Clobbering Clutter This School Year


One man's trash is another man's treasure

One man’s trash is another man’s treasure

A cluttered desk is a sign of an addled brain. Not really, but since school started last week, that’s what I tell my High School Kid. I’m an organizational freak. The sight of alphabetized files and tidy desk drawers brings on a rush just shy of euphoria. Unfortunately, High School Kid does not share my taste in tidiness. To him, gum wrappers and dirty cups (aka trash) scattered amidst books and homework is not a concern.

I know what a lot of moms say on the subject. “Let him live like that.” “He’ll learn to be neat when he gets sick of the mess.”

But at what price, I ask?

Am I willing to hazard the dreaded “Missing Assignment” notice when I login to his online grades? Do I have what it takes to sit back and let the homework get lost on his own desk? Besides, this is junior year when school isn’t just about homework. It’s also about ACT prep and gulp his finding his passion so that he can dazzle the university admissions staff.

Please, I’m starting to see his college acceptance letters dwindling in direct relation to a cluttered desk.

If I have to spend hours a day here, I want to like what I see

If I have to spend hours a day here, I want to like what I see

Less is more. Courtesy

Less is more. Courtesy

Here are 5 tips to help your teenager clobber the clutter:

  1. Less is more. Store anything that isn’t crucial to the job. Your kid doesn’t need 40 pens and 20 packs of post-its.
  2. Tidy up weekly. Don’t wait until your kid is swimming through a sea of papers before encouraging him/her to file them where they belong.
  3. Go wireless. A printer doesn’t have to take up a quarter of the desktop anymore.
  4. Have fun. My High School Kid secured two large hooks in the wall and designed a ‘laundry line’ system to hang things like photos and medals where he can enjoy them, but they don’t take up space in his work area.
  5. Don’t look back. Sometimes it’s time to cull the herd and get rid of books that your student has already read and doesn’t plan to re-read. Donate them to your local library.

Of course I know a cluttered desk won’t doom my son for life, but it saves a mom from the stress of hearing: “Mom, have you seen my homework assignment?”

Author Description

Cynthia Baseman

Cynthia Baseman is the author of 'Love, Mom: A Mother's Journey from Loss to Hope.' She writes about motherhood, the environment and education.

There are 5 comments. Add yours

  1. 11th September 2013 | Jordan says: Reply
    Good advice, although for some strange reason, that desk doesn't look half bad to me!
    • 11th September 2013 | Cynthia Baseman says: Reply
      I should've mentioned...this is after he straightened up a bit.
  2. 9th September 2013 | Hayley Kaplan says: Reply
    Good luck on this battle. I have one highly organized child and another that just doesn't care about it. But now that he's in college, it's up to him to get it right or deal with the consequences. And I just have to deal with the disorganization when he's home during breaks and vacation. Either that or clean it up myself. This year I just cleaned it up myself after he went back to school. Wasn't worth the effort of making him do it and I didn't want to see a messy room when he wasn't home. LOL!
  3. 9th September 2013 | Marjorie Bard says: Reply
    I don't see any other comments, so here goes: I have spent too many years in college and university professors' offices. Not one was "neat." In fact, the more untidy (almost always), the better the professor. (I'm including myself.) I can find whatever I need in a few seconds. I know what the piles contain even if someone else doesn't. It is only in the mind of an observer that something is a mess. If I spent my time being obsessive about being "neat," I'd be spending my life cleaning. If your son can't find what he needs, then he obviously will learn that being more tidy is efficient. I don't think that artists have "neat" working spaces. I've seen their studios. I know my own studio. Yes; everything is in a place where it should be, but that's my decision of where things should be. I'm sure it looks messy to others. Don't make your son feel obsessive. It's "constipating." He'll do his work and find what he needs and if he senses errors, he'll do something about it. What about just adding some small filing cabinets that look like a teen's "natural habitat" and putting tabs on some of the files. Put a few names on the tabs, e.g., book reports, graded papers, homework for (day) completed, things to be done immediately, etc. And put up a teen's calendar on the wall next to the computer desk so s/he can see it whenever at his/her desk. Don't forget to add the same calendar in the kitchen or wherever s/he does the actual homework. (I rarely did homework at a formal desk, but I saw it by the refrigerator!) Shut his bedroom door and let him try it out with a make-shift "start-up." Don't let your obsessive nature influence his loose creative one. If my parents had made me keep my own areas neat, I never would have had any creative/artistic feelings at all. I needed to experiment and had several hobbies going at once. Maybe your son is a multi-tasker and likes to see his "stuff" around him. Just add some small helpers such as the creative filing cabinets and large calendars. If he is a collector, add trays with photos of his favorites pasted on them. His desk will be neater when trays are used to file what makes sense to him.
    • 9th September 2013 | Cynthia Baseman says: Reply
      Probably depends on the person. My dad's desk looked like a 1000 lb bomb dropped on it, but he knew exactly where all his files were located. On the flipside, saw screenwriter Larry Gelbart's desk and it looked like a Japanese meditation garden it was so serene.

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