Organizing By Age

Image by Tumisu from Pixabay

If you have children, you may wonder how to involve them in getting and staying organized. Here are a few ideas of what you can do by age.

PRESCHOOL (age 2-5)

Preschoolers are still developing basic skills, so the idea at this age is you lead, they follow.

Adults can:

  • Set up the systems. Assign a “home” for all the child’s belongings (including clothing, toys, craft supplies, child-sized dishes, etc.)
  • Label as much as possible. At this age, labels should be pictures (drawn or printed from the computer).
  • Designate times throughout the day for putting items away, and include the child in the process (even if they are reluctant).
  • Periodically cull through belongings and decide what to give away/trash.
  • Monitor the rate at which new items enter the space – you are the gatekeeper!

The children can be expected to:

  • Make their bed in the morning (once they are out of the crib… and it won’t be perfect)
  • Return toys to any location they can reach (e.g. open shelving for larger items, open topped bins & baskets for smaller items)
  • Hang clothing on hooks (including dress-up clothes)
  • Put books in a basket or bin on the floor
  • Sort toys by color or category (e.g. dolls vs. trucks)
  • Put dirty clothes in the hamper
  • Help put away groceries and dishes

ELEMENTARY (ages 6-10)

Kids are rapidly acquiring skills during this timeframe, and they will be able to do more each year. Remember to keep entrusting children with more responsibility, while being cognizant that every child will be a bit different.

Adults can:

  • Talk with children about where to store new items when they come in the house (rather than just assigning a space)
  • Adapt spaces to emerging interests and changing needs (e.g. homework, activities, hobbies).
  • Introduce labels with words
  • Provide incentives for maintaining a space well (e.g. checks on a chart, week-end rewards, etc.)

The children can be expected to:

  • Make their bed each morning
  • Put toys/school supplies/toiletries away where they can reach and access. (Older kids can remove lids, but since they can be a hassle, avoid them when possible.)
  • Hang clothing and towels on hooks. Older children can use hangars/towel bars.
  • Return books to a shelf, spine facing out (Keep library books in a separate spot)
  • Put dirty clothes in a hamper, sort laundry into categories, carry laundry baskets, put clean clothes away
  • Take paperwork out of the backpack and put it in a tray/location
  • Bring lunchboxes to the counter, open them and throw away trash
  • Unload groceries, load & unload the dishwasher.

MIDDLE SCHOOL (ages 11-13)

Middle school represents a shift from a space primarily filled with toys to a space filled with school supplies, electronics, and recreational supplies. By the end of middle school, your goal is for them to be the primary managers of their own things.

Adults can:

  • Provide storage space for supplies the young person needs (bags for each activity, racks for sports racquets/sticks/skis, drawer space for dance clothes, etc.)
  • Provide a workspace where the student can work on a computer and charge electronic devices
  • Ask children where they are going to put any new item that comes into the space. If they can’t identify a sufficient space, offer to help. If they refuse to identify a space, consider removing the item until they are willing to find a home.
  • Start enforcing the “one in, one out” rule. Teach them to understand that space is limited.
  • Discuss calendar management and planning. Include them in a weekly planning meeting to overview what they have coming up in the week, including activities and school deadlines.

Young people can be expected to:

  • Make their beds and maintain their room (or part of a room) according to a routine schedule (e.g. once a week)
  • Put their belongings away in shared spaces
  • Do their own laundry
  • Be responsible for getting parents to sign any necessary paperwork.
  • Take ownership of schoolwork deadlines
  • Maintain a planner or assignment pad to track their responsibilities and commitments
  • Own the responsibility for having what they need, when they need it.

*     *     *     *     *

This is certainly not a comprehensive list, and NOT a list to make you feel guilty if you haven’t hit particular milestones. Consider it a tool and guideline (for more on what to teach teenagers before they leave home, click here.)

What organizing skills have you worked on at specific ages? What skills are you still trying to develop as an adult?

16 thoughts on “Organizing By Age”

  1. I am doing quite a bit of this with my girls already and thank you for sharing some new ideas for as they are growing now. Seriously appreciate it and definitely pinning to refer back to 🙂

    1. Thanks, Janine! Sometimes people ask me and just wonder “what should my kids be doing?” It all comes down to acknowledging that children need to be taught organizing skills just like any other, and the sooner you start, the easier. Have a great day:)

  2. This is awesome! Both of my kids are in that first 2-5 section and even with Des’ limited language skills, due to being two, he can totally take direction and help me organize! Scarlet is worlds better at it and I appreciate knowing what she can do. She’s so tiny that I can’t wait until she can help me hang things on hooks in her closet!

    1. YAY for those two precious little future organizers!! I can’t say enough good things about hooks. I just love them. I even put a whole board on Pinterest about “wall organizing”. Frankly, nobody loves a hangar. Have a great day, Tamara:)

  3. I’m glad my son knows how to keep his toys most of the time. Well, that’s if he is not in a bad mood or is not sleepy. I think it’s crucial that kids be involved in simple house chores.

    1. Totally agree, Rea! Sounds like you have this under control:) And we all have moments when we are sleepy or grouchy, so it isn’t about legalism. I tell parents to put on their favorite music and model the concept that restoring order can be fun and makes us happy!

  4. Even though I’m an organizer I am a mom too and need a little push when it comes to getting my son to organize himself rather than me doing it for him, so I will be printing this! Thanks Seana!

  5. This is a great guide that you’ve created, Seana. And I love that you’ve reminded parents to NOT FEEL GUILTY if they haven’t hit some of these milestones. You can begin at any point.

    As an organizer and parent of two daughters, I helped our girls with creating many of the habits that you described. To one of them these came “naturally.” To the other, not so much. But what amazes me is how they learned the skills and adapted them in ways that help them now in all aspects of their lives.

    Being organized is a skill that can be learned and a gift that lasts a lifetime.

    1. I so agree, Linda. It is a skill, and like all skills, it is easier for some than others. And even if the children don’t seem to be embracing the “gift” while they are at home, they may go off to adult life and use many of the tips and strategies they were exposed to growing up. The best thing is to try and portray being organized as a desirable state, and to stay positive.

  6. This is awesome! Start them out young with the way they can do it. My 18yo daughter has special needs (moderate cerebral palsy). I always try to organize her things in a way that she can clearly understand and keep up with. A staple is easy open containers, containers with attached lids, and keeping excess to a minimal.

    1. I think those principles would be good advice for just about anybody. Lids can be a real barrier for everybody because it is an extra step. A lid that is attached is nice because you can’t lose it! Making things easy to use and streamlined is brilliant:)

  7. I’m definitely trying to step back a little with my 11yo and let him take care of his stuff and also suffer consequences when he doesn’t. Socks inside out in the wash again? Well, I can’t wash them like that, so keep trying to remember to turn them right side out.

  8. You’re right! This is a great guideline! I shared this on my Facebook page. I’m going to also pin it so that I can refer to it later just in case I want more ideas on what my kids can be doing at different ages. Thank you for sharing this!

    1. Thanks for sharing it out, Brittnei!! I hope people find it helpful. Again, it is a guideline, not the law. I don’t want people to feel guilty, because I do know children are vastly different. But it can help to have some feeling of what is reasonable, and then customize for each individual situation:)

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