10 Ways to Trick your Family into Being Organized

family organizedAre you the organized one in your family? Does it seem pointless to try to stay organized, with everyone making messes right behind you as you go around the house tidying up? Here are some sneaky ways to get them onboard with your organizing systems.

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1. Start with yourself

You can’t very well expect your family to put their things away if you aren’t sure where everything goes either, and if you are inconsistent with putting your own things away…can you? Setting a good example can go a long way towards getting them to follow suit.

2. Make it easy

The best way to trick your family into being organized is to make it as easy as humanly possible for them to do so. It’s less about them remembering (or failing to remember) to put something away, and more about having obvious, easy-to-use homes for everything; communicating your expectations clearly and consistently; and getting their buy-in. Help them establish good habits by figuring out what works best for your family.

3. Be crystal clear

There’s nothing less productive and more frustrating than saying, “Go clean up your room,” when your kids don’t really know, not specifically, what you expect them to do. (Same goes for adults!) They shove things under the bed and it looks neater, right? Wrong. If you don’t say, “Please put your toys in the toy box, and put your books on the bookshelf, and make your bed, and put your dirty clothes in the hamper, and put the trash in the wastebasket,” you really can’t expect them to do those exact things, can you? Why not create your own checklists of age-appropriate tasks? (Search Google Images for “chores for kids” for inspiration.)

4. Provide sufficient storage

The most common reason I see why my clients’ kids can’t get their rooms “clean” is that they have too much stuff and not enough storage. There is no point in saying, “Put your toys away,” if the toy box is already overflowing. Or, “Put your books away,” if they don’t have a bookshelf. Remember, don’t let your containers overflow! If they do, it’s time to purge and/or re-think the containers.

5. Label everything

Sure, it’s obvious to YOU where the leftovers should go in the fridge, but is it obvious to everyone else in your household? What if you had a shelf that was labeled “Eat First”, for leftovers and items that are nearing their expiration dates? Do you think that would increase the likelihood of those items being corralled onto that shelf, and therefore getting eaten first? Same goes for everything else: pantry items, linens, toiletries, tools, etc. Make sure the labels are large enough to read easily. You can get fancy with labels, if you like, but don’t let that cause you to procrastinate. A piece of painter’s tape and a black Sharpie will suffice. It’s all about the labels (not the label makers)!

6. Make it fun

There are lots of ways to make chores fun. OK, funn-er, at least. For example, you could try a daily “Ten Minute Tidy Up” before or after dinner, or another time when you’re regularly all together. Decide when you’ll do it, and stick to that as much as possible, so it will become a habit that you don’t have to re-think every day. (“Are we going to do it today? Hmmm…I don’t know…I might be too tired…”)

Here’s how it works: Set a timer, or play an upbeat 10-minute song list. Everyone in the family goes around the public areas (living room, dining room, kitchen, entryway) and gathers the items that belong to them, or that they got out to use or play with that day, and puts them away where they belong. It’s as simple as that! Call it something fun. I have one client whose children call it a “Ten Minute Turd Hunt” just to be silly…but your family may have a different sense of humor.

The more you can make it seem like playing the game of organizing, the better. (That same client’s daughter has been observed playing “Organizer Lady” with her little friends, lol!)

7. Schedule a weekly family meeting

This is a chance for families (or couples, or roommates) to review how things are going. They compare their agendas for the coming week, and discuss whatever new issues have come up since last week. Everyone gets a turn to speak without being judged, even little children. Because it’s a regularly-scheduled activity, no one has to wonder if and when would be a good time to bring something up. Again, make it fun. Try having your meeting on a Saturday morning, then everyone can do a few chores, followed by going out to brunch together, or another enjoyable family activity. Take turns choosing the fun activity. A good thing to review at a family meeting is the Six Organizing Systems Everyone Needs.

