Encouraging young children to clean up their toys

A common topic of discussion among the parents in my son’s playgroup is:

How do we teach our children to put away their toys?

Our children are only one year old, which means we don’t yet have much of a problem, but we’re eager to ensure we don’t have problems later. We want our children to develop life-long skills that help them to be organized and respectful of their things in the future. We might fail miserably — kids have amazing will-power — but here is what we’re trying:

  • Model the behavior. It’s tempting, especially with small children around, to wait until after the kids go to bed to pick up the house. However, children should watch and “help” you clean up so they can start to mimic your actions. Otherwise, they’re under the impression that a magical fairy appears and cleans up the toys, coloring books, and wooden spoons.
  • Explain the process. As you put away toys and project materials, talk through what you’re doing. “I’m putting the lids on these markers so they won’t dry out and you can use them next time you want to color.” “I’m putting these books on the bookshelf because it’s where they belong when you’re not reading them. The bookshelf protects the books from being damaged so you’ll have them the next time you want to read them.” I should admit that this narration is extremely tedious, but I’ve noticed my son incorporating words into his vocabulary like shelf and cap, so I at least know he’s listening.
  • Be positive. Look for ways to make the clean up process as interesting as the play. Put on fun, fast-paced music your child enjoys every time you pick up toys and dance while you work. Make up a cleaning song to sing or play a counting game. Voices shouldn’t be raised and threats shouldn’t be wagered.
  • Give your child time. Clean up for young children shouldn’t be rushed. If the child has an hour to play, budget the last 10 minutes of that playtime to picking up the toys. Let your child know that playing with toys involves taking the time to put them away. This is similar to dinner not being finished until the dishes are cleaned, the table is wiped off, and all of the ingredients returned to the pantry or refrigerator. Playtime includes putting away the toys.
  • Be consistent. This is the hardest part of the teaching process for me — making sure I always leave time for picking up toys. If we’re in a rush to get out the door to run an errand, it’s difficult to pause and make sure the toy is returned to it’s storage place before we leave the house. The consistency and repetitive action, however, are what instill the positive behavior. If a child doesn’t know there is the option to leave his toys strewn about the room, he won’t make that decision. (Well, at least in theory.)

Versions of this can be used with older children. When I was teaching high school, I’d let the students know when they had three minutes left in the period so they could gather up their materials and be ready to leave when the bell sounded. When the students were working in groups, I’d have them race to see which group could clean up their workstation the quickest. I’d award imaginary points to students when they found something of mine left in the classroom: “5,000 points to Gryffindor!” But, I never gave real rewards (no points, no gold stars, no treats), since I believe that cleaning up is a sign of respecting materials the school provided and an expected behavior of all the students.

What techniques have you used with your children or students to encourage them to pick up their toys? Share your tips in the comments.

A year ago on Unclutterer


  • Unitasker Wednesday: Chef’n Garlic Zoom
    Most multi-tasking or high-utility kitchen products have simple names that begin with lowercase letters: skillet, oven, knife, plate. A good sign that something might be a unitasker is when its name is cutesy and trademarked: JerkyXpress, Plater Grater, Nostalgia Cotton Candy Maker. By all accounts, the Chef’n Garlic Zoom is destined for unitasker greatness based on the fact that it includes a random apostrophe and the word zoom.
  • What is your motivation to be organized?
    He who does not get fun and enjoyment out of every day … needs to reorganize his life. — George Matthew Adams
  • Space-saving cheese grater
    The Joseph Joseph brand cheese grater folds flat for storage and up for use. It’s sturdy and comes in a handful of colors. It’s great for small-space living.
  • Workspace of the Week: A shared space
    I chose this space because I believe it serves two functions very well. Not only is it an inviting place for TamaraNicole to work and be crafty, but it’s also a comfortable place for overnight guests.
  • Ask Unclutterer: Overflowing child’s closet
    How do I get a handle on children’s clothing (shorts, school clothes, skirts, pants, capris, short sleeve shirts, long sleeve shirts, sweatshirts, sweaters…etc. etc)? I am awash in laundry with little closet space!


Storage masquerading as clutter

Yi-Ting Cheng, a Taiwanese design student living in London, has created a line of products that secretly store your valuables in plain sight. As far as I can tell, the Secret Stash products are not currently available for purchase. However, as ingenious as they are, I doubt it will be long before they start appearing on the market.

