Ever met a busy, happy, creative kid who's also a neat freak? Neither have we. A little mess - OK, a lot of mess - is just part of the territory when it comes to raising children.

But at the end of the day, there are some tricks to the trade if you want to keep the creative sprawl of crayons, toys and costumes from taking over your home. Plus you can use these tips to get your kids involved with getting organized.

To create this month's Go-To Guide, Columbus Parent talked to Kelly Yost, a professional home organizer. And we talked to Terri Durner, a professional home stager (you know, one of those people who make your house look perfect when you're trying to sell it because, let's face it, that is just about the only time when it will look perfect).

Hopefully some of their advice will help you keep the clutter contained, but the creativity flowing!

STEP 1: PURGE
The first step in getting organized is to reduce or purge what you don't need.

We grownups know how to do this with our own stuff (and if you don't, just check out Kristy Eckert's "Vitamin Me" column in this issue), but it's very, very hard for most children to throw out or give away clothes and toys they don't need any more.

"Kids are different when it comes to letting go of things," said Yost, pictured here with her children. "My daughter can't, but my son can."

How to purge:

If a child is old enough, you might be able to involve them in selecting items that will go to charitable organizations. As long as they understand that the items will be used by someone who really needs them, it can help reduce anxiety about the item disappearing forever. If a child is likely to not let go, many parents purge on the sly: "I do it when she's at school," said Yost without apology. "She doesn't notice then." If the parent is the one who needs the push, said Durner, "Go room by room, then it's not so overwhelming. If you must, just start with one drawer."

When to purge:

Right before or after an event when there will be an influx of new belongings, like at Christmas, Hanukkah or a birthday. Right before summer holidays or after school has resumed. When a dedicated space begins to overflow (a closet, drawer, toy bin, or craft area).

When to not purge:
It can be emotionally hard to throw memorabilia like artwork and school papers away even though, Yost said, "you know you can't keep everything." So she puts everything for each child in their own keepsake bin, and then sorts it twice a year when it's easier to recognize what's truly save-worthy.

STEP 2: CATEGORIZE

If you're trying to empower your kids to be part of the organizing process, you have to create a system they can handle. And that means one thing - keep it simple:

Put "like" things together: And keep your definition of "like" broad. For example, have a bin for "things with wheels" as opposed to one bin each for toy trucks, cars, motorcycles and train cars. The same goes for clothes: Set up one category per
dresser drawer.

Use age-appropriate labels: Use picture labels for younger children and written labels for those old enough to read. Labels are especially helpful during play dates when a visitor doesn't know where things go at clean-up time.


STEP 3: CONTAIN
You could easily spend a fortune on beautiful, stylish containers, but you don't have to. Said Durner: "I love to use those canvas baskets, all matching and they just look great. I get them at Walmart. I do a lot of shopping there."

What you do need is a strategy for the containers you get:

Measure the space you have for storage before you buy containers. Too many people buy containers, said Yost, based on the look, and not on the actual dimensions of the space they have to use.
Open-back shelves, set away from the wall, are better because they accommodate a wider range of container sizes.
Keep containers low to the ground and easily accessible.
Use see-through bins: During the day, you should also keep lids off.
Use zip-locked baggies: These are great for smaller items, especially when there are lots of them (game pieces, dress-up accessories, doll clothes)
Use bare walls: These make great display spaces for artwork. All you need is a clothesline strung across a wall with paper clips or clothes pins.
U se hooks on the wall, not hangers in a closet: Save the hangers for dressy clothes that you retrieve from the closet.

STEP 4: CLEAN

Don't clean first, especially if you're going to be purging. Teach your children how to clean by doing it with them at first. Don't just say "Go clean your room." Take them and show them what your expectation is, advised Yost.

Sources: Kelly Yost, owner of b.organized, 614-570-4993, borganized.org; Terri Durner, professional home stager, 614-989-9247.