How to Teach Kids to be Organized – From Toddler to Teen

Organizing and decluttering are important life skills.  If we already have these skills, we may take them for granted. Just ask all the adults who are leaning them for the first time! And like so many things, when taught early and consistently to kids, they can naturally become good habits. But how to teach kids to be organized in a way that works for your family?

Let’s hear from moms who have been there and done that.  

I reached out to successful parenting and home bloggers for real life ideas and inspiration. 

These moms share their own strategies for teaching their kids (from toddler to teen) organizing skills for life. 

I posed the following question, and you can read the reponses below.

For more great info, be sure to visit their websites!

What is one effective strategy you’ve used to teach, encourage, or motivate your children to practice good decluttering and/or organizing skills?
Abby Lawson
Abby Organizes
“Set an expectation of organization in the home.”

My best tip for encouraging children to organize and declutter is to set an expectation of organization in the home. I do this by leading by example and making sure my own spaces are decluttered and organized. We have specific times each week where the whole family works together to reset the house, so it becomes part of the kids’ routine. And the organization systems I put in place for them are simple and don’t require tons of steps, so they’re easy to follow and maintain. We are not perfect at it, and they definitely require reminders from time to time, but setting that expectation that we live in an organized home helps form the basis for everything else and makes decluttering an organizing a way of life rather than this major event that we only participate in occasionally.

Suggested ages:  Toddler, Preschooler, Elementary

“We take the ‘let them make a mess’ approach.”

When it comes to getting our boys to help organize, we take the “let them make a mess” approach. When they were younger it meant allowing them to not pick up their toys for a week or two before we organized their rooms. This allowed us to start the project on a positive note. Everything that wasn’t put away was automatically a keep item and they only needed to declutter toys that hadn’t been played with. . As they’ve gotten older it’s giving them a week or two of not cleaning their rooms. I now tell them to take a look at anything that’s been gathering dust, because they obviously haven’t touched it in a while. Simplifying it this way makes an overwhelming project easier for them to tackle, and I hope that it’s something that will stick with them when they’re no longer living at home.

Suggested ages:  Preschooler, Elementary, Pre-Teen, Teen

“Encourage a habit of tidying up their rooms each night.”

When all my kids were younger, I tried to encourage a habit of tidying up their rooms each night before bed (as part of the bedtime routine), and especially to keep the floor clean. Explaining that they will sleep better with a clean room was somehow actually motivating to them. So much so that my five-year-old would attribute bad dreams to a messy room!

Suggested ages:  Toddler, Preschooler, Elementary

“Focus on the value of giving.”

When talking to my kids about decluttering I try to focus on the value of giving. There will be times that it’s difficult for them to let go of something, even if they don’t play with it anymore so we spend a little time thinking of all the fun memories with the item and then I guide them into thinking how fun it would be for other kids to have the same experience. We talk about how it’s important for kids to have access to toys and games because it helps them learn and be creative, but that not all kids have access to new toys. This gives them perspective and typically they are willing and even excited to send their item to a new home.

Suggested ages:  Preschooler, Elementary, Pre-Teen, Teen

Hilary Erickson
Pulling Curls
“Break down decluttering into specific zones.”

We have to break down decluttering into specific zones, — so, let’s take a drawer. Most often I will decide what % of the items in that drawer that drawer can actually hold and I then translate that into a keep X throw Y plan.  So, we can keep 2 things, but we have to throw one out. That makes it easier for my kids to narrow down what they really like, and don’t care about.

Suggested ages:  Toddler, Preschooler, Elementary

Julianna Poplin
The Simplicity Habit
“Learned from my example … then we worked together.”

My kids learned how to declutter at a young age. They first learned from my example and then we worked together on their toys and books. I provided appropriately sized storage containers for their room and then we sorted items and decided what would stay and what would go. The storage container acted as a boundary for the amount of things they could keep. As they got older, they took on more of the decluttering process themselves and eventually didn’t need to be told to do it as they’d learned to manage it on their own.

Suggested ages:  Toddler, Preschooler, Elementary

Lauren Jones
Lauren Nicole Jones
“My husband and I model this behavior.”

Having three small children under 4 years old has taught me a lot about our bandwidth as human beings. How much I am able to handle as a mama to young children, whether that be with our schedules or our possessions becomes less and less the more children I have. The best strategy for teaching and encouraging my kids to declutter and organize is to practice it myself daily with my consumption habits as well as not packing our schedules too full. They see how my husband and I model this behavior and it becomes normal to them overtime. If it is too much for me to clean up (toy clutter) it’s far too much for them. Give them what they can handle, and the “less is more” approach goes so far with moms of little ones (or any age really). SO the long winded answer is simply to lead by example, not give your kids more than they can handle and practice creating space as a family unit with schedules and consumption habits!

