You live with a hurricane, at least that is what it feels like when you live with unorganized teenagers. You are their maid, cook, secretary, therapist and driver. If their head were not attached, they would lose it. Seems like, this is normal for most families. To your child’s credit, they have a massive amount of changes happening in their bodies which causes chaos. Good news, they will grow and can develop organizational skills at any point in their life.
The therapist in me asks: As their parent, are you helping or hindering the development of organizational skills?
(extreme) I keep them organized, constantly….even their thoughts
(my recommendation) Organization is divided between us…sometimes they perform tasks differently than I suggest but that is okay
(extreme) I am so unorganized, my child manages our clutter
Hopefully, you are not either of the extremes but some place in the middle. The point is, to consider your child’s perspective. If you do everything for them, how will they learn? When they are on their own, won’t they be better able to manage if they develop skills? We go to such lengths to teach them Math, Science and English but what about common sense?
Unless your child has issues with ADHD or other issues, the average child should be able to wash a load of laundry, make a sandwich, spend within their budget (for that matter, recognize what a budget is), find locations by themselves, make their own haircut appointment, and last but not least, make decisions regarding stuff…what stuff should be kept vs eliminated.
I am not saying this is easily taught (interesting article The Messy Room: Symbol of the Adolescent Age) but can and should be done not only before they leave for college but as they continue to grow. You should feel like you are spending a lifetime teaching them common sense skills. Often, common sense involves organization.
But, it is almost time for them to leave, what do I do?
- Sort so you can get rid of stuff – I recommend that your child go through all their stuff, without you, if possible. Ask them to get rid of anything that serves no purpose, does not fit, or the does not interest them. Sorting like items helps the decision making process visit their website. You want as few items as possible to remain for two reasons: they can not take much with them and you do not want to deal with everything left behind.
- Teach them decision making skills through the process – for example, parting with the hundreds of stuffed animals they have had since birth may seem unfathomable but this is a teaching moment. Ask them to narrow down to a few, only the most important stay. All the others will be given away so another child can enjoy them. NOW repeat this process with everything they call their own. Need advice? Get help from Julie Morgenstern’s Organizing from the Inside Out for Teens. Decision making is a skill that will make them successful.
- Have a place for everything – not only does this apply to their room but the entire house, you are their role model. Just as important, all who live in this home should know were the stuff belongs. Your teenager should be able to clean their room easily if they know where stuff resides. Will they do it? That is a different kind of question.
- Decide what they will take to college and set aside – it is never too soon to start packing (guide: Off-to-College Checklist). The sooner you start, the sooner you will realize what they still need and have to buy. All the more reason for you to organize the entire house, give them what you already have instead of buying more and more and more.
- When you get there, fill-in the blanks – no matter how well you organize and pack, I guarantee, you will need to make a final run/order to Target/Amazon for missing items. It is okay, you are going to forget stuff.