Northwest Arkansas Mom Whisperer: Organizing your family’s ‘landing pad’ for back to school

Guest post by Vikki Spencer

‘Tis the season for getting organized. Back to school season!

Can’t miss the bins, crates, shelves, baskets and boxes all promising the perfect closet, laundry room or landing space. So we buy one storage container – or four. We brainstorm a faux Brady Bunch house organized top to bottom.

For the most part, we have great vision and even better intention – until we factor in the family that will be using their things in our system. And there’s the rub. Our system…their stuff.

It’s like oil and water and somehow they rarely mix. No wonder when an organizing show arranges the kids’ stuff, they ALWAYS end the show asking the kids, “Can you keep it like that?” And everyone says “yes” because they like it clean. Even the kids like it clean (they just don’t like being the one to clean it).

So, let me offer a fresh perspective on organizing – one that doesn’t start with the cute baskets or cool bins. It starts with the kids.

Let’s say we’d like to make a final –once-and-for-all swipe at organizing the landing area (that’s the three feet between “We’re home!” and “What’s for snack?”).

The first thing is to acknowledge (after snack, and with the family) – that it’s a mess. No one can find anything. Everyone has to dig around to find their matching shoe. It takes cleaning up. It’s no fun.

Second, ask the kids “What can we do to fix this problem?” Hey, you have some ideas in the back pocket, but see what they say. If it’s their idea, you’re halfway to organization.

After they think about it, you can always offer “how about a peg for your coat instead of a hanger, would that be easier?” or “Would you like a bin for all the shoes, or just one special bin for all your things?” Think of what makes sense for each kid and go with that. For kids 13 and under, this might just be the most interesting part of their day – helping the family solve a problem and having a say in how it’s solved.

Third, implement it. If they want pegs, find pegs that fit your décor. If they want a bin just for them, find the bin you can live with.

Last, work it. Take the lead from the organizing shows and ask them, “Can you put all your stuff there when you come in the door?” Of course they’ll say yes (just like the kids on TV). But then tomorrow, and the next day and the next day you’re going to remind them that they said they’d use it.

Oh, the agony. Yep. For 3-4 days it might stink. But after that, there will be a habit slowly taking shape – one that helps kids come home, find a place for their things, and enjoy time with family — not time cleaning up again.

Best of all, the next time an organizing show comes on, you’ll be one step ahead of them– and so will your kids.

(I might add that kids need to see us settling our things as soon as we walk in, too… monkey see monkey do, but that’s another post.)

Vikki Spencer, M.Ed. is a professional life coach who supports moms to identify, create and celebrate change. She believes no one is “just” a mom and has been known to hold the Wii boxing title in the family.