How do you help an unorganized person get organized?

I am a fairly well-organized person. I know what has to be done at work and when it needs to be done, and I can multi-task and prioritize, and take care of requests that interrupt my work with a minimum of fuss.

I think I have always been this way. In school, I always turned in my assignments on time. I don’t think I ever misplaced anything, although I could be mistaken. However, my grades in school (As and Bs through college) would tend to bear out that I was on top of my school work.

That said, I am dealing with an alien intelligence in my home. My 14-year-old, Ivyboy, is definitely not organized. He will do his homework assignments, then leave them at home. His backpack is a disaster.

This is a real concern to his father and me, because we got both the kiddos into private school this year, and unless he gets good grades, he will not be eligible for a scholarship to attend next year, and we can’t take out a third mortgage on the house for tuition. Ivyboy is aware of this situation, and declares he loves the school and wants to go next year. He’s on the golf team and even ran for class secretary (which he lost, btw.) So I know he’s really into school.

His test grades in one of his classes are the second highest in the class, but he was failing because he wasn’t turning in the homework assignments. He is an incredibly bright outgoing kid. He got moved into Honor English after four days of school, and I read one of his poems that I thought was full of wonderful imagery you may be lucky to see at a college level. (No, he is not ADD or ADHD.)

His father and I have gone over this with him repeatedly. Right now, we will be checking his “homework folder” each night to make sure his completed assignments are there. He will be meeting each morning with his academic advisor who will do the same thing.

But, you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink. Since my son was apparently born without the organizational gene, how do I teach him this necessary skill? And for those Dopers who aren’t organized, how do you manage?

I am completely unorganized. I’m not sure how I manage, but I pulled all A’s and B’s for most of my life (except for a stretch at the beginning of high school, but organization wasn’t the problem then).

Honestly, you may have to give tough love. What happens to him if he doesn’t have his assignments in his homework folder? Is he grounded or something? I think that’s what my folks had to start doing with me. I’m still unorganized, but I’m much better and don’t lose things nearly as often.

I recommend one binder with sections or dividers. Have him pick a planner that he likes and insist that he use it to write in due dates and assignments. Check his planner at least a couple of times a week. He should work at home in one place so he isn’t tempted to scatter work or tools for work all around. Have him go through a procedure for completing assignments that ends with storing them in the appropriate place so he can meet deadlines. Before leaving the house in the morning he should scan his planner to identify what he will need for the day. Then he should check to be sure he has those items. Have him get his locker squared away and maybe give him one of those “locker-mates” that help make the space more user friendly.

The planner is huge. If he learns to use this and starts to like using it, his life will get a lot more manageable. You may encourage him to sit on the first three rows of every class. This helps to eliminate some of the distractors and he may be more apt to catch more details regarding assignments and details about the assignments. It may be helpful for him to be reminded that skills and knowledge are crucial. It sounds like he is capable of meeting the challenge in regard to these issues. But, in any organization, people demonstrate skills and knowledge by following protocols and procedures. In large organizations, the structure can become almost as important as the work itself. Some folks that are highly intelligent dismiss the importance of these “silly details”. Unfortunately, they can be punished for this philosophy. He has to conform to a degree if he wishes to be rewarded by the system. Resistance is discouraged. Compliance is highly overrated. This is just reality.

He has an agenda, he just doesn’t write in it. His father and I have told him over and over to write his assignments down. Short of going to school and sitting in class with him (which his father has threatened to do) I don’t know what to do.

My concern is we will ride him hard and he will learn the action, but he won’t learn the theory. It’s like learning something by rote. You don’t understand the reasoning behind it. So he will put his assignments in the binder because that’s the thing to do. But when he gets to college and the workplace, will he learn how to do it on his own if he doesn’t understand the theory?

To me, it was an innate ability. I’m not sure something like that can be taught. So will he have to fake it?

We had similar problems with my husband’s little sister when she lived with us. I don’t know if this is at all an issue for you, but we used to ask her if she had homework and she would say no. In a book about communicating with teens that I read, the author said that unless the teacher called it homework, many kids would not understand that it was homework. What a crock, I thought. Still, that night, I asked her, as usual, “Do you have any homework?” She said no, as usual. Then I asked, “Do you have any schoolwork assigned by any of your teachers that is due tomorrow but that is not yet done?” She said, “Oh, well, yeah.” :smack:

Speaking as a recovering disorganized person, the things that work for organically organized people (binders, etc.) may not work so well for UNorganized people. YMMV, of course. Most organization books/hints are written to enable people who have good control over their lives to get better control over their lives. They are NOT written for people like me, my husband’s little sister, and, apparently, your son. You might try checking out any of the books written by the slob sisters, Pam Young and Peggy Jones. I especially like Get Your Act Together. The focus of that book is household chores, but the system could easily be modified to schoolwork.

