How to Organize
Ask A Tidy Mom: Tova Weinstock
- Interview By
- Katie Covington
Suddenly our Brooklyn apartment has gone from a tidy home filled with tiny baby things to a zoo. With an opinionated toddler and a sudden influx of Christmas toys, I felt like I had no idea how to corral the chaos that appeared overnight. So I called Tidy Tova to find out how to calm the storm and create systems to keep our whole family organized.
I'm a minimalist having a hard time navigating all the things we've accumulated since my son was born. Is every family chaotic and disorganized in the same way?
There's so much stuff when it comes to kids, and when it's your kid and their adorable stuff, you don't understand where to start paring back. Organizing is emotional and highly personal, making creating systems for children's things harder because you don't always understand the value they place on objects. I am a professional organizer and still don't always know what is essential to my kid. You never know if the little plastic sheriff's car has been in the car for years that they'll miss if it's gone.
I believe in involving kids in the organizing process from a young age. It can be empowering to feel like you have control over your things, and it's essential to teach them from a young age about sharing and your family's philosophy on "things." For me, that means that we give toys away when we finish playing with them, we don't need so much stuff, and I try not to overstimulate with an excessive amount of things.
Do you have any tips for encouraging kids to organize their spaces?
Having less stuff makes organizing easier.
One thing that kids can understand, at a certain age, is to give some stuff to people who don't have a lot of toys. You say, "You're so lucky you have so many toys to give people who don't," and that's something they can understand. You have to normalize having clothes, toys, and gear while they are helpful to your family and then giving them new homes. An example of this is what my sister does for her kids' birthday parties. It's a bit extreme, but the birthday kid opens all the presents and then gets to keep two, their siblings get one, and then my sister gives away the rest. Some parents tuck away presents in a closet to save them for rainy days throughout the year. I brought a friend to a party once, and they thought this was crazy, but they got two great gifts and were thrilled!
Make systems simple.
I always suggest using clear kids storage bins. I get that we don't love using too much plastic, but it's easier to see through them and the adage "out of sight, out of mind" rings true here. Also, clear bins simplify the process for kids, so once you create a system, you're all more likely to stick with it. While I love a label maker, for kids, use a picture instead. They can use that clue to keep things organized. You can do that on your kids dresser with a little picture or line drawing of pants, shirts, socks, or underwear. The same system works with toys- a picture of the blocks outside the bin, and then they know where they go when they put them away.
Give kids some agency.
I believe in letting kids handle as much as possible on their own and learn new skills. For older kids, maybe their room is slightly different from shared spaces, allowing them to think about what works for them to maintain it.
For younger kids, rotating toys in and out is great so they have some agency on where things go and can reach them independently without overwhelming them. You don't need a whole closet devoted to this, I store things in baskets under the couch or under your bed and swap things out every few weeks.
Any tips for organizing baby and kid clothes and gear? There are so many small things that you need for a small window of time.
Contain small collections.
Keep breastfeeding pumps in little containers within a drawer instead of your night table. The same goes for kids' toys–a collection of cars or balls should be contained together in a box or basket. Mesh produce bags are genius for this. I use them to keep like with like without having so many containers. While we keep bigger toys in my son's room, we spend so much time in our living room, so I have pretty woven baskets and inside the baskets are produce bags with balls or cars or trains. It limits the number of things he's playing with at one time since he's not just dumping the whole basket out, and keeping those collections together makes it easier to play.
One thing I've had a hard time with is creating a system for how often to clean out my boys clothes that no longer fit my son. I started cleaning things out every few months, but he outgrew things at different times, and now the sizes are scattered throughout bags and bins. Any tips for how to tackle out-of-season clothes and outgrown clothing?
Make a short-term storage plan you'll use without thinking about.
Constantly thinking about clothes can be overwhelming for people, so recommend as you see something small to take it out of a drawer or off a hanger, but keep it in a bag or something in their closet. An active in or shopping bag lets you constantly add to it without going to the attic or your storage unit or wherever you'd keep them for deep storage.
Have a longer-term storage plan that makes things easy to access.
I have clear plastic bins in my boiler room. I add things frequently, so it made a huge difference to get shelving for them, so I didn't have to stack and restack the bins whenever I wanted to access them. To keep your system going, it can't make you miserable; it has to be simple to keep doing it. If you want a second kid, the time comes, and you don't have a system in place, and all the hand-me-downs are worthless. Clients constantly find clothes they saved for a younger child that they never even get to wear because they unearthed them too late.
Your trash can be your child's treasure.
Kids come home with goodie bags, gumball machine toys, and nature bits that are treasures to your child, but to you, it's like it feels like trash. So I always recommend having a bin that is their bin, and they're allowed to do with it what they want.
They can decorate it and make it special to hold their little treasures. It's an excellent way to normalize a rule of keeping what fits in the box, but when it gets too full, we have to clear something out.
How did you get started as a professional organizer? They're the secret behind every immaculate kitchen or kid's closet these days.
Even as a kid, I always loved organizing. I wish I could be in a disorganized person's brain and understand what it feels like, but I've always been very attuned to systems. Then, ten years ago, I was going back to school and needed work during the day, so I thought, "I could do this. Let me try organizing." And it was as simple as that. It's been interesting to see the industry's evolution; people now understand an emotional aspect of tidying, especially after Marie Kondo's book. I believe that tidying makes you feel better. After organizing a space for someone, they say," I feel lighter. I feel like I lost 10 pounds." How cool is that?
When does it make sense to call a professional?
A big part of being an adult is admitting when you need to outsource things. Calling in an organizer is a way of acknowledging that the task does not energize you. You're avoiding it, but having an unorganized space is bothering you. It can help keep emotions in check to have another person there and hold you accountable. If you have someone focused and good at it and energized by it, it makes the process faster and easier. I think it's a thing with a nutritionist, trainer, or someone to help you clean your house–it's just one too many things.