Suggested ages:  Toddler, Preschooler

Lauren Tingley
Simply Well Balanced
“My favorite strategy … is to make it a game.”

My favorite strategy to declutter with kids is to make it a game. As a first grade teacher I know that you can get children excited to do any task as long as you make it fun! With my own kids, we create a Bingo Board full of items they can look for to declutter and if they fill a row they get to choose a fun experience like getting ice cream or going to the park as a reward.

Suggested ages: Elementary

“Built into our daily and weekly routines.”

We’ve built “picking up” and “putting away” into our daily and weekly routines! At the end of every day, the kids have to help clean up the playroom, put dirty clothes in the hamper, hang up their towels after bath. Giving each and every item a clear and designated spot really helps them see and understand where each item goes (like picture labels on toys baskets, a specific hook for the bath towel, etc). Then at the start of every week (Sunday nights), we do a “Pick Up Dance Party” that helps re-set the entire house (this usually involves moving toys, books, cups, and other items back where they belong and putting all the clean laundry away). It’s a family affair that everyone participates in. Although these things take repetition and “nagging” at first, if you stick with it day after day and week after week, putting their items away becomes automatic! 

Suggested ages:  Toddler, Preschooler

Melissa Russell
Simple Lionheart Life
“Keeping things simple.”

The most effective way I’ve helped my kids manage their belongings and stay organized is by keeping things simple! My goal is to only give them as much to manage as they reasonable can given their ages and natural tendencies. We aim to keep their toys, clothes and other belongings simplified and reduced to an amount that they can reasonably take care of. Too much stuff feels overwhelming (for kids and adults!) and can simply become too much to manage. But giving them a simplified amount of stuff to manage is a great way to teach them the skills they need to take care of their stuff and stay organized. While also helping them feel confident and capable, and teaching them that more isn’t always better too!

Suggested ages:  Elementary, Pre-Teen, Teen

Michelle Hansen
Practical Perfection
“How various states of our homes make them feel inside.”

It’s really helpful to point out to our children how various states of our homes (be they dirty or clean) make them feel inside. Most adults don’t even realize the physical weight that messes and ‘too much stuff’ can have on us. So take time to internalize how it makes you feel as a parent and then help your kids learn to recognize that as well. It’s a learned skill so it takes time but it’s a really important life skill to learn!

Suggested ages:  Toddler, Preschooler, Elementary, Pre-Teen, Teen

Renée Brown
Great Peace Living
“Teach your young children a household routine.”

A great way to develop organization skills in children starts with one word, routine. Teach your young children a household routine that will promote organized habits. When my son was old enough to change his own clothes, I taught him that dirty clothes go into his basket. I watched to encourage him each time he did so until it became a habit. Next, I taught him to fold and put away his clothes when I did laundry on Mondays. When the time came to learn to do his own laundry, he chose Tuesdays to do the task. No matter the chore, having a good household routine helps your kids develop habits that make for a more peaceful home.

Suggested ages:  Toddler, Preschooler, Elementary, Pre-Teen, Teen

Susan Santoro
Organized 31
“Twice a year I scheduled decluttering sessions.”

Twice a year I scheduled decluttering sessions with each child’s, going through clothes and toys. We discuss the criteria used in deciding what to keep and who would benefit from donations. My children were always equal partners in the decision making so they were not afraid to declutter. I encouraged them throughout the decision-making process. We had fun while working. We shared memories attached to items. We discussed why the child no longer liked items, which was helpful to me for future purchases. I made sure we were building our relationship while also teaching the skills needed in making decluttering decisions.

Suggested ages:  Preschooler, Elementary, Pre-Teen

Tracy Hoth
Simply Squared Away
“‘The Favorites Method.”

The “Favorites Method” – First, SORT. Then, go back to each category choosing your favorites. These favorites go into their new home first (a closet, drawer, bin). Once the container is half full, begin to make decisions on the remaining items. Can I live without it? Can I bless the needy?

Suggested ages:  Elementary, Pre-Teen, Teen

There you go!  Real life solutions to inspire how you pass these skills on to your own children.

I hope these great ideas have motivated you to find simple methods that are a good fit for your family, and to keep at them.

A special thank you to all the ladies who contributed to this article for sharing their insight and experiences.  

Do you have you own strategy?  Share it in the comments below!

teach your kids to be organized

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