Yesterday I finished with my bi-annual project of helping each of my girls deep clean their rooms. I spread this project out over different days and times, because I wanted to make sure I had a fresh reserve of patience for each child. Because, lets face it, young children won’t have quick decision-making powers or super focus or long attention spans for cleaning. A lot of parents might use that as an excuse to deep clean a child’s room for them, because that would be way quicker and easier! BUT, this process is about so much more than the result of a clean room, we are building skills in our children so that as adults they don’t have to struggle with disorganization.
Let’s get into the details of how to make these deep cleans successful educational experiences. First of all, deep cleaning each child’s room should happen at least a few times a year so that any buildup can’t get too awful. I suggest making traditions out of it (like I talk about in Find Your Reason To Purge). In our home, we do it two times a year, in the spring and fall, because my girls get the proceeds from selling their unwanted toys at the bi-annual consignment sale or neighborhood garage sale.
How it works:
– You’ll need 3 bags or boxes, so that you can separate things that are leaving the room into 3 categories, TRASH, DONATE/SELL, PUT AWAY.
– Send other children to play elsewhere and don’t bring distractions (like a phone) into your child’s room. You want to give your child your undivided attention.
– If the bed isn’t made, make that together.
– Start with pulling everything out of the closet, drawers, dresser tops, and other crevices. Bring it all out to the center of the room and start sorting into the 3 boxes.
– Put items you are keeping away, making sure to keep “like with like”.
– Finish this off with dusting and vacuuming, and the job is done.
The plan sounds easy enough, right? Kind of. The hard part is actually letting your children feel in charge of what they keep and what is trash. I have varying levels of organization within my children. One personality in general wants to keep everything. Over time I’ve already noticed an improvement in her ability to let go! *Organization can be learned, it does not have to be instinctive! So, when this child wants to keep something that I think might be trash or is no longer of use to her, I gently tell her my opinions about WHY it might be trash or WHY I think she doesn’t need it. This is where that reserve of patience is needed, because we have to go slow and give our children a chance to process. The most important part is: honor their choice without judgement. And watch out for the judgement we give with facial expressions and our tone of voice. I’ve noticed that when my daughter feels in control and not on the defensive, she relaxes and actually gets rid of a ton more!
When we stop to explain the WHYs of getting rid of things, that is when our children start to learn vital organizing skills and practice asking themselves important questions. Would this be of use to anyone? (trash) Do I use this anymore? (give/sell) Do I still love this or have my tastes changed? (decorative or whimsical things) How and when will I use this? (keepers)
Raising the next generation of organizers doesn’t end with the bi-annual deep cleans, there is some maintenance involved.
Put your kids regularly in charge of cleaning their own space. Each of my girls is lucky enough to have their own room, so their personal space is clearly defined. If your children share a room, you may want to start by helping your children understand the boundaries of their personal space, and so, their area of responsibility in their room. Maybe your child’s area is half the closet, their own bed and dresser, and the floor space next to the bed. You don’t need to partition anything off with tape, but it is good for children to have clear expectations, so when we say “go clean your room”, they know what that means. Important: STOP YOURSELF FROM CLEANING FOR THEM! You are not helping them, you are handicapping them. None of my children’s rooms are as organized or clean as if I had done it myself. Still, I can honestly say that it doesn’t bother me. Their rooms are clean enough. They clean them once a week, including dusting and vacuuming.
Some kids take to this a lot differently, just like personalities vary so much from person to person. My youngest is so organized that Matt and I often joke about how we are raising her to take over my organizing business when she is 12. My real hope, however, is that by then I’ll have 3 little professional organizers, 1 who came by the talent naturally and 2 who came by the talent with a lot of work, coaching, and love.
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*Sometime I’ll have to tell you Matt’s transformation from a hoarder when we got married (such as, he had 2 rooms of computer equipment, neatly organized, just more than any 1 human could ever need) to someone who makes completely sensible decisions about what to keep – it has been an amazing journey! You could say my daughter who tends toward hoarding comes by it honestly. But, like her dad, I expect a full recovery.