The conversation often starts with, "Where are your shoes?"
For many parents trying to get out the door on time in the morning, a child with a disorganized bedroom can be a huge roadblock. The clock is ticking. The bus is coming. And your offspring is searching for his favorite hoodie.
The day often ends with similar challenges: "Is your backpack ready for school tomorrow?" "Where are your library books?"
Getting a child's room organized can be the first step toward smoother mornings and more peaceful evenings.
"It was nice to be organized 20 years ago," says organizing consultant Kathryn Bechen, author of "Small Space Organizing: A Room-by-Room Guide to Maximizing Your Space" (Revell, 2012). But given how busy we are today, she says, "it's become a necessity."
Here are some experts' tips on decorating and arranging your child's bedroom in ways that will simplify daily life.
Get them excited
No need for full-scale redecorating. An offer to rearrange items and perhaps add a few new ones will probably get your child excited enough to help shape up her space.
"Try to make it fun," Bechen says. "Take one whole Saturday or Sunday for the whole family to work on it."
Eliminating clutter isn't simple, especially when kids would prefer not to part with anything. Donna Smallin, author and creator of unclutter.com, suggests having kids help haul everything they own into the hallway outside their room. When the room is empty, have them bring back in only their favorite or most necessary things. You can supervise: When all the necessities are back in, start discussing what might be good to give away, sell, or box up for storing in an attic or basement. Reassure the child that items in storage can always come out again later.
If the room includes a desk, keep it as uncluttered as possible, suggests Dr. Martin L. Kutscher, pediatric neurologist and co-author of "Organizing the Disorganized Child" (William Morrow Paperbacks, 2009).
Get a bin that holds hanging file folders to store finished papers that come home from school or pending homework. Another small bin can hold pens, pencils and a few other supplies needed for schoolwork. Otherwise, keep the desk clear.
Rethink the closet
To get children excited about actually putting things away in the closet, let them "paint it a neat color inside," says Bechen. It can be as outrageous as they'd like; it's hidden behind a door. If they love it and it feels personal, she says, they're more likely to use it. (For kids who share a room, let each choose the color for one side of the closet.)
Then, work with their habits: If your child isn't a fan of hanging up clothing, consider filling some or all of the closet with open shelving. Put bins or baskets on each shelf, labeling with words and/or pictures to describe what belongs inside.
You might prefer T-shirts to be neatly folded, says Smallin, but having them wrangled in large baskets is better than finding them on the floor. If shoes get misplaced, add a large crate to the closet where the child can drop them.
If you will be using the closet rod, Smallin suggests adding a small double rod that hangs below one portion of the main rod. Put items the child wears most often on the lower rod, so they're within easy reach. Or use this extra rod for the clothing the child will wear to school this week. If those items are chosen in advance and all located in one place, you won't spend time searching for them.
Make straightening up fun. Consider buying one large trashcan for sports equipment and another to use as a hamper. Let the child label and personalize the outside. You can even add a plastic basketball hoop to the top of each trash can, so the child can have fun tossing items inside.
"Who doesn't love to throw stuff?" asks Smallin.
Also, have the child decorate a special bin or basket where tomorrow's clothes and shoes will go. Then choose a permanent spot for it. Each night, toss in everything your child will wear tomorrow (including the packed, zipped school bag). Better to find missing socks and debate which clothes are appropriate in the evening than do it when the school bus is on its way.
Use the walls
Kids are more likely to use hooks than hangers. So add lots of colorful hooks at your child's level -- not just one or two, but a whole row -- to store hoodies, jackets and even pants.
Also consider hanging a shoe bag on back of the door, but don't feel obligated to use it for shoes. Smallin says it can be filled with socks and underwear, small toys or anything else that needs to be easily located.
Another key item for the wall: a clock with hands. Kutscher says non-digital clocks make time a bit more tangible for kids, helping them notice the passage of time and hopefully stay on task. A large wall calendar that children can reach is also a great way to help them get organized.
Last item: a dry-erase board (WallPops makes one that's a repositionable vinyl decal) where kids can keep a checklist of tasks for bedtime and morning. Write out the checklist with them, then praise them for using it.
Better bed area
Kids who do homework on their beds will be more organized if the bed is made and uncluttered, Kutscher says. So simplify bedding -- perhaps just use a fitted sheet and a duvet with a cover you can drop in the wash once a week. Limit the decorative pillows and piles of toys, so school supplies can't get lost in the chaos.
Smallin suggests lifting the child's bed with risers to create extra storage space, which can be filled with labeled plastic bins. Use a bed skirt to hide the bins from view.
Once you've done it
For the first few weeks, Bechen says, "Run through the drill. Tell them, 'You come home, you put your things here... .'"
Repeat the steps each day, as patiently as possible. And trust that in time, your kids will keep their bedrooms organized out of habit. "It's an executive function. It requires the ability to stop, plan, organize and actually execute a goal," Kutscher says. As that ability is growing, parents need to gently guide the process.
"We take the safety net approach," he says, "gradually letting the child master the skills, as we stand by as needed."