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 your family 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:

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 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.

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 a home for everything; crystal clear communication of your expectations; and buy-in on their part. Help them establish good habits by figuring out what works best for your family.

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”.)

Provide sufficient storage

The most common reason I see why kids can’t get their rooms “clean” is that they have too much stuff and inadequate 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.

Label everything

Sure, it’s obvious to YOU where the leftovers should go in the fridge, but is it obvious to others? What if you had a shelf that was labeled “Eat First”, to include items that are nearing expiration? Do you think it more likely that those items might get corralled on that shelf and stand a higher chance of 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)!

Make it fun

There are lots of ways to make chores fun. OK, funner, at least. For example, you could try a daily “Ten Minute Tidy Up” before or after dinner, or another time when you’re all together. Decide when you’ll do it, and stick to it, so you don’t have to re-think it every day. (“Are we going to do it today? Hmmm…I don’t know…”) 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 family calls it a “Ten Minute Turd Hunt”…but your family may have, um, a different sense of humor.

Schedule a weekly family meeting

This is a chance for families (or couples) to review how things are going; compare their schedules for the coming week; and discuss whatever new issues have come up since last week. Everyone gets a turn to speak without being judged. Because it’s a regular thing, no one needs to wonder if, and when, it would be a good time to bring something up. Again, make it fun. Have your meeting on a Saturday morning, do a few chores, and then go out to brunch together, or enjoy another fun family activity. A good thing to review at a family meeting is the Six Organizing Systems Everyone Needs.

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 clear-cut homes, and the rules about when 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. 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 catching one another doing it.

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 “Odd Couple” partners (spouse, roommate, etc.) it could be whatever room or part of the house they use for their hobbies. The deal is that they agree to keep public and communal areas tidy.

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 help your family?

How do you keep your family organized?

Please share with us in the comments below!

Copyright 2017 by Hazel Thornton, Organized For Life.
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  1. 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.

  2. 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 🙂

  3. 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.

  4. 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. 🙂

  5. 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!

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

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