8. Send their stuff to Clutter Jail

Clutter Jail is where things go that were left lying around that shouldn’t have been. These things have established homes, and the rules about when and how they should be put away are crystal clear. They are redeemed by doing chores. There are lots of examples on the internet (search Google Images for “clutter jail”). My theory (not being a mom) is that this can be made fun by using cute graphics, having an upbeat attitude, and getting the buy-in of the whole family. Make it more like a game (with very clear rules to which you consistently adhere) than a punishment. Kind of like a swear jar, where everyone agrees (versus being forced against their will) to pay a quarter for every time they swear, and good-spiritedly notes each other’s infractions.

9. Pick your battles

You can train your family, and teach your children valuable organizing skills, but you can’t turn them into different people. One way to honor the family members with messy tendencies is to give them each a place of their own where it’s OK to be messy. For teenagers, it could be their own rooms. For an Odd Couple partner (spouse, roommate, etc.) it could be whatever room or part of the house they use for their hobbies. The deal is that, in return, they agree to keep public and communal areas tidy.

10. Adjust your attitude

Any type of conflict is an opportunity to consider, and reconsider, your attitude towards the situation. You must find your “sweet spot” between tidy, clean, and organized; re-think your organizing systems; remember why you do chores in the first place; and figure out how to make chores fun for yourself and your family.

Which of these ideas do you think will work for your family?

How do you keep your family organized?

Please share with us in the comments below!

Copyright 2017-2019 by Hazel Thornton, Organized For Life.
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  1. Janet Barclay on March 6, 2017 at 12:05 pm

    Laughing at “clutter jail” but also remembering a company I worked for where we weren’t allowed to keep anything on our desks overnight except for three specific items. If you left anything else out, it would be gone by morning.

    • Hazel Thornton on March 6, 2017 at 12:07 pm

      What were the three sanctioned items, and was there any chance of redeeming your stuff?

      • Janet Barclay on July 31, 2019 at 11:31 am

        It’s more than 30 years ago, but I think it was:
        Calculator (the big plugin type
        Framed picture (why that couldn’t be tucked in a drawer overnight, I’ll never know

        I don’t remember anyone getting their stuff back, but one day someone found the room where it was all stashed, and everyone reclaimed what they’d lost.

        • Hazel Thornton on August 6, 2019 at 7:16 am

          Ha ha ha!

  2. Liana George on March 6, 2017 at 1:15 pm

    Love the clutter jail tip! What a great idea for families with kids to help learn the benefits and consequences of putting, or not putting, things back where they belong. And I’ve found that labeling as much as possible helps everyone in the house keep order too! Great post 🙂

    • Hazel Thornton on March 8, 2017 at 11:38 am

      Thanks, Liana!

  3. Linda Samuels on March 6, 2017 at 2:47 pm

    Love this upbeat and practical post, Hazel. I have never heard of “Clutter Jail,” and like that idea. So funny. And also, your idea of labeling things…always a good idea. The tag, “Eat First” cracked me up. It’s so simple, yet not necessarily an obvious label to have. I also agree that modeling the behavior or habits you’re looking for goes a long way in terms of being a parent and raising kids. You can say whatever you want, but your kids are smart and they “see” what you’re doing or not doing.

    • Hazel Thornton on March 8, 2017 at 11:37 am

      Hi Linda, I’m glad you were amused!

  4. Sarah Soboleski on March 6, 2017 at 7:12 pm

    Right now the “Clean Up” song still works for my kiddo as picking up is fun. But I have a feeling once he gets older, I might have to use your idea of the clutter jail. 🙂

    • Hazel Thornton on March 8, 2017 at 11:36 am

      I Googled “The Clean Up Song” and found several….which one is it you like?

  5. Rosemary Lacovara on October 16, 2018 at 3:13 am

    Thanks Hazel! As always your advice is spot on. I will borrow your ideas when working with families. It is important for the parents to be the example for their kids. I like the way you suggest a ten minute play list. I remember when chores were being done when I was young, Motown would be playing. It was fun!

    • Hazel Thornton on October 23, 2018 at 12:05 pm

      Thanks, Rosemary. Motown chores sound fun! I suppose there could be multiple play lists and family member could take turns choosing.

