I am an organizer. (I know, I know, you're shocked...). I like order and am a firm believer in "a place for everything and everything in it's place." Noting that my house is usually in some semblance of order, people often comment that I'm "lucky" that my kids are also neat.
First, let me say that "luck" has nothing to do with it. Just like with eating, sleeping, reading, and (insert desired action here), my response is, "They did not come out that way." The truth is, kids are kids, and they need to be taught. They need to be taught how to eat, how to sleep, how to read,... and how to be neat. (This could be a whole other post, but I will refrain for now).
Second, my kids are not all neat. Each of my four children have very distinct personalities - a blend of Chuck and me with a smattering of where-in-the-world-did-that-come-from. They have their "neat" moments but they are kids - and they would much rather adopt the "leave it where it lands" mentality of organization.
What works for me does not necessarily work for everyone, but we have incorporated a few rules in our house that helps keep us all sane.
1) Put it away. It's pretty simple, I know, but a lot of people never get their kids to this place (it also applies to adults!) If you got it out, put it away. If you are finished with it, put it away.
2) Help in the clean-up process. Every now and again, Chuck and I will announce a "whole house clean-up." It takes less than 10 minutes. The kids have to stop what they are doing and go through the main areas of the house (kitchen, dining room, living room, family room) and look for things that are out of place. Might be Dad's shoes, Mom's book, Tucker's cars, Patrick's sketch pad, etc - you get the idea. But regardless of whose it is, they put it away. I think this is important because it builds accountability and community. Plus, I've often made the point that I put away a lot of things that aren't mine.
3) Make common areas common. Because we live in a rancher, our kids rooms are not far from the living areas of the house. For that reason, we don't have a play room. We also don't allow them to keep toys in the common areas. They can bring toys, games, etc into the living areas, but when they are finished playing, the toys go back in their bedrooms. This is important to me, because it means that our house does not look like it has been overrun with children. Our house looks like we all live in it, but it does not look like the kids have taken over and pushed us out.
4) Limit the amount of "stuff" kids have. This is a hard one - one that causes some of us to get a bit defensive. But, the truth is, we all have way more stuff than we need (if you are on a computer reading this, then - yes, you fall into that category). I'm not saying it's wrong to have stuff, but I do think we need to teach kids, from a very young age, how to manage their stuff rather than be controlled by it. Here is the method we use: Our kids have a certain amount of space in their bedrooms - closets, bins, shelves, baskets, etc. When that allotted space is full, no more stuff. That means, when a birthday is coming, I might remind that particular child that they need to make room for new things. In fact, before Christmas, I usually facilitate a mass purging. The kids have learned to decide what is important to them, what they really play with, and what has value. They also decide if something should be thrown away (the itty bitty pieces of happy meal toys) or donated. Sometimes they designate a younger cousin or friend to "inherit" the toys. Other times, we donate to a local charity. But, through this process, they have also learned to give to others. They've even begun to comprehend the spiritual principle that you can not receive (physically and spiritually) unless you have first given.
5) Limit the amount of "stuff" adults have. Ok, this one might be even harder. I think we can all agree that kids will best learn what their parents model. The same things I ask of my kids, I maintain in my parts of the house. No new kitchen gadgets unless there is a place and a need for them. Nothing new in a full closet or drawer, unless something has been taken out to make room for it. It's not easy, but it is simple. And I enjoy not feeling like I'm being overtaken by my house.
These methods really can be effective. For some kids, it will mold the way they naturally keep their own space clean. For others, it may only "contain" their mess for as long as they live in your house. But, you would be surprise how well it works. Just the other day, Chloe came to me and asked for a laundry basket. I handed her one but asked why. "Oh, Lucy and I really need to get rid of some stuff. Our room is getting too crowded."
Be still, my heart.