Organization, like any skill, can be learned. Use this easy-to-remember, three-step principle to help teach your girl how to manage her belongings and her time—and eliminate the stress and frustration that comes from disorganization.

"Sort Your Stuff..."

How it works for her things:

No matter the size of the space—small, like a backpack, or large, like a bedroom— things tend to collect there. What things? Knowing that is half the battle! To sort her stuff, she first has to see what’s there: gather everything that is cluttering up the space—empty the backpack, collect everything of one type (e.g. hair accessories) from a room, or choose a hot spot where random things seem to collect—then create categories. She might divide her things into what belongs in that space and what doesn’t, or she may think through what she wants to keep, toss, or give away. Then set a timer for 15 minutes (because seeing all that stuff in a cluttered heap can feel overwhelming), crank some music, and see how much your girl can do!

How it works for her time:

Just like managing clutter begins by knowing what stuff has collected in a space, the first step in managing time is knowing how long different tasks take. Your girl may think it takes five minutes to shower or 30 seconds to brush her teeth, but if she actually needs 20 minutes to shower and a dentist-approved two minutes to brush, then her morning or evening routine becomes frantic. Help her ‘sort’ her time by having her list everything she does during a given period, such as the time she has between waking up and leaving for school, and how long she thinks it takes to complete each activity on her list. Then use a stopwatch or kitchen timer to see how long each activity really takes. With all this good information on hand, help your girl decide how to sort it out using categories like “now,” “later,” or “in advance.” If packing her lunch and picking out her clothes can be sorted from the “now” category to “the night before,” then maybe she can shave 20 minutes off her routine and turn morning madness into something a lot more manageable.

"Put it Away..."

How it works for her things:

After all that sorting, where’s the best place to put everything? Help your girl think about where she does what and create zones for each activity. For her backpack or other small space, have her store the things she needs in the places or pockets where she’ll most likely reach for them—a zone for her keys, phone, and headphones; a zone for her books, homework, and folders; another for her hat and gloves. At home, encourage her to create a clothing zone, a study zone, a get-ready zone, etc. where she keeps all the things she needs for that activity—supplies, devices, or other odds and ends. Help her group small items in pouches, bins, or caddies and think about what to display and what to tuck away. By leading her to think about each thing’s purpose, you can help your girl create a system that matches her things to the spaces where she needs them.

How it works for her time:

The idea of “putting away” time may sound odd, but it’s really not so different from helping your girl create zones for her things: both involve designating space for different activities or purposes. Teaching your girl how to use a calendar or planner to keep track of her schedule and projects helps her develop a valuable skill and gain perspective on how she uses her time. Help her begin by writing down every practice, recital, sleepover, or event. Then help her block off time for homework, getting cleaned up, and other routines—even sleep! Talk to her about what time is left. Is there a lot? Is there too little? Free time is important, and some girls need a lot of free time to recharge. Other girls might find it stressful to have too much free time. Wherever your girl falls on that spectrum, having her schedule all mapped out in front of her can help her know what she needs and when—and that will help her “put away” time for the things that matter most.

"Keep It That Way!"

How it works for her things:

She’s cut clutter and created zones. She knows exactly where everything is, and when she looks around her room, it’s filled with things that make her smile. Bravo! She’s in control of her space. And you both want to keep it that way, right? The secret to maintaining all that order is in building good habits: help your girl schedule time to sort, set limits on how much space any one thing can claim, create short daily and longer weekly routines, and offer lots of support and encouragement. It takes time to adopt a new habit, so be patient and celebrate your girl’s outstanding effort.

How it works for her time:

Teaching your daughter to take control of her time may feel tougher than organizing her stuff: unlike the clutter that spills out of her closets and drawers, time is invisible. It can sneak up on her or fly right on by. Keeping up with her calendar is a great way to start. Then, when she’s ready, encourage her to build on her time management skills. Help her identify and beware of time stealers. Show her strategies to avoid procrastination. Encourage her to listen to what her body is telling her it needs, whether that’s more down time, a quick break from studying, more exercise, fewer activities if she’s over-committed, or just a little creative time—and support her as she works that out in her schedule. Finally, help your girl learn how to say “No,” which can be the biggest challenge of all!

Excerpted and adapted from A Smart Girl's Guide: Getting It Together by Erin Falligant; illustrated by Brenna Vaughan. American Girl Publishing, 2017. All rights reserved.