How to Organize a Family

Warmer temps and a visible sun was all the encouragement I needed to crack a few windows in the house this weekend. Getting that clean, fresh air in the house always gives me the bug to do a little spring cleaning. Just a few passes with the vacuum cleaner got my family on board, too.

As an organizer, I like my home, well, organized. But I do not live alone. There are four other wonderfully unique individuals who also live here, and we all have very different ideas about what it means to be organized.

How do I handle this?

Fortunately, my husband is also naturally organized. We are very much in sync when it comes to how we run our home. Our kids? Not so much.

Every child is unique, that is for sure. And not only is every child unique, but they are also growing and maturing from the time they are born. A child might be inclined to be more organized than average, but I've seen this natural tendency change over time, also. Our first born was VERY neat as a child, so much so that she didn't enjoy getting her hands dirty to paint, or play in the dirt. This actually really bothered me as her mother. As a first born myself, I have the inclination to do things neatly and correctly this first time, and it actually caused me some emotional distress in school. It took my Grandma Mac to help me over this hump. While gardening with her as a child, I got concerned that her hands and the knees of her pants were getting dirty. She looked at me very plainly and said, "that's okay, I'm washable." That's all it took for me to have a full body experience with most every craft and project I got myself into. Seeing the distress in my daughter as she painted, I shared with her how we are all "washable," and that it actually felt really good to get all that squishy paint between her fingers.

I'm glad to say that it didn't take long for our oldest to allow herself to fully experience her projects, too. That leads to the next hurdle we encountered, which was how to address the mess once it was made.

The policy in our house is, "make a mess, clean it up." This wasn't an easy transition for a neatnik like me, but I also felt very strongly that my kids' creativity was not stifled by my need for order. We set limits, of course. They couldn't dump a house plant on the kitchen counter just to look at the soil...that wasn't reasonable. They also couldn't mix all the liquids in the fridge to see the concoction it created, that was simply wasteful. But within limits, we have allowed our children to be very creative in their surroundings, and I think it has helped foster creativity and curiosity.

The cleaning up bit? Well, that's was a learning curve. Our kids needed to be taught how to clean up, and as parents, we needed to be taught how to look at clean in a new way. You can't expect a five year old to clean to an adult's standards. With their age and abilities in mind, we have adjusted our expectations, and have added responsibilities as they have grown.

Now that all of our children are in the double digits, we have the new hurdle of dealing with their bedrooms. Teens use their rooms as a canvas to express themselves. One quick glance in a child's room can give you a lot of insight. How do we manage a need for expression with the need for a clean route to a window, in case of emergency?

How we do it is that we require our kids to leave access to lights, doors, and windows. (You'd be surprised as how high of an expectation this is for one of our children in particular). Additionally, we do not allow food or any beverages in their rooms aside from water. Carpets are tedious to clean, expensive to replace, and getting invaded by ants is not in our future.

For the sake of health, and I mean this seriously, we ask that our kids dust their rooms once a week (especially in winter...I'm always surprised how much dust can accumulate in one week!), and run the vacuum. Everything else is pretty much at their discretion. We encourage them to take pride in how they keep their room, and that has certainly meant different things to our very different children.

At this stage, we also do not do their laundry. Since the age of about 9, each kid was taught how to use the washer and the dryer. They are all experts. All it took was one day of "I don't have any clean underwear!!" before they figured out the importance of monitoring their own clothes. Additionally, we do not remind them to clean their sheets. We have commented before, and the response from one child was simply to sleep ON TOP of their bed, covered with random throw blankets from around the house. This led to an interesting conversation..."wow, child (I'll keep her anonymous), that really nice quilt you wanted for your bed is really stained from you sleeping on it. Ever washed a quilt?" Child- "no." Me- "well, they don't fit in a household washing machine and dryer. It'll have to go to the laundromat. How are you going to do that?" Child- "I don't know!" Me- "Hmmmm. That should be interesting." This turned into a whole Love & Logic moment on how she was going to fix the problem she created as she realized how gross her quilt was. Let's just say, she no longer sleeps on her quilt. (Insider secret-she now often sleeps on her floor! Whatever works, kid!)

Our way of "organizing" our family doesn't work for everyone. It shouldn't. The important thing is that you and your family have a way to organize that works for you.

Need help? Give me a call. Until then, here's to warmer weather!