My favorite item from the video is the stack of papers — assuming, of course, you can find it on your desk. The map is amazing, too.

Thanks to our Twitter follower who shared this video with us.

Ask Unclutterer: Organizing an office supply closet

Reader Debbie submitted the following to Ask Unclutterer:

We have a large storage cabinet and some shelves at my work office that have now become mine to organize. The cabinet is full of small cardboard boxes full of all types of supplies – tape, staples, computer pieces, pens, markers, hanging folders, envelopes, you name it. Lots of small items. I’m looking for some type of storage dividers/ container that will make this stuff more visible and reachable.

Is it weird that I am incredibly excited for you? I’m even a little envious. I love organizing supply closets. You’ve been given a really great project, in my opinion.

Are you familiar with the company ShelvingDirect.com? (Beware: There is a talking guy who appears when you follow that link. He only talks for 30 seconds, though, and you can easily pause him.) Despite the talking ad, this company has a lot of reasonably priced office storage products you might want to consider. There are numerous office supply companies out there that carry similar items, so you can check with your purchasing agent at work to see if the company you use most often has the same items.

Since you already have a cabinet and shelving, I recommend checking out the bin kits or their individual bins if none of the kits exactly meet your needs. The bins come in all different sizes and are formed in a way so you can easily see and access the product stored inside:

The plastic bins are nice because you can insert dividers and bin cups into them (neither the dividers or cups appear on their website, but they’re available through their catalog). The bins are also stackable, so you don’t waste any vertical space. You can easily label them, too.

Stores like The Container Store are really terrific, and carry similar bins, but they price even their smallest ones at a few dollars a piece. Ordering multiple bins from an office supplier is the less expensive way to go, where the smallest ones come out to being less than a dollar a piece. Which, at least in my opinion, makes the office supply companies the better option in this situation.

As you’re organizing the items in the closet, try to put the supplies accessed most often on the shelves that fall between you knees and your chin. Otherwise, you’ll constantly be bending over or reaching above your head to straighten and replenish these materials.

Thank you, Debbie, for submitting your question for our Ask Unclutterer column. I hope these bins and tips can work for you.

Do you have a question relating to organizing, cleaning, home and office projects, productivity, or any problems you think the Unclutterer team could help you solve? To submit your questions to Ask Unclutterer, go to our contact page and type your question in the content field. Please list the subject of your e-mail as “Ask Unclutterer.” If you feel comfortable sharing images of the spaces that trouble you, let us know about them. The more information we have about your specific issue, the better.

Workspace of the Week: Ikea hacked

This week’s Workspace of the Week is Thomas’ office in Germany Austria:

After learning in the comments to our Unitasker Wednesday post that Germans grow asparagus with skins so hearty they need to be peeled (who knew?!!), I thought it only appropriate that today’s Workspace of the Week continue on this theme.

Thomas’ desk is a simple Ikea product with Ikea attachments (he repurposed two large Blecka hooks to make an amazing laptop stand and a set of Ekby Bjarnum shelf brackets to support the hanging folders). Instead of giving up valuable desktop space for his monitor, he mounted it straight to the wall behind the desk. In the full photo set you can see that he has hidden his printer and office supplies in a hacked cupboard made out of Ikea supplies for less than $35. Thank you, Thomas, for submitting your ingenious, inexpensive, uncluttered office to our Flickr pool.

Want to have your own workspace featured in Workspace of the Week? Submit a picture to the Unclutterer flickr pool. Check it out because we have a nice little community brewing there. Also, don’t forget that workspaces aren’t just desks. If you’re a cook, it’s a kitchen; if you’re a carpenter, it’s your workbench.

Unclutterer giving away two Wi-Fi Amazon Kindles

Unclutterer readers are the most amazing readers on the internet — at least in our (unabashedly biased) opinions. As a result, those of us on the Unclutterer staff will be purchasing two of the latest generation Wi-Fi Amazon Kindles to give away to two of our lucky readers.

Books can take up a lot of storage space in our homes and offices, and having a digital e-book reader certainly helps keep bookshelves from lining every inch of our spaces. The two units we’re giving away are the latest generation Kindle Wireless Reading Device, which are Wi-Fi only, with a 6″ display, in Graphite. It’s the same device I have and love with a passion. (I especially appreciate that I can read silly mystery novels and no one else is the wiser.)

