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Can everyone – regardless of age – become more organized?

One week before the big move, we were having dinner with another couple.  Over cocktails we lamented the expense, and commitment, of having kids in college. Yes, we worked hard to raise our children right, told them they were smart, and can do anything, and when they were accepted to college, we were thrilled that all those years had paid off.  Somehow, they wouldn’t quite need us as much which was both painful and exhilarating at the same time.

That night we also discussed the deliberation, in both families, of who should go and move their daughter out of residence.  The gentleman mentioned that he had offered, as did my husband.  However, the moms had decided that it would be our duty to get these kids moved out of their dorm and home for the summer.

My girlfriend lamented that it had taken four days for her to get her daughter packed up.  My trip was nearing and I had only given myself one full day to get Avery’s dorm purged, packed, and ready.  Was I delusional, or had I simply set a high standard?

Many of you write in, and post, the following question in some form – “What do I do if my family is disorganized? How do I get them to become more organized for good?”

My answer is to set, and clearly articulate, your standards.  Steve Harvey, in his best-selling book – Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Man, writes that men live into their woman’s standards.

I would say that no matter what you family looks like – the person who sets the highest standards always rules the organizational department.

Many households run on some form of chaos.  Consider the following statistics:

  • Average Americans spends one year of their life looking for lost or misplaced items.US News and World Report
  • The top five items men look for in their homes are clean socks, remote control, wedding album, car keys and driver’s license. For women, the top five items are shoes, a child’s toy, wallet, lipstick, and the remote IKEA
  • The average American wastes 55 minutes a day (roughly 12 days a year) looking for things they own but can’t find. Newsweek


One of the lessons I impart on my clients, and students, is that the more organized we are – or when we become more organized – the more productive we are. Ultimately, we then have more freedom we have to do the things we want to do.

If we are not wasting time dealing with household disorder, looking for lost items, or sifting through messes, we have time to start a business, play with our kids, go on a date, workout, or get a message.

Anyone who says that they do not have time is ultimately wasting it somewhere.

When I arrived in Boston, Avery assured me that she was ready.  Although she had an exam on move-out day, she had organized her dorm, brought in boxes, arranged UPS pick-up, and had already purged.  I openly praised her however in my mind, I was Tiger Mom, thinking that she had better have the room organized or a summer of hard labor would lay ahead.  At the dorm, although it appeared to be chaos, Avery had indeed organized things in her own way.  Two and a half hours later, we were in our Uber off to have dinner and celebrate the end to her first year with a short shopping trip and sushi.

When it comes to setting standards for organization, my sense is that many people fail to layout their expectations, and when others in the household fail to live into expectations that are not clear, the individual, or individuals become upset and either clean things up themselves and swallow their bitterness, or openly criticize everyone else.

With summer coming, and kids at home, now is the time to set new standards and here are 5 strategies to employ now for everyone in the family to become more organized:

 1. Lead by Example

I know that this may sound obvious however I have had students who tell me that their partner is completely messy and yet yells at their kids when their rooms are in chaos.  Kids are smart.  They will be very unlikely to take orders from someone who is out of integrity.  It is up to you to lead by example.

You may feel like no one is watching; I felt that way for years.  When my daughter left for college, I soon saw that although she was not quite as organized as I am, she was a lot more organized that I thought she was.  At the end of the day, our kids are taking cues from us.  Instead of always harping on them, create an example that they will model.

2. Make Lists

If you caught my podcast with father of fifteen, Brad Groothuis, you will have heard that after dinner there is always a list.  The kids must accomplish everything on the list for them to earn their screens.  Even the youngest help out.

Brad’s method works!  It is something I have employed in my own house.  If Chris and I go out, we leave a list for the kids to accomplish.  They are expected to have done everything by the time we return.

Give some form of reward for accomplishing the list.  It could be screen time, earning a special outing, or whatever is of value to the child.

3. Purge Often

In our family, we have times, generally every other weekend, where everyone in the house gathers together items to purge, donate, or recycle. In addition to do this we do our weekly five item purge so that clutter doesn’t build up. I then take the kids to where we are donating items so they can get a good functional idea of how others in need can benefit from our former resources.

4. Illustrate the Benefits of Organization

People who are disorganized do not often see the collateral damage of their actions.  What they overlook is who else suffers when they are late, can’t find things, and essentially hold everyone else up.  Show your children how being more organized can create more time to do the things they want to do.  If they do not take as long to find things in the morning, there will be more time to get to school early and play with friends.  If they keep their room tidy, there is an increased likelihood that you will allow a sleepover.

Map out the benefits of an organized life and see where it goes.  In the beginning, not much may change however eventually, and perhaps years later, it will sink in.

5. Clearly Articulate Your Standards

Not long ago, I asked my two youngest daughters to clean their room.  I said, ‘I want it Mommy clean.’  They know that I have a standard – no clothes hanging out of drawers, nothing under the bed, their bathroom counter organized, and so forth.  Let your children know what your standards are for organization because at the end of the day, we do not get our goals, we get our standards.

Lastly, there is no point walking around bitter and angry about chaos in your home.  You can blame everyone else or you can take a good hard look in the mirror and consider that your family is feeling resented by you and simply living into your expectation that they will not do anything.  Change always starts within.  As I teach my students – we teach the world how to treat us and that our outer world reflects our inner world.  If your family is not respecting you, start by respecting yourself and observe how life begins to shift.

PS – hugs to Jennifer, from Boston, who is a fan of this blog.  I love meeting all of you when I travel.  I would love to hear your comments and thoughts on this blog, or any others.  I read them and love writing on the topics that matter to you the most.

Susan Sly is a bestselling author, keynote speaker, certified NLP practitioner, coach, and trauma recovery specialist.  Susan specializes in helping people become more productive so they can lead ridiculously fulfilling lives.  She is the mother of four and has been working in human potential for over two decades.





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