Who better to help our teenager—and us—get organized than a professional organizer? Your Teen caught up with Laurie Martin, owner of Simplicity Organizers in Charlotte, NC, and author of Transitions for Teens, to find out where to start.
Q: What organizational issues do you usually see with teenagers?
Martin: Teenagers often struggle with balancing social life, studies, and extracurricular activities. Add screen time, sleep deprivation and too much other stuff, and it is no wonder many students experience disorganization. Teenagers tend to function in a reactive instead of proactive mode to compensate for lost time. They end up multitasking, which actually decreases effectiveness and efficiency.
Q: What are some specific ways to solve these organizational issues?
Martin: Teenagers need to learn how to create customized and maintainable systems for organizing their belongings, their space, and their time, but in a way that makes sense to them. First, they must recognize and avoid time wasters, like interruptions, technology (email, Facebook, text messaging, etc.), perfectionism, and procrastination. Additionally,
• Work in a space that enhances productivity.
• Turn off technology when completing homework and projects.
• Use a timer to stay focused.
• Prioritize assignments and estimate the length of each task.
To manage their time, teenagers should use a planner to record EVERYTHING, including homework assignments, projects, extracurricular activities, holidays, birthdays, and family vacations. They should also hang a large monthly calendar at their command center and update it weekly.
Q: What is a command center?
Martin: It’s a space where your teenager can complete his or her homework and, yes, you should absolutely set one up. It should include:
• A large, clear, flat space.
• A comfortable chair.
• Adequate lighting.
• Filing, for archived papers and keepsakes.
• Basic school supplies.
• 1-2 in-boxes or letter trays to store current papers and projects.
Organization is not necessarily about how a space looks, but how a space functions. Help your teenager to set up their command center in a way that makes sense to them.
Q: Several experts told us it’s hard for teenagers to be organized when their parents aren’t organized. Ouch. What tips do you have for parents?
Martin: Providing your teenagers with the skills and tools to get organized is one of the most valuable gifts you can give your child. Yet, it is difficult to expect a teenager to be organized when the parent is highly disorganized. For parents who really struggle with organization, it may be worth bringing in an expert to help coach and guide your teenager in setting up systems and routines that work for them. Teenagers feel empowered, encouraged, and confident when they are a part of the organizing process.
Q: What other ways can we help teenagers stay organized?
Martin: Remember that organizing is a process and not a one-time event. You need to maintain it and may need to tweak it to ensure that it works for your teen. Teenagers should carve out time every Sunday night to look ahead at the upcoming week. This would include reviewing notes of any tests, project due dates or appointments.
Teenagers should also purge and organize their rooms once a month instead of once a year. It is amazing how quickly candy wrappers, crumpled papers, used tissues, old magazines and outgrown clothes can accumulate in a short period of time. Organization is a life skill that people can learn at any age. The earlier you teach children organizational skills, the quicker they will develop and retain these critical skills. Organizing promotes freedom, balance and self-discovery. An investment in organizational skills training will help your teenager develop life skills that schools rarely address.