Organizing your family for the New Year

Is getting the family more organized on your list of things to improve this year? Here are seven strategies you can use to boost results.

Photo: iStockphoto
Photo: iStockphoto

Research shows that people who focus on making changes at the New Year have a ten times greater chance of success than at other times during the year. If getting the family more organized is on your list of things to improve this year, here are seven strategies you can implement with your kids to boost results.

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1. Define together how you want your space to feel
Shared spaces in the home ought to be places for family members to thrive. Since we all react differently to our environments, there will likely be a range of ideals among family members. While some may find comfort in a visually busy space, others may find it stressful and prefer a more minimal environment. Generally, people prefer a tidy, organized space to a cluttered one, even if they find it challenging to keep it that way.

Have a family discussion to better understand each family member’s perspective on what makes an ideal space. Pay attention to the amount of time each person spends in the space and to their degree of sensitivity to the environment. Knowing each person’s preferences is a starting point for a conversation about what it takes to create and maintain that environment. Come up with words and descriptions for the space. For example, you might write: “Our great room will be a comfortable, relaxing, welcoming space, with places to sit, play games, read and listen to music. Toys, books, games and music will have homes in cupboards so they can be tidied up and stored when not in use.”

Understanding, generosity and compromise go a long way to sustaining harmonious places for the entire family.

2. Refocus on current priorities
What will your kids spend time on in the next few months? Are there new activities, interests, projects for school? Look at each activity and make sure that work and storage spaces are in place to support them. This might mean setting up surfaces for writing and homework, a computer workstation for safe keyboarding, a storage cupboard with craft supplies or a stocked bag for a new sport.

3. Put your home on a cleanse
Spaces have a tendency to fill up, and unless your family is blessed with a regular “editor,” it can be very helpful to schedule a regular home cleanse. Letting go of things can be easy for some, and much tougher and emotionally challenging for others. Respect the limits of the storage spaces you have and keep only what fits comfortably. This might mean storing items elsewhere or donating or selling items that still have value. Talking to your kids about toys they still play with, versus those that they might be sentimental about, may help pare down the number you keep on hand.

4. Honour memories
If you or your kids are attached to items but you don’t have the space for them, consider taking photos of special items and creating a “toy” or “treasures” album. Often we are afraid of losing the memory of an item or experience; once it has been honoured this way, the item itself can be passed on. Sometimes it just requires what I call a “Brave Moment” to muster the courage to just let something go.

5. Look behind you
One of the easiest ways to maintain an organized environment is to cultivate the habit of cleaning up right after an activity. Whether it’s closing closet doors and drawers after choosing an outfit, clearing up the counter after preparing a snack, or putting away a toy after playing with it, the more consistently kids are coached to tidy up, the less likely a mess will get out of hand and become too daunting to tackle. Parents can role-model this to set an example.

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6. Invest quality time and energy
Many people assume that getting organized is just supposed to happen. This is definitely not the case! You need to have not only the systems and behaviours in place, but also the time and energy to implement them. Organizing employs cognitive skills to sort items and make decisions, along with physical energy to move things around. It is best tackled when family members are freshly fueled with food, water and sleep. Find a time in your family’s calendar when energy levels are at their best, and devote some of this quality time to maintaining order. Our family uses Sunday afternoons to review the contents of backpacks for the upcoming week, and to discuss our time commitments so we can best support each other.

7. Kids can learn how to be organized
If you’re skilled at organizing, you’re a step ahead at being able to role-model and teach your kids what has worked for you. Be prepared, though: Some of your ways might work, and others simply won’t feel intuitive to them. Since we all think and respond to our environments differently, it pays to invest time to develop systems your child responds to. For example, some kids might have plenty of patience to hang clothes on a hanger, while hooks are ideal for others. You might remove the lid off a laundry hamper and achieve 100% success of clothes making it into the hamper — whereas before clothes were left on the floor. Look for “speed bumps” that may be getting in the way of your child’s natural rhythms, and work with them to create systems that flow naturally for them.

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