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To some, “open-ended organizing” may seem chaotic. And it is – a little bit – when compared to traditional organizing concepts that you see in magazines and on Pinterest.

However, the concepts used in open-ended organizing can be great for both you and your child.

What is open-ended organizing, anyway?

Here’s an example of how I use what I would consider “open-ended organizing” in my own home.

I live with my partner (or as I have begun calling him, my “future fiance” – haha) and we share laundry responsibilities. Our laundry room is on a different floor, so we take turns hauling the laundry down, switching it between the washer and dryer, and hauling it back up.

I was folding his laundry for a while and trying to make it look perfect in the drawers. However, he kept telling me not to – that he never folded it when he lived alone, and that I didn’t have to do it for him.

So we created a “clean hamper” and a “dirty hamper.”

When the laundry comes out of the dryer, I fold my stuff and put it away in a way that fits my needs (folded/organized/hung up/etc.)

I take his stuff and I drop it in his “clean hamper” that lives in our bedroom.

What makes this “open-ended”?

1. It’s a solution that is not necessarily perfect, but is favorable to both of us.

2. It eliminates a potential argument or power struggle

3. It allows us to do things to our own standards, but also within reason (if he chose to keep his laundry unfolded on the couch, this would not work – but contained in a clean hamper? Fine with me!)

I mentioned this system at a speaking engagement one time and one person was appalled that my man wasn’t folding his stuff. At first I wondered – am I okay? Am I normal? Should I press this issue?

I then realized that no – this was not something that was worth pressing. It worked. I would rather have it done than perfect, and I would rather our relationship not suffer over something that is not incredibly important to me.

So – how can this translate to kids?

Note this picture from a child care center (photo credit:




Notice that things are on the shelf, but not perfectly. They are coming off a little bit, but they are generally contained.

Though not as pleasing to the eye as some organizing solutions, the children are able to clean up without much direction. If it turns out less than perfect, it is okay – it’s done and the children can be proud of their work.

In preschool, a child’s self-esteem is of utmost importance. I learned early on from a mentor teacher that children often spend several minutes focusing on doing something – only to be corrected as soon as they finish and their pride in completing a task dampened.

What are some ways that you can use this in your home?

1. Have playthings out on open shelving. Give recognition when things end up neatly on the shelf.

2. Model appropriate behavior and talk about what you’re doing – “These blocks fit nicely here, so I will choose this spot for them.” Children learn by example.

3. Designate space for things, but be flexible – it’s not the end of the world if something ends up one shelf down than it was originally placed.

What do you think?  I’d love to hear it! Feel free to reply to this email, or visit Home Key Organization’s Facebook page and comment!

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