  6. Julie Bestry on August 21, 2019 at 1:23 pm

    All of these tips are excellent, but #3 really strikes a chord for me as a professional organizer. We assume kids know what we mean when we say to organize or clean up a space, but how can they if they are not shown the steps and given guidance to practice them? So many of my adult clients have reached adulthood with a wide variety of skills, but none of those “adulting” skills surrounding organizing, either because their parents lacked the skills or did those things “invisibly” so kids could not learn by osmosis. Specifying what to do, and using the guidelines you’ve provided here, should make it much easier for families to master the household and life! Great post!

    • Hazel Thornton on August 28, 2019 at 9:46 am

      Thanks, Julie! This also applies to “Odd Couple” spouses and roommates. How are they supposed to know what you expect (or desire) unless you really spell it out?

  7. Seana Turner on August 26, 2019 at 7:59 am

    I’ve never done the “clutter jail” thing, but I remember my Dad talking about his mother taking things that he failed to put away. I think it must have been pretty motivating, because my Dad is VERY organized and never leaves anything out. These are great tips. I tell parents that children will not want to put things away if the vibe that we put out is one of drudgery. If we can model a joy in resetting our space, they are much more likely to want to emulate us.

    • Hazel Thornton on August 28, 2019 at 9:48 am

      Right? Who wants to do unpleasant, unrewarding work? Attitude is everything!

  8. Sabrina Quairoli on August 26, 2019 at 9:17 am

    I love the idea of playing music to help get motivated to clear the clutter. Kids love walking and dancing, so why not pick up stuff while doing that too. It’s a win-win. =)

    • Hazel Thornton on August 28, 2019 at 9:38 am

      Works for adults, too! And with kids, even better if they get to help choose the songs.

  9. Sara Skillen on August 26, 2019 at 10:44 am

    We used several of these ideas as my kids were growing up (Clutter Jail was Shoe Jail in our house, though), but the one thing that has been the most helpful over time is #9. I decided that as long as the rooms weren’t unsanitary (no food lying around, nothing that would attract bugs) I would leave them be. But in the rooms that were under my primary control, they had to follow my rules. It really has worked well, and occasionally I will even catch one of them cleaning their room on their own – un-prompted! There is always hope!

    • Hazel Thornton on August 28, 2019 at 9:42 am

      I’m glad to hear that picking your battles works well for you, and it’s always satisfying to see the organizing examples you set rub off onto someone else. 😉

  10. Janet Schiesl on August 26, 2019 at 4:33 pm

    Great post. The list very comprehensive. I think communication is key when setting up a system that you want several people to use. Collaboration is key for buy in of many.

    • Hazel Thornton on August 28, 2019 at 9:34 am

      Thanks, Janet! Communication + collaboration = I agree completely!

  11. Adele Lapointe on February 17, 2021 at 10:22 am

    Love the idea of “clutter jail”!! Great tips

  12. Olive Wagar on February 24, 2021 at 2:24 pm

    As usual, you have provided a comprehensive list that is easy to follow. Keeping organizing simple, obvious, and easy makes it possible for just about everyone. 🙂 My children are adults now, but I think they would have gotten the message to put their things away with clutter jail.

  13. […] “Does it seem pointless to try to stay organized, with everyone making messes right behind you as you go around the house tidying up?” Read 10 Ways to Trick your Family into Being Organized […]

  14. Everything In Its Place - Grace in the Race on June 1, 2021 at 10:20 am

    […] ‍‍‍  Can I get a little help around here? “Does it seem pointless to try to stay organized, with everyone making messes right behind you as you go around the house tidying up?” Read 10 Ways to Trick your Family into Being Organized […]

    • Hazel Thornton on June 9, 2021 at 6:11 am

      Thanks to Grace in the Race for including this post in their weekly Smart Reads list!

  15. Annette Murray on June 21, 2023 at 10:41 am

    Yes Hazel, the “Go Clean Your Room!”…I wondered about this at a very early age…yes I am weird. When my mom told my brother to clean his room and wondered why he could not do it.
    I of course did not need instruction…the tidy nerd…even drawers. We are all wired a little differently for sure.

    • Hazel Thornton on June 24, 2023 at 8:03 am

      So you were well-prepared for clients whose brains are wired differently than yours!

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