How and why you need to teach children to tidy

If you have children in your life (or folks you live with who lean towards ‘messy’), you might hear yourself repeatedly saying something like “can you tidy up in here please?”. But how often is this met with reluctance or resistance? And if the space is tidied, do you often just find a drawer or cupboard where all the stuff has been dumped in a pile? 

Maybe this is why…

A few years ago, I had a lightbulb moment after asking my daughter to (once again) “tidy your room before bed”. She looked at me in confusion and despair and I realised… I asked “do you know how to tidy up? Do you know where things go?” and aside from knowing that her clothes belonged in the drawers, she really didn’t. 

Nothing had a specific ‘home’, and she didn’t have a system to rely on. So when I asked her to “put things away” she genuinely didn’t understand where she should be putting anything. 

How can you resolve this? 

Group by item or by play-style

Start by creating really broad categories – dress-up, books, crafts – so that items are grouped like with like. Use how your child plays to inform your categories, and make sure your child is fully involved in this process so they understand what goes into each one. Categories don’t need to be neat and commonplace - if your child always has music on while they are colouring then why not store the music player with the felt pens?  

Create homes

Once you’ve grouped things, create a designated home for each category – whether that’s a storage box, or a space in a cupboard – every item should have an identifiable home. But don’t make them too small or too niche – make sure it’s easy to sort things away rather than using boxes within boxes within boxes! 

Use labels or identifiers

For kids of reading age, creating a simple written label for them to read to show them what goes in what box is great, and you can just use masking tape and felt pen to do that. But even very young children can take advantage of a simple labelling system: building blocks go in the blue container, toy food goes in the red one etc. 

Encourage decluttering as you go

Every so often when they are tidying up, encourage your small person to spot things they don’t use, like, or have grown out of. It’s really empowering for them to take control of that process, giving them confidence and helping them to feel good about letting things go. 


If you and your younger family members could do with some guidance, I’m DBS-checked and happy to work alongside you with all ages!

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