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Clutter Control for Kids’ Chaos

by Betsy Fein

Ever feel overwhelmed by all the papers, notices, artwork, and other goodies your kids bring home from school? Don’t be a pack rat! We’ll show you how to “Trap the R-A-T” (RETAIN, ACT, THROW)

School flyers: Your children bring home flyers announcing some school activity, bake sale or field trip almost every day. Unfortunately, these notices pile up quickly unless acted upon. As soon as possible, read the flyers and perform the following R-A-T exercise. RETAIN: All school flyers that contain information you are certain you need to keep such as class lists with phone numbers, emergency procedures, etc. ACT: Make sure you have your calendar while reviewing the notices and mark any important dates. Once you mark the date you should be able to “throw.” THROW: Anything you suspect you won’t need in the future, or have already acted upon. Don’t be afraid to THROW, because you can almost always go back to the school or your child’s teacher and ask about the content of the flyer, if necessary. The most important questions to ask yourself in deciding whether to RETAIN or THROW are:

What ‘s the worst thing that could happen if I threw this away? Almost always, you will find that at most, a minor inconvenience may occur.
If I THROW it and discover I needed it later, could I replace it? Again, only rarely can a notice or its contents not be replaced.
By the time I might need it, will it be obsolete? While it’s difficult to predict the future, most notices have a “shelf life” of a few weeks at most; after that, the information they contain goes stale. As a rule of thumb, there should be approximately a 4 to 1 ratio of “THROW” to “RETAIN.”

Artwork: While it would be great to be able to keep all of your child’s artwork forever, most of us don’t have enough room in the house. I recommend that you follow the 3 “F” rule. FRAME: Some outstanding pieces of artwork deserve framing. Buy several acrylic frame boxes at the Container Store, and hang the framed artwork around your house, in your basement or in your child’s room. Your kids will appreciate the recognition they get when you go the extra mile to frame their art. FLUSH: No need to keep random scribble or works that don’t meet your standards. FILE: Not all art is frameworthy. But it may not be “flushworthy” either. Keep those items that demonstrate talent and those you may someday decide to frame. Make a file box for each child, and let her decorate the box. When she brings something home she wants to keep, ask her to file it in her very own keepsake box. And don’t forget, much of the “filed” art can be used as gifts for relatives. You may also take digital photos of your child’s art and store it on disk. Although it’s not the same as the original, this is a good way to reduce the clutter.

Art Supplies: To create a masterpiece, your child needs the proper tools. Everything from markers, crayons, paints, and brushes needs to be organized or it will quickly overtake your home. Keep everything in a portable box that kids can bring from room to room, and separate the crayons, markers and other stuff into baggies. Make it clear that your children are responsible for maintaining their art supplies. You may also consider purchasing a small “art desk” and a bookshelf so they can have their own area in the house to do artwork. Put the supplies in separate lined baskets in the bookshelf for them to use.

Birthday invitations:
To keep track of all the birthday parties, it’s best to follow the “GO or NO-GO” rule. Once you get invited, check your calendar and try to make a decision quickly. Mark the date on your calendar and make a birthday invitation file so you can keep the ones you need (e.g. if there are directions you’ll need the day of the party). If it’s a “NO-GO,” respond within a day or two and “flush” the invitation.

Organizing jackets, backpacks and shoes: It is not at all unusual to see kids walk through the door, tear off their jackets and backpacks, throw them on a chair or on the floor and leave their shoes lying around for you to clean up. With most kids averaging several pairs of shoes each, you can soon find yourself facing a “clutter emergency.” The best way to reduce clutter is to follow the 4 “P’s.” PATTERN: You will need to establish a pattern with your kids, so they follow a set routine when they come in the door. Don’t give up if, at first, your kids seem reluctant to follow or adhere to the pattern. Before they can follow the pattern, there needs to be an established PLACE for everything. You can start with a row of sturdy PEGS hung low, which can hold jackets and backpacks. Put the row of pegs close to the door where the kids enter. Next, you should consider a PLASTIC BIN or set of stacked bins, where the kids can throw assorted items such as shoes, hats, gloves, scarves, etc. You can purchase these items at any home or container store.

Getting children ready for school: If you find yourself always rushing and fighting in the morning, one way to ease the crunch is to lay out your children’s clothes the night before. The trick is to prepare not one but TWO outfits to allow them to make their own choice in the morning. Giving them the power to choose almost always eliminates the cry of “I don’t WANNA wear that!” (even though they picked it out the night before). You may also consider buying a five-compartment hanging shelf for their closets (some places sell these with the days of the weeks already on them), and pick out the outfits for the whole week-including socks and underwear.

Organizing your child’s clothes: For infants and toddlers (1) Hang everything that is hangable. That includes shirts, pants, sweaters and nighties. That way, everything is visible when you go to the closet to make your choices. (2) Buy a double rod. To state the obvious, this doubles your hanging room. These are easy to install and available at any children’s store or at Target. (3) Keep a bin near or in the closet, so if something doesn’t fit any more, you can immediately toss it. (4) Go through the closet at least every few months and make sure everything fits and is proper for the season. For toddlers and older: Teach proper clothing management to your children. It’s never too early to teach kids how to fold and put away clothes, and most enjoy helping mom or dad with this task. Don’t worry if the folding job isn’t perfect. It’s the thought that counts! If your child is very young, you might want to label her drawers with cutout pictures of the items contained in that particular drawer.

These are just a few of the ideas to help kill the clutter. To go the extra mile and help ensure a more permanent, clutter-free environment, a professional organizer can be an ideal sanity-saving investment.

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