Having been in this business for thirteen years now, I have met many professional organizers like me who have children. I have been in their homes, heard their stories and it’s very clear that the organizational skills we possess are used not only in our businesses, but in our parenting skills as well. I was at one friend’s home last night and I had to laugh when I saw the “visual reminder” posted for her two young children in her kitchen. I recently put one on my own refrigerator to remind my boys of all the good/healthy things they should be doing every day; things that I find myself nagging them about constantly. To save myself some breath, I typed it up in a colorful professional memo. This list includes tasks like, floss, exercise, read a chapter in a book or an article, do something nice for someone else, etc. They are teenagers and I’m trying to get them to think outside of their own little world as well as to remember all the things I use to do for them when they were little.
So I thought about what our kids are exposed to in an organized household. There’s a lot of good there, but there is also a fine line. Too much structure, and the kids will rebel. So I’ve boiled it down to a few skills or lessons that you can learn from the professional organizer parent and apply in your own home if you are eager to calm the chaos and teach your children some life skills before they pack up and move away.
- Visual Reminders – Like the notes on the frig, anything that reminds a child to do something without mom or dad having to say it a million times is helpful. (I recommend the daily chore chart which can be downloaded from my Products page.) One of my absolutes is “put it where you use it.” So if your child needs to brush their retainer every night, put it on the bathroom sink. Need a bag for sports? Put it by your front door. But too many visuals can be overwhelming so limit the number.
- Routines – My daughter in college still likes to do her nightly routine. Her friends tease her as she brushes her teeth, washes her face, puts on PJ’s and starts to unwind. Many of them just crash in their bed whenever they get exhausted. But routines bring comfort. So help your children develop their own, like reading before bed, packing their lunch and schoolbag in the evening or cleaning out their locker every Friday. These routines will help their day and their weeks run smoothly.
- Time Management – As children get into middle school, help them find a planner that makes sense. Write down all their activities, part -time work and homework assignments. For long-term projects, help them work backwards from the deadline to meet certain milestones. Using a planner where they can see a month at a glance, a week at a glance and still have room for daily tasks will help them with meeting their goals. (Check out the Student planner on my Products page.)
- Goal Setting/Prioritizing –On more than one occasion I have sat down with my children and talked about their priorities. When so much is going on from exams to college applications to tryouts it’s easy to lose focus and get stressed out. It helps to talk it out and write it down. Ask questions like, what do you need to do first? How important is this? Limit the priority list to 3-4 items, so when daily stresses and decisions come up, they can ask themselves, “Is this supporting one of my priorities?” It also helps when they are bored and don’t know what to do. You can always do something to work towards your next goal.
- Decision Making – Any organizer will tell you that the crux of disorganization is the lack of decision-making. You can teach your children at an early age to make simple decisions. I encourage parents to do this with school art projects: go through the pile and let your child decide Yes or No to keep something. Then move on. They can do this with clothing, toys, etc. When they get older, it may be about activities to join, or colleges to apply to. Make sure they have some criteria for making the bigger decisions and that they think it through on the front end. Some people go through life avoiding decisions and second-guessing themselves, these people are usually unhappy.
- Money management – One thing organized parents do is give their children chores and pay them an allowance. This may be in the form of money or a point system. With a point system, the child can redeem points for extra screen time or a special treat. It all teaches them the value of work and money. When they start earning money through their part time job, it’s a great idea to have them put half in the bank and keep the other half for discretionary spending. Before they go away to college, make a budget plan with them. I suggested my daughter take the same amount of cash out of the ATM every week, this is her spending money. I discourage the use of debit cards because it’s easy to deplete your savings and not even know where the money went. It’s more “real” to spend cash. When it’s gone, it’s gone. Credit cards are even worse for college kids because they tend to live beyond their means, which is a bad habit to get into as an adult. As soon as they have a part time job, your kids could be paying for some of their living expenses like car insurance, and phone bills. If kids never know the cost of their own luxuries they will be in for a rude awakening when they start to live on their own.
So these are a few areas where I see many organized parents really instill good habits in their children. I hope you can take some or all of these tips and try them in your own family. If you think your kids won’t listen to you or if you want your kids to be more organized than you are, we are happy to work with your child directly. It’s my observation that children of really disorganized parents tend to be neater. And some children of perfectionists tend to rebel against the order imposed on them. So as with all things, moderation is key. If they have a good homework routine, and can make practical decisions, then dirty clothes on the floor may not be a big deal.
What organization skills have you taught (or would like to teach) your children?