It's time to clear the clutter

In the bedrooms of teens across the land, bulging backpacks still sit where they landed in June, amidst strewed T-shirts, crumpled shopping bags, old term papers and half-done sudoku puzzles. Shelves sag with cast-off clothes and outgrown toys. Dresser tops are spilling over with ticket stubs, CDs and nail polish.

Here it is August, and another load of textbooks and homework is about to hit. With just a few precious beach weekends left, some parents are declaring a state of emergency.

"Being a high schooler and a teenager is very hard. And being organized is very hard as well," says Susan Jones, a Chevy Chase, Md., psychotherapist, life coach and educational consultant. She says teens crave privacy in their rooms, but parents need to be involved if the chaos gets out of control. "This can become a huge area of contention between parents and kids. A room should be a haven but not a garret room in a castle where a kid can go to hide. You should be able to find something in the middle."

Many parents choose to pick their battles and close the door, literally, on their teen's trashed room. But that isn't doing the kid any favors, especially with a new school year looming.

Organization means stuff management as well as time management, and these life skills are closely intertwined, experts say. Taking the time to toss or donate unused items, setting up systems to store what remains and creating a command center for dates and homework will save time — and stress — every single day.

"Teens' lives today are complex and more demanding than they have ever been," says Julie Morgenstern, co-author of "Organizing From the Inside Out for Teens" (Henry Holt, $15). Morgenstern says that although teens are far more motivated in many aspects of their lives than they were a decade ago, they must be shown the benefits of neatness.

Learning to be organized is a process, according to Donna Goldberg, author of "The Organized Student" (Simon & Schuster, $14). With kids spending so much time at school and at extracurricular activities or athletics, evenings leave little time for dinner, let alone searching for a notebook or gym uniform needed the next day.

"A student's job is to do well academically. Setting yourself up for success is really important," Goldberg says. "When your room is organized, you are actually calmer and you can focus better."

Some teens may roll their eyes at the notion that creating order out of chaos is worth their time. Others may acknowledge that establishing order could help, but can't find the time to achieve it.

Jones says that shaming a teen about his or her room is not good parenting.

"You need to teach your child to be organized. This doesn't come naturally," she says.

Instead, she and others suggest constructive lessons in organization, with follow-up and positive feedback along the way. "Find out who the strong parent is and who has the skills to teach this," she says. "Or hire a professional to do it, or a friend."

Barbara Rohrbach, 17, a high school senior, says she has become the go-to room-organizing person for her friends.

"I constantly get rid of clothes that I don't want by taking them to thrift shops or consignment shops," says Rohrbach, who says keeping clutter at bay is an ongoing process. "I love having everything in a certain place."