Back to school organizing with kids: It's time we get them involved

This blog post was originally posted on the Today Parent website. I am a Today Parenting Contributor and would appreciate you all reading it over there as well and VOTING it up in the comments there. Thank you so much! Happy Back to School Organizing!

As a professional organizer, I often hear stories from my clients about how they “used” to be organized before having children (I like to call that time, BC!). And, I get it! As the mom to 11-year-old identical twin girls, I know the mess, chaos, and stuff that comes with kids, and that stuff cycles in throughout the years. It expands and becomes more complicated as they get older. Stuff is an inevitable part of parenting, but that doesn’t mean that you have to sit back and wait for them to go to college or decide to light a match! I am serious. And I am also realistic with what I tell people about getting organized and what it takes to be organized. Because let’s face it, no one really wants to be disorganized and there is no one perfect system for you and your family.

I am going to shout from the rooftops until everyone hears me that it is possible to be organized when you have kids at home.

Should I say it again?

Will things be perfect when you are managing two toddlers at home? No. Will they be perfect with two teenagers at home? Again, no. If you are getting the hint, things are never going to be perfectly organized in your home. And you know what, that is ok! You don’t live in the pages of a magazine. You live in your home where children also live and learn and play. I truly believe there is a difference between being neat and being organized. Life happens but, I ask you to look at organization not as a one time event but as a lifestyle. I believe you can always be organized but it’s impossible to always be neat!

“Here's to strong women. May we know them. May we be them. May we raise them.” 💪🏻💙 Happy #InternationalWomensDay to all of the kind, brave, driven women who inspire me daily—especially these two.

So, instead of waiting to cram in organization during nap time or while your kids are at school (which more importantly means doing it all by yourself), involve your children-yes, it’s possible!

I am a big believer that you shouldn’t be forced to go at this alone as a one time event each year. This is the year to involve your kids (at an age appropriate level for the task) and establish getting organized not just as that one time event but a lifestyle.

Before school starts and at back to school time is one of the best times to start to involve your kids in organization. It is the changing of the seasons, they are (hopefully) excited about the new school year, routines and schedules and having the extra helping hands will help you in the long run to get your home organized once and for all.Their help will also absolutely give you a heads up on keeping it that way. Think about it, what if your mom just came with a big, black trash bag, decluttered your room and said, “and now all your toys will go in this bin, here and here!” The systems wouldn’t stick! You would go right back to doing it the “old” way because you weren’t involved.

And sure, I’m not going to say that the first time is going to be easy or that everyone will love it, but over time the more often that you work with your child to declutter the more likely they are to learn the behavior and keep it up as they get older. Of course, you know your kids best, but here are some tips that I’ve found to be helpful when working with kids to declutter their stuff.

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TOYS AND BOOKS. Go through the toys and pull out any broken toys, toys with missing pieces, or toys that your children have outgrown and move to the trash, or--if they are in decent condition--move to the donation bag. The same goes for books that are no longer at your child’s reading level - local libraries or your children’s school would love the additions. How to get your kids involved: make it a game! Set a timer and see many toys and books that are no longer in use (or broken) they can add to a donation or trash bag.

CRAFTS AND GAMES. Since craft supplies, puzzles, and games typically involve many pieces and categories, they are common categories to get a little disorganized. Use clear bins and reusable bags to separate and contain the contents of each category. Make sure to discard any sets that are missing critical pieces (i.e. puzzles), are broken, or are no longer usable (i.e. dried out glue or empty sticker books). How to get kids involved: let them get creative! Kids can get puzzle and game pieces together, test out craft supplies to see what’s dried out, and make handwritten labels (masking tape and marker will do!) to stick on to bins, boxes, and shelves for the categories that are being kept.

PANTRY. Pull out everything in your pantry (including spices and oils!) and get rid of anything that is expired or that your family no longer consumes. Take this as a time to categorize everything that is left so that when it goes back into the pantry the like items are grouped together and it is easy to see what you have and what you need for future grocery trips. How to get your kids involved: make it educational! Have your kids look for expiration dates and toss out any expired food. Task them with grouping the remaining food into food groups and categories to make putting it all back in the pantry even easier.

STORAGE. The garage and basement can easily become full of items that you no longer need, want, or knew that you even owned. Take stock of what you are storing in these locations to avoid hanging on to items that you don’t need and are taking up storage space. It will look much worse before it gets better but I recommend taking out and touching everything that you have stored in these areas. This should involve the entire family. How to get your kids involved: be a project manager and divvy up the duties! Explain the plan of attack to the family and give each person a job. After the work is done give a small reward for all of the hard effort (incentives work!).

Alright, now that you know my top tips it is time to put them in action! The beginning of a school year is a great time to start since you are already very likely introducing new systems, routines, and behaviors into your day to day and home. Best of luck and happy organizing, with your kids!