How to enter to win: Entering to win is simple. All you need to do is follow us on Twitter. If you aren’t already on Twitter, create an account and then follow us @Unclutterer.

Next Tuesday and Thursday (October 26 and 28, 2010) at 10:00 a.m. EDT, I will use twitRand() the Random Integer Generator at random.org and select that day’s one winner. You only need to follow us once (and please, only once), to participate in the giveaway. If you already follow us on Twitter, then you are already participating and need not do anything more. Winners of the giveaway will have 24 hours to respond to a direct message from @Unclutterer to claim their new Kindle. Failure to respond within 24 hours will disqualify you from the giveaway.

I know that some of you aren’t interested in social media and will want to complain about having to sign up for Twitter to participate in the giveaway — however, this is the easiest way for us to manage the giveaway and it ensures that many of our readers are already entered to win with no additional effort on their part. Also, if you’re an avid Wired magazine reader, you know that social networking sites can help increase worker productivity if used efficiently.

I am so exited about this reader appreciation event and cannot wait to give away two Kindle Wireless Reading Devices. Remember, you have until 10:00 a.m. EDT on Tuesday, October 26, 2010, to follow us on Twitter for the first Kindle giveaway.

NOTE: twitRand() appears to be offline, so we’ve had to change the manner by which the winners will be randomly selected.

Unclutter your wallet by keeping a second wallet in your glove box

Almost every retail store or restaurant I frequent has some kind of loyalty program. The benefits are usually compelling enough to convince me to join, even if it means I’ll be stuck with yet another club card. In the past, I’ve tried consolidating bar codes on a single card. Unfortunately, I’ve found that over the last few years an increasing number of these loyalty program cards have magnetic stripes on them. As a result, I’m forced to carry the actual card with me in order to use it.

Instead of keeping all of these loyalty cards in the wallet I carry with me everywhere, I keep them in a second wallet that stays in the glove box of my car. I live in the suburbs, so it would be unusual for me to be at a store or restaurant where I might need one and not also be in close proximity to my car.

This approach keeps my primary wallet slim, as the only cards I keep in it are my drivers license, my credit card, and my health insurance card.

Unitasker Wednesday: Asparagus Peeler

My friends Craig and Brittany have rascally senses of humor, which I greatly enjoy. This past weekend, they surprised me with a very special gift — a unitasker they found lurking unused at the back of their kitchen utensil drawer:

The Orka Asparagus Peeler is for all those times you peel your asparagus, which, at least for the three of us, is never. I’ve never peeled my asparagus. Craig and Brittany have never peeled their asparagus. In fact, after looking through a handful of cookbooks, we couldn’t find any recipes that required asparagus stalks to be peeled. The three of us never even knew asparagus has skin that could need peeling.

Surprisingly, there are numerous styles of asparagus peelers available to meet a person’s asparagus peeling needs (we found five, there are likely more). We’re not really sure why, though, a standards vegetable peeler couldn’t peel your asparagus if you actually wanted to peel your asparagus?

Who are the asparagus peelers of the world? Why are they peeling asparagus? And why are they purchasing special peelers to take on this (seemingly) unnecessary task? And how in the world did my friends Craig and Brittany come to possess this odd unitasker in the first place?

The world may never know …

A year ago on Unclutterer




Nurturing: Erin’s fourth quarter 2010 resolutions

My fourth and final set of 2010 resolutions started the first of October, but have been delayed a bit as I’ve been trying to wrap up my third quarter “Finish It!” goals. My son’s baby book is almost finished, and then I’ll have worked through a page and a half of previously unfinished tasks.

In the third quarter, I’ve had my house’s electrical box rewired, the clothes dryer fixed, the garbage disposal repaired, I sold my spinning wheel and roving, went through a home re-uncluttering effort, and finished my next book proposal (though I haven’t had the courage to send it on to my agent yet). I also passed along all of my son’s baby clothes to my nephew and dozens of other small tasks that had been hanging out on my to-do list for far too long (some unfinished items had been there for a few years). For those who are new to Unclutterer, so far this year I’ve also worked on increasing my energy levels during the first quarter of 2010 and embarking on new adventures during the second quarter.

My fourth quarter resolutions for 2010 are all about nurturing the things that matter to me most.

Like most of you, my friends and family are at the top of my list of what is most important in life. I’ve cleared the clutter so I can spend more time with those I love and laugh with them and let them know how much I appreciate them — but I still don’t feel like I’m doing enough. Actually, I know I’m not doing enough.

