Make straightening up fun. Consider buying one large trash can for sports equipment and another to use as a hamper. Let the child label and personalize the outside. You can even add a plastic basketball hoop to the top of each trash can, so the child can have fun tossing items inside.
“Who doesn't love to throw stuff?” asks Smallin.
Also, have the child decorate a special bin or basket where tomorrow's clothes and shoes will go. Then choose a permanent spot for it. Each night, toss in everything your child will wear tomorrow (including the packed, zipped school bag). Better to find missing socks and debate which clothes are appropriate in the evening than do it when the school bus is on its way.
Use the walls
Kids are more likely to use hooks than hangers. So add lots of colorful hooks at your child's level — not just one or two, but a whole row — to store hoodies, jackets and even pants.
Also consider hanging a shoe bag on back of the door, but don't feel obligated to use it for shoes. Smallin says it can be filled with socks and underwear, small toys or anything else that needs to be easily located.
Another key item for the wall: a clock with hands. Kutscher says nondigital clocks make time a bit more tangible for kids, helping them notice the passage of time and hopefully stay on task. A large wall calendar that children can reach is also a great way to help them get organized.
Last item: a dry-erase board (WallPops makes one that's a repositionable vinyl decal) where kids can keep a checklist of tasks for bedtime and morning. Write out the checklist with them, then praise them for using it.
Better bed area
Kids who do homework on their beds will be more organized if the bed is made and uncluttered, Kutscher says. So simplify bedding — perhaps just use a fitted sheet and a duvet with a cover you can drop in the wash once a week. Limit the decorative pillows and piles of toys, so school supplies can't get lost in the chaos.
Smallin suggests lifting the child's bed with risers to create extra storage space, which can be filled with labeled plastic bins. Use a bed skirt to hide the bins from view.
Once you've done it
For the first few weeks, Bechen says, “Run through the drill. Tell them, ‘You come home, you put your things here.'”
Repeat the steps each day, as patiently as possible. And trust that in time, your kids will keep their bedrooms organized out of habit. “It's an executive function. It requires the ability to stop, plan, organize and actually execute a goal,” Kutscher says. As that ability is growing, parents need to gently guide the process.
“We take the safety net approach,” he says, “gradually letting the child master the skills, as we stand by as needed.”