MY responsibilities that he sees me do, they are his expectations, and he has stepped up to them. I


    Andrea Reply:

    Suzanne — I could not agree more! Even though you aren’t always organized, those specific routines are SOOO good for kids. I don’t have kids yet and even I’m not organized all the time — so don’t be too hard on yourself 🙂

    Sounds like you’re doing a great job “showing” your kids how to stay organized!


  9. Tammy


    I also think it is important to recognize seasons. Last week was an extremely busy week for us and was not the ‘norm.’ When I walked into the kids’ rooms to put clean clothes on their beds, I almost went into hives at the piles of papers, dirty clothes, etc. Then I realized, they had been inundated with large, difficult homework projects and extra practices. Friday afternoon and Saturday morning only required about 10 minutes each for them to be back to their systems. I have to let go of perfection as much as another mom might need to require more effort from her kids.


  10. sharon


    YES – organized parents usually have organized kids. Its not easy – you have to be persistent and consistent when they are younger – routine is a huge factor in grade school! My girls are in highschool now and I try to touch base in the a.m. and again every evening to make sure they are on task. Lists and deadlines help (many schools provide planners!). They need to do more and more for themselves as they get older!


    Andrea Reply:

    Thanks Sharon, you have excellent suggestions — and it IS so much easier to start when they are young!