But he won’t see the benefits of being orginized until/unless he is orginized. When I was a disorginized child I did not understand the stress and trouble and pain that being disorganized was causing me. I thought that life just was that stressful, and it never ocured to me that all this stuff people were nagging me to do–like think aheada bit–would have any effect on all the trouble life was. I didn’t make the connection until I got viciously oeganized in college and suddenly life was easier and I wasn’t near as stressed.

I teach, and there are kids for whom I sign off on their agenda every day. You might ask his teachers if they would be willing to do that. Ask them to make sure that tests are written in on the day they are schueduled for, as are major projects.

Another possibility is to make him spend 30 minutes (or an hour, or whatever) on schoolwork, regardless of how much work he has due the next day. If he’s not thinking “if I rush through this Iget to go to the fun stuff”–if he realizes that he’s stuck sitting there until the big hand gets to the 12-he may be more willing to spend time sorting through his backpack, double checking to make sure he has done everything. If he still has fifteen minutes to go and his backpack and folders are all organized and he whines that he has everything done for tomorrow cn he please go watch TV, then you can ask “Well, is there anything you know about that’s due the day after tomorrow? Or the day after that?” Look in his agenda to see if there is a test or a major project coming up next week that he could study/work on now.

By enforcing a set amount of time he has to work each night, hopefully he will soon come to see for himself that he is actually saving time, and that, magically, that school is not as stressful because that whole frantic-looking-for-the-work-you-know-you-did-oh-shit-its-not-here ritual at the beginning of each class will be gone.

I’m not sure it matters if he learns the theory. I think organization is something fine to learn by rote. If he conditions himself to always put the assignment in the binder, it will always be in the binder.

As hard as it is, since you’ve ruled out a disability, I’d say make sure he feels responsible for his own success. That is, if he can’t keep the scholarship he needs, make sure he knows it’s really on him to face the consequences, a different school. Provide him the tools (have you considered a PalmPilot?) he needs and the help he asks for, but IMHO something like you proactively volunteering to track his assignments is exactly what will make him not take responsibility.

A book you might want to look at is First, Know Your Strengths. This is about how it is your strengths that will bring you success, and you just need to manage, avoid, or slightly improve your weaknesses.

Just so you know where I’m coming from, I’m one of those people whose environment looks messy, but am often the only person in the office who can put her hands on the required document in 5 minutes. So I’m not sure whether you would consider me organized. But when you ask how do I, as a not naturally organized person, manage, I would say it is by focusing on what is important and keeping things just as organized as they need to be.

How do you know?

I absolutely do not want to send him to the public school next year. The high school he’s supposed to attend recently arrested 19 kids involved in a race riot, and a school resource officer resigned after threatening to shoot a student on the bus who hinted he had a weapon in his backpack. How much stress must a police officer have been under to make such a threat?

I have told my son that I expect him to write in his agenda for each class, even if it’s “No homework assigned” or “Test Friday.” He will be punished if he is missing any notations, and rewarded if they are all there at the end of the week.

You guys have been a lot of help. Please keep it coming!

Because he can spend hours doing origami. Because he can construct something from a kit and not get distracted. Because his elementary school teacher with years of experience told me it’s not ADD, he’s just unorganized. We’ve been battling this his entire school career, but with four years left before graduation, it’s now or never time.

These are ADD traits, called hyperfocusing.

If the problem is not ADD then fine, but if it is he is much better off with treatment (that doesn’t nessesarly mean meds).

This is link is mainly for adults but may be helpful for children too:

It not only will test for ADD but other disorders, through a series of questions.

As for the teachers comment, there is a type of ADD that is usually unnoticed by teachers ADD - I (Inattentive) which is usually a girl ADD trait but there are plenty of boys w/ it too.