I have nine things on my list of what truly matters to me in this world. Over the next two and a half months, I’m going to focus all of my energy on nurturing these nine things. I have very specific goals related to my nurturing theme, but since most of them are extremely specific (naming friends and family members outright), I’ll post just a few here to give you a general idea of my actions:

  • Make a care package for my mother-in-law for her to enjoy after her surgery in November. (Nurturing family.)
  • Acquire a treadmill so I can continue to run four times a week even when the weather is nasty cold. (Nurturing my health.)
  • Take a music class with my son. (Nurturing my son.)

After clearing the clutter, have you invested in the things that matter most to you? Or, are you still letting not-so-important matters clutter up your time? During the fourth quarter, consider creating resolutions that are focused on nurturing the things that really matter and enjoying the benefits of an uncluttered life.

Planning and executing a productive work schedule

Each morning when you sit down at your desk, before turning on your monitor or checking your voice mail, take a second to mentally prepare yourself for the day’s work. Briefly close your eyes, inhale, exhale, and settle into your chair.

Once you’re comfortable and relaxed, pull out your to-do list and calendar. Read through every item and decide:

  1. What has to get done by the end of the day?
  2. What would I like to get done by the end of the day, but won’t lose my job if I don’t?

The answer to your first question will decide your flow of work for the day. Look at your calendar, and schedule blocks of time when you will work without interruption to get those must-do items completed. During these times, you’ll hit the Do Not Disturb button on your phone (or disable the ringer), turn off the notification light on your e-mail, close all instant messaging programs, and hang an “If it can wait, please talk to me after 11:00 a.m. — I’m working on the [X] project” sign on your office door or at the entrance to your cubicle. If you work in an open office, stick ear phones in your ears, even if you’re not listening to music, as a signal to others not to disturb you. When it’s time to work on your most important projects for the day, set a timer to help pace your work. If you finish your task before the timer sounds, tackle a few of the non-essential items on your list while you have the time.

Be careful not to schedule your dedicated project time during your low-processing points of the day. Even if you eat to maintain consistent energy throughout your day, you will still have mental highs and lows. Our brains simply can’t stay focused for multiple hours consistently — and you’re actually more productive if you vary the type of work you do. It’s best to alternate your schedule between mindful and mindless work to produce your best work product.

A productive workday for a desk job might look like the following:

7:30 Arrive at work, hang up coat, get coffee
7:45 Plan the day
8:00 Project meeting in conference room A
9:30 Check and process e-mail, voice mail; Admin work
10:00 Dedicated work time on project X
11:30 Check and process e-mail, voice mail; Admin work
12:00 Lunch
1:00 Dedicated work time on project Y
3:00 Check and process e-mail, voice mail; Admin work
3:30 New client meeting in interview room
5:00 Check and process e-mail, voice mail; Admin work
5:30 Complete all must-do work on projects X and Y
6:15 Power down equipment, prepare workstation for next day
6:30 Head home

If you’re already into your workday, you can plan the rest of your day now. Do what you need to do to make sure that the most essential work is completed on schedule. Even if your plan isn’t 100 percent successful — you get pulled into a meeting you hadn’t expected or an emergency arises — you will experience less stress because you will know exactly how to adjust your schedule for the remainder of the workday to accomplish what you have to do before leaving work.

Donate your unwanted shoes to people in need

Do you have shoes you’ve never really worn taking up space in your closet? Are there tennis shoes that are too small for your son’s feet but with life still in them lingering under his bed? Would you be willing to donate these shoes to charity so someone who can’t afford shoes or who has lost all in a natural disaster can have a pair to wear to school or to work or to safely walk down the street?

Soles4Souls is a charity that collects shoes that are cluttering up your closet and distributes them to people in need throughout the world. Search through your shoe collection, and then drop off your and your family’s unwanted shoes at a Soles4Souls collection site near you.

This organization came across my path when my friend and professional organizer Scott Roewer started collecting shoes for the victims of the Haitian earthquake. More than two million people remain homeless in Haiti, and Scott is traveling with Soles4Souls to help deliver the shoes he collects — and thousands more — in an upcoming shipment to the country.

As you put away your summer shoes and shine up your winter boots, check to see if there are any lightly worn shoes cluttering up your closet that could make a difference in the life of someone in need. You can get rid of clutter and help someone at the same time.