Today’s culture often prioritizes acquiring and accumulating things, making it a challenge for kids to develop organizational skills.

Consumerism is really nothing new, but is so ingrained in our society now that most kids follow squarely in their parents’ footsteps. With overflowing toy boxes, bookshelves and closets adding clutter and disorder to their lives, many parents find themselves raising messy kids.

Is there a solution to this problem? Can parents easily turn their little slobs into neat freaks?

Teaching your kids to clean up after themselves and avoid having a messy room is not an easy task. However, with a change in perspective that de-emphasizes material items, the messy child syndrome can be much less severe and easier to manage. Parents can encourage a balance between owning things and practicing minimalism.  Then, children can not only lower stress in their lives today, but also be prepared for an organized life tomorrow.

Want to go from rearing messy kids to encouraging order and mindfulness? These helpful tips can deliver your family from clutter.

The Threats to Organization in a Child’s Life

The desire to accumulate things blossoms at an early age. Peer pressure is rampant in schools, with kids of all ages competing against each other over who has the newest gaming console, piece of tech, or trendiest clothes. Even before kids get engulfed in their social circles, they are a favorite marketing target through TV and social media.

The road to excess starts in preschool with younger children engaging in play dates and going to parties. Think of the fuss around kid’s birthday parties, which can extend through middle school and beyond. These parties often lead to an accumulation of unneeded gifts, toys, and other birthday-related items.

Most parents have the best intentions. They want to raise their children in an orderly household, only to ultimately encourage a type of hoarding by placing such an importance on kids’ birthdays. It can leave parents in a pickle. You want your children to be happy.

Kids are also assaulted by an excess of swag.  With kids meal toys, art projects, school events, Christmas and other holidays, children are plied with cheap plastic garbage everywhere they turn. These items are often enjoyed once, then piled in a drawer. The result is too much stuff and a less-than-ideal outlook on what’s truly important in life.

Combatting Early Hoarding Tendencies

Rather than immediately focusing on rejecting buying too much stuff, parents can slowly introduce simple living. Kids might not care if they keep or throw out certain items. They ultimately look to parents for guidance on what items have value. A child may want to hold onto a cheap throwaway toy because they do not want to be wasteful.

One impactful method for avoiding messy kids is to teach them how to declutter at an early age. Tell kids it is okay to throw out cheap items. Better yet, encourage them to decline these things from fast food restaurants and other free giveaways. When they come home from a birthday party with their goodie bag, don’t immediately toss it in the trash. Rather, let them enjoy the bounty. After a day or two, ask them if there is anything in the bag that they want to keep. Without calling the items junk or trash, use these small tokens as learning tools in developing an understanding of value.

Encourage Order Through Purging

Another way to teach about value and avoid a collection of too much stuff is to create a purge-before-buying policy. Implement a simple rule where a new clothing item or toy can only be purchased if one or two old items are first donated, sold or trashed. This method has two benefits. First, it discourages buying new things that are unnecessary. Secondly, it instills a decluttering mindset early on.

Purging is also a great exercise for determining value. Things can have sentimental, recreational, or economic value. If a thing doesn’t one of these boxes, teach your child to let the item go. This can also help encourage children to equate valuable items with hard work.  When something has value that kids understand, they will be more likely to take care of valuables and not waste money on things that do not add joy to their lives.

Teach Kids the Value of Experience Versus Stuff

Encourage alternatives to mindless giving and receiving and you’ll take a big step away from messy kids in your home. We often hear inspirational stories of children who collect money or items for charities instead of asking for toys and things for themselves. Discuss these heartwarming acts of selflessness and model it yourself.

Instead of buying a toy or item of clothing that might just end up in a toy box or the back of a closet, gift an experience. If your child enjoys sports, a special day at a sporting event will be remembered for years. There are countless examples of experiential gifts, and none of them result in a messy room.

Teach Organization Early and Often

Of course, the best way to turn messy kids into neat freaks is to teach organizational skills early and often. Even if you decide to not give your kids weekly chores, make organization a part of every day. Cleaning up is much more difficult when a mess is ignored. Teach your kids to organize and pick up their things, and they will see this not as a chore but as a normal routine.

Consider incorporating the following into a daily routine for your children (and yourself!):

  • A messy bed is no way to start the day, so task them with making their beds each morning. Neatening sheets and covers is simple, and it can set the tone for the day ahead.
  • Few people enjoy folding laundry. But folded laundry reduces clutter in the bedroom and closets, and can help kids efficiently use their dressers and other storage areas.
  • Make closets and drawers the organization tools they are intended to be. There is a tendency to rat away things in a closet as a guise for organization. Teach kids to organize these areas frequently and give everything in their life a home.

Organizational skills can be taught to anyone, no matter how old or disorganized. But it is much easier to instill positive behaviors at an early age. Messy kids can be avoided. All it takes is a combination of simple living, appreciation for value, and a basic understanding of the importance of order.

Kevin Wheatley