Curb the clutter

Ten tipsUnless parents are blessed with children who like to keep things tidy, it’s not unusual for kids’ bedrooms to resemble the aftermath of an earthquake. Whether its dinosaurs parading across the carpet or Barbie dolls that have set up house, chances are if there are toys and clothes in the room, there is a mess.

Kids love to play and pull their toys out, but they don’t like to put them away. The same goes for a tween who wants to try on four or five outfits before school but doesn’t put the discarded clothes away. With some simple changes, however, bedrooms can stay clean.

1 Sort, sort, sort. Telling your child to clean his room can be overwhelming if the mess encompasses the whole room. Breaking it up into smaller pieces can make a tough job seem easier.

“Focus on one area at a time,” says Karli Bertocchi, mom-to-be and owner of Organized With Style, an organizing company in Chicago."And don’t be afraid to get rid of clothes that don’t fit anymore or toys they don’t play with.”

During the initial cleaning process, have plenty of garbage bags handy. Only throw away those things that are completely useless or damaged, the rest can be donated or sold on eBay.

2 Buy bins. After the cleaning binge, put away the clothes and place the books on the bookshelves. The biggest piles will probably be toys. Luckily there’s an inexpensive and fun way to keep them organized.

“My kids’ rooms and toy areas are filled with a variety of Sterilite containers without the lids,” says Karen Cibulskis, a Bolingbrook mom."This is an easy and inexpensive way to put toys back and keep sets of toys together.”

Plastic boxes can be found everywhere from Target to IKEA. Depending on your price limits and needs, you can find something perfect for your kids’ bedrooms.

3 Give them ownership. When you are ready to buy the storage containers, bring your kids with you to the store. Plastic boxes come in a variety of shapes and sizes. If your daughter loves the pink box you bought for her ponies, she might be more likely to put them away.

The same goes for positioning in the room. If you’ve cleaned everything, let your kids help arrange the room and decide where to put the containers and which toys to group together.

If kids feel proud of their choices, they will have more pride in keeping their room clean.

4 Keep it reachable. Consider the height and reach of your kids. Organizing isn’t a one-size-fits-all science; it’s the result of a careful study of the needs and abilities of the child using it. If your daughter wants her Barbie dolls and can barely reach the box, she’s more likely to pull it down but not put it away.

Don’t worry if there are boxes stacked on the floor or inside the closet. Looking at neatly stacked boxes is more visually pleasing than toys littered across the floor.

5 Install closet systems. Planning the interior of the closet is just as important as choosing containers for the toys.

“Parents should consider their children’s age and height when organizing the closet,” says Bertocchi."Any good closet system should be adjustable and change as your kids grow.”

A double hang closet rod allows you to hang two horizontal rows of clothing, at just the right level for young kids to reach. Portable shelving units work well since they can be removed or changed without damage to the closet walls.

6 One in, one out. Once everything is organized, establish a new rule. If a new toy comes into the room, one must leave. Most kids will balk. Encourage your kids to either donate, sell or give their old toys to a younger sibling.

If your kids can’t bear to part with certain toys, put them into rotation. Buy one or two extra bins to store toys your kids only play with occasionally. When your kids are bored with the toys in their room, have them pack up a box and bring out one of the stored containers.

“If the kids will want a toy in six months, pack it up and wait until they are ready to play with it again,” Bertocchi says.

7 Establish rules. If your kids don’t know your expectations, then don’t expect their bedrooms to be clean on your schedule. With younger kids, make cleanup a part of their bedtime routine. In time, tidying up will become a habit and their rooms should stay clean. If you are just starting with older kids, put them on a timetable. Make your rules clear and create a contract if you need to. Older kids can be held accountable for not following the rules, so if cleaning is important, tell them the penalties for ignoring the new rules.

8 Be a model. If your kids see your bedroom is a mess, they will be less likely to care about their bedroom. Just like any other behavior we want our kids to have, it’s best if they see their parents following the same rules. If you have trouble keeping your bedroom clean, apply the same principles you used to organize your child’s room.

9 Maintain regularly. If you notice the piles return even though the storage boxes are full, it’s time to reevaluate.

“Keep up the maintenance periodically,” says Bertocchi."Kids are always outgrowing clothes and toys. Pay attention to what no longer fits and which toys haven’t seen the light in months.”

10 Don’t be afraid to rotate or get rid of old items. If you think a younger child might be ready for the toys or clothes in a couple of years, box them up, label and store them.

By encouraging your kids to keep their bedrooms clean, not only will you be give them a sense of pride in ownership, but you will be teaching them skills that will stick with them throughout their lives.

Michelle Sussman is a mom, wife and writer in Bolingbrook. Visit her on the Web at

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