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Raising clutter-free kids — just like Marie Kondo would have you do it

Want to keep your child’s backpack neat and organized, beyond the first day of school? Follow these tips for helping your child get rid of clutter.
Want to keep your child’s backpack neat and organized, beyond the first day of school? Follow these tips for helping your child get rid of clutter. MCT file

Caught up in the Marie Kondo, get-yourself-organized phase and hope to get your kids on board too? If you’re living with toys on the floor, messy backpacks and clothes spilling out of drawers, take heart: Teaching your kids how to sort, clean, straighten and plan, even at a young age, is possible and a key ingredient for success in life.

Children naturally crave order, and will take better care of their things and enjoy them more if they can find them easily.

Similarly, creating routines and predictability not only helps kids get used to carrying out certain tasks, it instills a sense of pride, structure, independence and responsibility, all of which support healthy child development. Not sure how to get started? Start with these tips:

Start a master calendar. Placing a calendar somewhere the entire family can see it — and easily assess it — makes everyone (including you!) accountable. Track what each person is doing and encourage your child to write in their own entries and reference the calendar when making plans. It’s also a good idea, come Sunday, to discuss the plans for the week as a family, so everyone’s on the same page.

Introduce checklists. Whether you write your “to do” list down on paper or track it via an app, checklists help everyone get organized. And the tasks can be as simple as “Three Things to Do Before Bed” or “What to Pack for Vacation.” Working on these lists together will help teach your child to strategize tasks and organize their time.

Clearly enforce the rules. Be precise about your expectations, i.e., “Please put your homework folder in your backpack,” (versus saying “pack up”) and make sure they’re keeping their homework where it needs to be. Check backpacks nightly and set a time aside each week so you can get things sorted, together. With younger children, encourage “pick up” time – maybe adding a song or music as you put things away – so the process becomes a fun activity rather than a tiresome chore.

Break big tasks into small bites. Help your child break school projects or household chores into smaller, more manageable steps so it feels less overwhelming. For example, if their job is to clear the table, explain that first they should scrape leftovers into the garbage, then load the dishes into the dishwasher, then wipe the counters. This helps kids process the fact that each project has a beginning, middle and end.

Put together a homework supply box. Make sure you always have school supplies on hand and encourage your child to stow away their own pens, paper, markers and whatever else they need to get their work done. That way, when they run low on supplies, you can make a list together of what needs to be replaced.

Conduct a weekly cleanup. Have your child purge bookbags and notebooks on a weekly basis, putting old tests and papers in a separate file at home. It’s a good idea, too, once every few months, to go through old clothes and toys together and donate or throw out what you no longer use.

Prep and plan. Every night before bed, have kids pack away their schoolwork and place the clothes and shoes they plan to wear the next day in an accessible place. Remember, too, to plug in any electronic devices they take with them during the day so they’ll be full charged and ready to go in the morning. Being as prepared as possible for the next day cuts down on morning chaos and allows everyone to be better prepared for the day ahead.

Children’s Trust Research & Evaluation Analyst Angela Blizzard, M.S. in clinical science in child psychology, is passionate about increasing access to and the quality of community-based programs that seek to improve health for children and families. For more information, visit