Sort It: Enlist your chaos-makers in organising the home

Make it easy for children to organise their things and have at least one clutter-free zone


With my two boys off school for a couple of days either side of the bank holiday weekend I got a brief glimpse of what’s in store for the next few months once they are off for the summer holidays – and the poor house may not survive it.

After a brief shopping trip I returned to chaos. While I enlisted the two culprits to help tidy up, the five-year-old announced that if this sort of thing kept happening we would have to move house.

My instinct was to book back-to-back summer camps for six weeks, but I quickly realised that was not a financially sensible approach so decided to come up with an alternative plan.

I lived across the road from a family of six boys growing up and the efficiency of that household was astonishing. Neat piles of folded clothes were left at the end of each bed every night; each child was responsible for taking care of their own things and space. The key to this working is great organisation.

Whatever solution you come up with will have to be easy for the children and ideally involve you as little as possible.

I saw a great suggestion of labelling a number of baskets with each family member’s name, and in the evening their belongings are put into it – the idea being that they carry it upstairs and store these items away at bedtime. Quite frankly I’d settle for them just carrying it up the stairs instead of me.

Shoe hunting has also become a major part of our domestic routine. Have an area to store shoes, whether it’s a basket inside the door or a more elaborate storage system, the fact that the shoes have a designated place to go means they are less likely to end up all over the house and nowhere to be found when you are frantically trying to get your child out of the house.

Keep your hallway clear, or at least the floor clear – there’s nothing worse than arriving home to find a minefield of bags, shoes and various other bits and pieces. Simply clearing items off the floor is a really effective way of creating order. Hooks for coats and bags are brilliant, easy to fit and can be hung at a heights to suit all ages, making it easy for everyone to put away their own stuff and most importantly find it again when they need it.

Have at least one clutter-free zone. Work space in my kitchen is limited so I have a strict no piling policy on counters or table.

Try to keep surfaces clear – again some sort of system for mail and paperwork sorting and storing is a good idea. Pin boards and magnetic white boards are great for storing these things and great for artworks, shopping lists and other scraps of paper you need to hang on to – they will be easy to see and you’ll be able to put your hand on them when you need them. It’s a far better solution than stuffing them into a drawer never to be found again.

Denise O’Connor is an architect and design consultant

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