Kids and clutter go together like peanut butter and jelly. Between the toys and the books, the sports gear and the schoolwork, keeping your house clean and organized is an uphill battle—but it’s one that parents can win, says Lorie Marrero, founder of The Clutter Diet.
“The most important thing you can do to get rid of clutter is to set up systems in your home that help family members automatically put things away,” she says. “Start in the room that is bothering you the most; it’s usually the one where the most stuff accumulates, like the kitchen or family room. Once you get one room done, it will give you momentum to tackle the others.”
To cure clutter, Marrero uses the acronym ORDER. Here are her five steps for creating a home that stays tidy:
O – Outline Your Plan. This is the most important step, says Marrero.
“If you go at this with the attitude of just cleaning up, you’ll have another mess next week,” she says. Instead, discover where the logjams are. Where is stuff coming from and why? Can you prevent clutter from getting in? Are other people responsible? What systems can we create that will keep this from happening again?
“Put on your Sherlock Holmes hat and look for the clues that will tell you why clutter is happening in the first place,” she says.
R – Review Items. Next, sort your things and group them into categories. Like things should be stored together. Also consider how you will look for your stuff later.
“When sorting your DVD collection, for example, will it be easier for you to find a specific movie if it’s sorted by alphabet, genre, or kids vs. grown-ups?” asks Marrero.
D – Decide Where Things Belong. Once you’ve reviewed and sorted your items, decide what to do with them. The options are keep, donate, sell, or throw away.
You’ll also need to determine the functions of the room. Is the room for eating, TV watching, sleeping, or playing? Do all of the items that are in the room serve the room’s functions? Often items that are in a room are best stored elsewhere.
E – Establish Homes and Routines. Now it’s time to find a home for the things that you want to keep. Are they best stored in a drawer, in a closet, or on a shelf?
“One mistake I see people make when it comes to toys is that they try to store things in the original packaging,” she says. “That packaging was designed to sell and ship items, not to store them.” Instead, she suggests getting sturdier containers.
As you put things away, label its home so all family members know where things go. For little kids, Marrero suggests using a picture with the label. If you don’t have one, search Google Images.
Maintenance is a crucial part of this step, and Marrero suggests creating a routine. Put away your items daily or weekly, and organize everything twice a year to purge things that are no longer needed.
R – Revisit Your System. There is no such thing as a perfect system, says Marrero. “What you created the first time probably won’t work perfectly, so see where it’s broken,” she says. “Also, things change, especially with kids. Adjust your systems for your real life.”
Curing your clutter could take a weekend or longer, depending on the size of your home and the size of your mess, says Marrero, but be sure to get everyone involved.
“When it’s age-appropriate, have your kids make some of the decisions,” says Marrero. “Sometimes parents don’t give their kids enough credit for what they’re capable of doing. When your kids have routines for putting things away, it can have a big impact on the order in your home.
“Also, teach children about donating and why it’s important. Create a donation station. When it’s full, it’s your cue to take it to Goodwill.”
Stephanie Vozza is the author of The Five-Minute Mom’s Club: 105 Tips to Make a Mom’s Life Easier. She also writes about organization, time management and productivity for Entrepreneur.