Back to School With STYLE: A Few Simple Strategies for Defeating Clutter


Organizing by Style

Because getting organized and staying that way is a challenge for me, I love it when I find baby steps that make the process less painless. And when we’re dealing with kids, baby steps can sometimes be the only way in when it comes to organizational solutions.

Photo: jppi via Morguefile

Photo: jppi via Morguefile

One of my favorites simple strategies is Give it Five!, which is just what it sounds like. To Give it Five! have your kids choose one area, and allocate five uninterrupted minutes to making progress in that space. When five minutes are up, they can stop. If they get on a roll, time permits and they want to continue, Give it Five! is easily expanded into a longer chunk of time; but even they stop after five minutes, that short organizing spurt can provide a small success that inspires them to repeat the process another time. When I used Give it Five! with my elementary-aged students, I encouraged them to use a timer, but many of them kept going long after the timer went off; as it turned out, getting started was the hard part. While Give it Five! won’t get major clutter under immediate control, it can create a small feeling of accomplishment, which makes the whole process less intimidating.

As an I need to see it/drop and run person, I have to work against my natural tendencies to keep clutter and piles from popping up in the first place. The realization that doing this successfully is a huge step toward taking control of my stuff led me to the second kid-friendly strategy: Don’t put it down, put it away! I gave my students door hangers with Don’t put it down, put it away! on them as a reminder that if it goes where it belongs in the first place, they won’t have to clean it up later. The pairing of this strategy with Give it Five! can be particularly useful for many of us (of any age) whose default styles make spotless surfaces simultaneously desirable and difficult.

Finally, when all else fails and I’m feeling overwhelmed by stuff, I resort to playing little games with myself. One of my favorites is “pick up one thing.” It’s simple. Each time I walk past a particular cluttered surface (usually my dining room table), I have to pick up one thing and put it where it belongs. In another version of this little mind game, I assign myself a number (say, 15) and I have to pick up and put away that many things (from any location in my house) before I can move on to the fun thing that was next on my list. If you’re using this with kids, let them choose their own number from a range you give them — say, between 5 and 15. Keeping it easy and do-able enlists cooperation and, as with Give it Five!, might even mean that once they get started, they stop keeping track.



None of these tricks will solve major organizational issues, but they will allow us to teach our kids to take baby steps toward creating organization in their little corner of the world. In addition, putting a dent in an overwhelming task leads not only to progress, but also to a sense of power over the very stuff that threatens to win the battle. And confidence is an essential weapon in the clutter wars.

And that, my friends, is how we defeat clutter — or at least call it a draw.


Copyright 2015 Lisa Hess
Logo background image:†”Unageek color” by Unageek (2013) via Morguefile. Text added†in Canva.


About Author

Lisa Lawmaster Hess has contributed articles to local, national and online publications, and blogs at The Porch Swing Chronicles, The Susquehanna Writers and here at She is the author of two non-fiction books (Acting Assertively and Diverse Divorce) and two novels, Casting the First Stone and Chasing a Second Chance. A retired elementary school counselor, Lisa is a lecturer in psychology at York College and enjoys singing with the contemporary choir at her church.

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