Reducing Kid Clutter

Nagging at your kiddos about their clutter?  Know they should be able to keep things organized, but it’s just not happening?  One way to approach the problem is to learn how to modify their behavior…

Changing Behaviors

As a former Early Childhood Special Education Teacher, one of my areas of expertise is in Behavior Modification.   The end result is to change an existing behavior.  When it comes to organizing for kids, what are some of the problem areas you need help with?  Things like this come to mind:

Putting Away Clean Laundry,

Managing Sports Equipment,


Entryway Clutter,

Putting Away Toys, and

Bedroom Messes

Instead of nagging (or doing it for them) what if you tried a series of steps to change the behavior?  The key is to be very involved at the beginning of the process, but to always be aware of how to fade out your involvement.  You don’t want the kids to be dependent upon you to complete their organizing tasks!  And always be positive 🙂


Entryway example:

Are your kiddos capable of coming in the door, hanging up their backpacks and coats, and putting shoes on the designated shelf every day after school?   Have you prepared the environment so they can easily reach and find room to do so?  Does the stuff just end up on the floor anyway?

In order to modify this behavior, it is important to find time  to clarify what you expect.  This can and should be at a time when you are not already irritated.  Again, the goal is to be positive! 🙂

Instead of the only verbal and negative DON’T, messages, “Hey, DON’T kick your shoes off and leave them in front of the door,” – take them to the space and show them what you expect.  This should be paired with positive comments about what they CAN do, “Please place your shoes on the shelf when you remove them.”  Or, better yet, act a little befuddled and ask THEM for ideas about what might make the process more efficient and functional 😉

Involve them in the process – can they operate a phone camera?  Have them take before and after photos of the space!   The goal is to encourage them to  have pride in taking care of their things.


Now that you have clarified the expectations, it is time to discuss types of prompting.   At the beginning, you might use all three at once:

1.  Physical

2.  Visual

3.  Verbal

Entryway example:

1.  Physical prompting – This can be in the form of you standing in the doorway literally placing a hand on a shoulder to slow down the barreling through the door, or casually blocking the way if the kids drop everything and start to head to another room.   You can also pick up a dropped coat, or just sit in the middle of the hallway.  Extra points for silliness apply!   Tapping the visual clue (see #2) counts too.

2.  Visual prompting – Do you have the “after” photo handy from when you “Clarified Expectations?”  Have the kids hang it on the wall in the entryway as a visual reminder of the “Expecations.”  Younger kiddos can create and hang a construction paper STOP sign!  Anything that gives them pause.  Older kids might make a sign on the computer that reads (instead of STOP, DROP, and ROLL), “STOP, HANG, and SHELVE!”  You could even have them hang it outside the door, so they see it as they approach.

3.  Verbal – This one is usually overused, so be mindful.  Kids become “prompt dependent” upon hearing you say, “Did you…?”  The goal for behavior modification is for you to drop the, “Did you’s!”  so they take cues from the environment instead.   This way, they won’t need YOU to remember!

If you are using verbal prompts, think of positive ways to speak.  Instead of calling from another room, “Did you…?”  Try instead to pair it with the actual process.  Stand in the doorway and look for the detail.  If  backpacks are on the floor, and your physical presence is not enough, you can specifically remind your kids what they CAN do, “Please hang your backpacks on the hooks.” while talking about their day at school.


The end goal is to lose all the prompts – starting with the verbal ones!  The less you need to interject your voice into the process, the more likely they are to complete it independently.  For example, walk by the entryway (physical prompt), and talk about something other than the task at hand.  If you stand there long enough, they might surprise you!

If you are not home after school and come upon a pile when you return, resist the urge to call out in anger, “Hey, get down here and hang up your stuff!”  Instead, try walking the shoes to your child and having a conversation about something positive.  Then interject… “Thank you for working with me on keeping the entryway organized!  Today, these were on the floor.  Please put them on the shelf. ”

If you only nag  and/or do it for them it just makes everybody cranky!  And the behavior backslides!  Hold them accountable.  Nicely 🙂

Questions?  It’s a lot to think about, but behavior modification techniques reduce negativity and promote independence.  Worth a try, right?Share this article!


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