Also look at his early report cards in the comment section. Do you see things like not living up to potential, work inconsistant, capable of better work. If so I would strongly give ADD a 2nd look.

organization is not important to him. so it isn’t worth doing. until he sees it as important, he isn’t going to get it.

a tale of two coworkers.

one coworker is wonderful. if the deadline is set for noon on the 12th he will have all the work he is responsible for done and in perfect order by the morning of the 6th.

one coworker is the most disorganized person you would want to meet. if his deadline is set for noon on the 12th he will have all the work done on the 13th maybe by 5pm. you will have to stay for quite a while on overtime to get his report done. he will hand it to you in pieces that don’t fit together. you will get part 3 and 5, then perhaps part 2 and 7.

guess which one everyone wants to work with?

the only reason coworker #2 is still with the company is because he is one of the owners.

I’m going to go back on something I said, based on your later comments. If it is you who really doesn’t want him to go to the public school, then you getting proactively involved is not really a problem. The issue is more like, how do I work with my son to keep him organized to get good grades?

Going back to the book I mentioned, this is a sometimes legitimate strategy to avoid a weakness–partner with someone who is strong where you are weak. So in this case your strong organization skills will help where he is weak. Just make sure he is aware you won’t do this forever, and in college or work he’ll be on his own to avoid, manage or develop minimal skills with his weakness in organization.

Kanic, I thank you for your concern, but for many reasons I cannot get into here, my son is not ADD.

We’re going to try checking the agenda and checking to see his homework is in his folder each day. I will also look for those books that were mentioned. I appreciate everyone’s suggestions.

Ivylass - Other peoples suggestions are all good.

But remember a few things. He is his own person. He may be a genetic mix between you and his father, but he is himself. And he’s 14… Keeping a clean tidy surrounding is not uncommon. I am sure you know that. A few years of learing new behaviours and adapting to become the man he’s destined to become should get him more organized. So it’s going to take some time.

skeptic_ev and ** Manda JO** perhaps you could start a “ask the recovering disorganized person” thread.

Ivyglass – this boy is 14? How does he feel about the ladies? It might be worthwhile to point out that the girlies do not like the sloppy boy. One day, he’ll have his own swinging bachelor pad and he’ll have more fun in it if it’s tidy. I dunno. Incentive.

** Harriet the Spry** The QRB/54-R report on Cheetos, where is the final version, and the notes from the July 24th meeting that led to the original revision? I want ‘em in five minutes.

Well, if you’re deeply committed to your son not being ADD, that’s all cool and groovy :wink: but do realise you’re dealing with very very similar symptoms as with a kid with ADD. You’ll probably find ideas in books about ADD and websites about ADD. A teacher, no matter how experienced, is not qualified to diagnose.

I don’t think there’s a problem with scaffolding people who need it so that the process of being organised becomes more automatic. It sounds to me like it’s a goal to keep him in private school so you need to develop systems which will do so and that might mean you’re more hands-on than other parents. There’s been some really good ideas here and I don’t have any more to offer. Structure is key to helping kids function when organisation’s not automatic.

I will just put in my 2 cents.

My son exhibited the same tendencies you mention. doing homework, but forgetting it at home. Bringing it to school, and turning it in, but forgetting to put his name on the top. Fortunately, we recognized this early. I was looking for it because he gets it from me :slight_smile:

The most important thing is to create consequences of disorganization that link it to things that motivate him. With my son, it was computer and hobby time. Organization brought extra, and disorganization caused losses.

Good luck, remember that it takes time, and don’t be too anal about the details. His level of organization may not ever be equal to yours.

Well, he did not write all his notes in his agenda last night, so he’s grounded for the week. He explained some of his notes were on his computer, but I told him they all need to be in the same place, not scattered in six different places. His homework is complete and in his folder.

I have told him if he writes all his notes for all his classes in his agenda today, he will get off grounding one day earlier. It is possible he could be off grounding by the weekend.

I understand he’s his own person, and that he may never be completely organized. But when his lack of organization negatively affects his schoolwork, it’s a problem.

I was actually like this when I was fourteen. I used to sit making model kits for hours, or have my head stuck in a book.
My chemistry teacher had a big bee in her bonnet about trying to get me organised, but I never knew why. By the time I left the school, it was HER turning up late to classes and forgetting to mark our work, rather than the other way around. I’m sure your son can sort himself out himself, in his own way.

We used to have one of those agenda things too, I used to hate my parents noseying in all the time, trying to run my life. I also used to get my work done on time, even if I forgot it occasionally. I’m sure he’ll organise himself eventually.
If he’s getting A’s and B’s, he should easily be able to get into his next year. Prehaps’s (just to be devil advocate here) that the school’s making a big deal about the odd bit of forgotton homework, my mother was a teacher, and she certainly managed to make a mountain out of one bit of forgotton work.