5 rules for tidier kids – from a professional home organizer

Caroline Roberts shares her family's house rules that keep her sane while allowing her kids to stay kids

children's bedroom with bed and bedside table
(Image credit: Future PLC)

Kids are little magnets for stuff. Rocks, sticks, tiny toys, big toys, slime, putty, Play-Doh, books, puzzles, magic tricks, balls, broken toys, and even non-toy things such as old combination locks, random cups, and funnels are all fair game when it comes to a kid’s play things. We currently have a cardboard box in our garage filled with mud, and the words “A Frog’s Dream” on the side.

Little collections and treasures for one child can be charming. Still, when you have multiple children, these items become cluttered quickly, which is tricky when you want to ensure your family home organizing and decluttering is spot on. (Read to the end to learn how we handle these little collections!)

Rules for tidier kids

I will be sharing with you some of our house rules that help me stay sane while allowing my kids to stay kids, but before you get out your whiteboard and call a family meeting, think about what’s really important in your home.  

If you have too many rules in your house, it will be hard to enforce them all. It’s better to have just a few strict, hard-and-fast rules (such as no watching TV after bedtime, no wet towels on the floor, or no opening the door to strangers) and be a little looser with the less important rules. For the sake of this article, I’m using the word 'rule,' but know that there are rules we never break and rules that are more like guidelines.

decluttering and organizing expert caroline roberts
Caroline Roberts

Caroline Roberts is a KonMari consultant and founder of the home organization company The Simplified Island. She and her team help clients declutter their belongings. Then they find the best places for your items so that their family members can find things and put them away. She is also a contributing expert at Homes & Gardens.

1. No dirty clothes on the floor

Shelves with labeled baskets, linens and towels

(Image credit: Future)

The first rule is that dirty clothes cannot be left on the floor. This one is great for kids of all ages and helps them learn to keep clothes organized. My kids have a laundry hamper in their shared bathroom, and dirty clothes left on the floor will get them into trouble.  

When I see dirty clothes on the floor, they have to stop what they are doing and put them in the hamper. It would certainly be easier if I put them in the hamper, but I want to reinforce that it’s their job and inconvenience them so that they are more likely to do it next time.

I also love to announce that I’m coming upstairs, and for every piece of clothing I find on the floor, they have to pay me $1. It’s a trick from my mother-in-law, and it makes me laugh to hear them scrambling. Parenting can be fun, right?

You are likely doing things for your kids because it’s faster and easier if you do them yourself, and I totally understand. Start small. Think about things that your child can do and try your best not to intervene.

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2. School bags are emptied right away

This is where drop zones that we’ve discussed in previous features come in handy. Within the first hour or two of my kids being home from school, they empty their lunchboxes, take out any important papers that I need to see, and hang their bags in the dropzone.

My 7th grader does this easily, and considering I can hardly lift his backpack from the computer and books he has to carry, I’m thankful I don’t have to help him. My 1st grader is still getting the hang of it and definitely requires more reminders, but he’s learning, and it will be second nature in no time.

Depending on your child’s activities, you may need to create a drop zone and rules based on sports equipment or musical instruments. Rules created around everyday activities tend to be fairly easy to enforce.

3. Refill pantry canisters

Pantry with blue cabinets

(Image credit: Martin Moore)

This one may surprise you! I love using canisters, at The Container Store, to organize my pantry. They close tightly for freshness and are easy for my kids to pour from. When my kids consume all of the food in the canister and we have more of the item available, they refill the canister themselves. I love canisters, but I don’t have to be the one to fill them, and I think they enjoy doing it. It’s a small task that makes a significant impact on our home.

Think about what little tasks you do around your home that your kids could easily do themselves, and give them ownership! It will help them get used to having responsibilities, and the task will be so small that it won’t be a headache to enforce. 

4. Everyone adds groceries to the list

I used to hear, 'Mom, we’re out of {fill in the blank}' multiple times per day. I would have to stop what I was doing to write it on the grocery list, or I would think about it obsessively, hoping I remembered the item when I got around to writing it down. One day I realized that just because I do most of the grocery shopping does not mean I have to be the keeper of the list.

Now, whenever they tell me we are out of something, I don’t move an inch and simply tell them to write it on the list. If one of them asks if I got such-and-such from the store, I’ll ask if it was on the list. If not, then it likely wasn’t purchased! I was shocked at how much mental energy I spent on the grocery list when I didn’t have to.

What mental weight are you carrying that you could share with your family?

5. We clear out our toys regularly

Painted kids bedroom with grey abstract design, wall mounted wooden shelves with toys and decorative items, wall mounted wooden book shelf, yellow patterned blind, white painted crib

(Image credit: Rachel Manns Photography)

As mentioned earlier, kids are little collectors, and their collections can quickly grow. I’ve tried various methods to keep toys at bay in our house, and strict rules simply do not work for us. Some folks love the one-in-one-out method for decluttering toys, but I could not keep up with that. Other folks keep a certain count of things, so once you reach your quote of stuffed animals, for example, you cannot get another one without parting with one. Both of those methods require me to police toys, and I avoid that at all costs.

Instead, about 2-3 times per year, I tell my kids that it’s time to donate things. We grab some bags and add things they no longer want. Fun music is almost always involved, so we keep the mood light and playful. I don’t force them to get rid of anything, and I don’t throw away or donate things behind their backs, but I use the opportunity to talk about the beauty of having less and the value of donating to others. Because I’ve done this with them for so long, they know they’ll enjoy their rooms much more with less clutter, so it’s usually not a huge chore.

If you are new to decluttering with kids, start slowly. Don’t force them to give away too many things, or they will hold on to what they have even more. Instead, be consistent and set a good example of decluttering. I have a free download on my website with games that you can play with your child to encourage decluttering. You can grab that in the resources tab of thesimplifiedisland.com

That wraps up the five rules or guidelines we have in our home that encourage my kids to be a bit tidier and, I hope, set them up with good life skills and habits.

So much about having rules is bringing awareness to the situation. My kids certainly don’t follow every rule to the letter, but their knowing how things should be done is important. On the flip side, I don’t stress out if they don’t follow every rule daily. I have days when I don’t feel like doing anything, and they do too.

I hope this inspires you to try some new rules in your home!

Caroline Roberts
Contributing expert

Caroline Roberts, a certified KonMari Consultant and professional organizer, founded the organizing agency The Simplified Island in 2019. Caroline believes being organized goes much deeper than pretty bins and can be life-changing. She recognized her organizing and streamlining skills were unique as she ran her marketing agency, Coastal Connections Marketing, and raised her two sons.