This article was first featured in New York Family Magazine as The Psychology of Small Space Living. It has been updated to include new content.
Getting organized is one of the most difficult tasks we face as adults. No matter how hard we try there never seems to be enough room to keep everything we want while also keeping a tidy family home. So how can we get organized when our precious homes seem too small at every turn? By practicing a little conscience intention.
When we focus on how we live vs. what we live in, even the tiniest of homes can be a haven for a growing family. Here are my top seven tips for how you and your family can take control at home.
Tip 1: Get On The Floor
When it comes to getting organized our first instinct is to turn to a product. We think a good bookshelf or sturdy bins will transform our chaos into calm. But no amount of plastic tubs or shelving will help if we don’t first assess what it is that we live with day-to-day.
Before you buy, get on the floor. As a coach, I guide my clients through a process we call deconstruct. Simply put, it’s about creating piles of like things in categories according to you. Then ask yourself – with each object you hold – if this item were living, breathing and alive and needed to be fed and nurtured (like a member of my family) is it worthy of a home?
Personifying things helps to clarify what’s important in our lives. It also provides an inventory of what we own. Looking at your piles, you may be surprised at what you are holding onto, and how much. Give yourself permission to let go of items that don’t support your family. You’ll free up valuable real estate, your home will appear larger, and you may not need to buy that storage product after all.
Tip 2: Do The Math
Too much stuff overwhelms both kids and adults. You can decide as a family how much is too much, but find a threshold that works for you. If you notice a child struggling to decide what toy to play with the answer may be volume more than indecision.
Once you have your piles, do the math: identify how many items from each category your family needs and give away or let go of the rest. If you are sorting clothes, calculate how many dresses your child can wear the summer they turn two, then remove the rest.
Tip 3: Think Like a Retail Store
When we shop in a store we can see everything quickly. This makes it easy to make choices. Try taking this concept home. A child who can’t see into the back of a jammed drawer will grab what’s up front, limiting what they use. Or, they will reach deep and yank out what they want making a mess of what’s up front.
Adults are the same – what we see is what we use. As you pick your piles up off the floor, think about how and where you are going to store them. Let shelves breathe instead of packing them tight. You can help your family achieve by allowing them to see all the tools and resources at their disposal.
Tip 4: OSL - Organization as a Second Language
Introduce an organizational language into the home so that you and your kids have a common base from which to communicate problems and to celebrate triumphs. Children young as one get excited to pick up and will do so without being asked, if they know where something goes. Positive language about organization also leads to excellence at school, increased self-esteem and stronger independence. And, organized kids serve as role models for other kids, which can benefit you on play dates, as well as at home.
With your home streamlined, it’s time to communicate with your family. Imagine having words other than ‘Put that away’ to express how you feel. Try replacing, ‘Please put that away’ with ‘Where does that live?’’ and ‘Thank you’ with ‘Nice job, you put like with like‘. Remove command language from your home and work together with your kids to keep things in order, instead of fighting them every step of the way.
Tip 5: OSL - Create Kid Power
Many parents think it’s easiest to get organized, then just tell the kids what needs to be done. My experience as an organization coach has taught me that involving your kids in the process of getting organized from the start, is the best way to go.
From toddlers to teens, Kids love responsibility, so invite them to participate when organizing the home, particularly their rooms. Ask a child to show you what they like, what they don’t like, accept their answers and thank them heartily for their input.
Kids love to demonstrate how helpful they can be, so you’ll be reinforcing valuable lessons about helping and sharing. Teach your kids to make their beds or set out their breakfast bowl. Give them one job to call their own during your weekly routine. Learn to organize with your kids, and not around them. Make them part of the solution, and watch for positive behavioral changes around the home.
Tip 6: Create a Command Center
Every family home can benefit from a two-tiered command center: first, a place to stop–and-drop, and second, a place to take care of the business of the home. Make sure you have a table or landing drop zone for what comes in the front door. Then, establish a second location, a nerve center for important documents (school papers, phone tree). Good locations for nerve centers are kitchen countertops or pullout drawers.
Time and again I see families with life scattered inward from the front door. With bags dumped in doorways, mail dropped on tables, and wallets scattered about. Do yourself a favor and contain the mess before it gets too far into your home. This step is a life-saver year-round. But it’s especially important this time of year when kids head back to school. Drop zones help to make the connection between home and school feel more seamless, and help to calm chaos before it enters your home.
Tip 7: Get Shelved
In any home, every shelf inch matters. So, invest in a closet system that does the sorting for you, with space for shelves, hanging rods and slide-out drawers or bins. There are a variety of price levels and styles to choose, from custom California Closets to DIY shelving from Home Depot, Target or Lowe’s. These units are flexible and easy to change-up over time. With a few adjustments a system styled for a child’s room can turn into a teenager’s closet or home office.
You can even disassemble these closet organizers and take them with you on a move to a new home. Meaning, one up-front investment can last a long time. If you have good shelves already in your home, just make sure they are spaced efficiently to maximize your space. Once again, think retail: stores don’t waste valuable real estate, and neither should you.
What tools do you use to organize your family home? Share in the comments below!
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