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During grade school carpool, my sons piled into my minivan with their progress reports pinned to their backpacks like party streamers. Teachers, who were tired of parents complaining about not receiving the reports and the students “accidentally” losing them, attached neon-colored envelopes to each student’s backpack. It was a helpful system for the parents, but not for the students (especially mine) whose reports were at times less than glowing.

Instead of driving straight home, I pulled over, ripped opened the envelopes, and read a few of the comments: “Helpful to other students“ and “Pleasure to have in class.” These reports were incredible. As I reached up to pat myself on the back for being an amazing mom whose children naturally took after her, I read the rest of the reports: “Could be more organized” and “Needs a sense of order” and “His desk is a mess.”

Obviously these were the wrong reports. I looked at the white sheets of paper, crumpled and ripped where I had gripped them a bit too tight, and saw my sons’ names at the top. As I opened my mouth to comment, my younger son crossed his hands over his chest and said, “Just because you’re organized, doesn’t mean we have to be!”

My son didn’t realize he and his brother had no choice. Organizing was in their blood.

At the time I was a professional organizer with clients who paid me more than I had earned in any corporate job to help them organize their clutter-filled homes. A husband or a wife would hire me to overhaul their households with the promise I wouldn’t tell their spouse I did all the work. In my clients’ minds, the organized end justified my stealth means, but best of all their spouses finally quit complaining about living in a house the producers of Hoarders would reject.

Eventually I quit my organizing business, which unfortunately for my sons left me with more time to focus on them. My goal was to help them see the value of being organized, especially when it was their destiny, like athletes whose children have no choice but to join the family business, and musicians whose children go on tour as teenagers.

After years of nagging asking my sons to get organized, with little to no results, I made a life-changing, stress-reducing decision to stop forcing them to be organized. Instead I needed to focus on teaching them other things like morals and values, and not making me a grandma until they finished college.

Then, over the next few years, something happened. My sons picked up organizing tips from their teachers. They raced into my home office to show me their new notebooks set up by color and subject. I’d nod my head and say, “What a smart idea!” when what I was thinking was I’ve been trying to teach you how to get organized for years!

By his senior year of high school, my younger son cleaned out his backpack at the end of each week  — a habit he adopted on his own — and eventually set up a study area in his room. He said that one of his favorite teachers gave him ideas for making his room more functional for studying. I bit my tongue and instead of asking, “How many years have I asked you to clear out your room so you’d have a place to study?” I smiled and made some comment about what we were having for dinner.

When my older son moved to college, I helped him cram everything we bought for school into his Mini-Cooper-sized dorm room. A few months later when I visited him, I couldn’t believe it — his dorm room was almost as organized as when he had moved in. When he wasn’t looking I opened his dresser drawers and saw underwear and socks organized in separate containers. His clothes were hanging in his closet. On hangers.

I told him how impressed I was with his organized room. Then he said something unexpected…something I never thought one of my sons would ever say: “Thanks, mom. I guess I inherited your organizing genes.”

A symphony started playing in the background, fireworks exploded and I think confetti floated from the ceiling, although it was an old dorm so it may have been plaster. Why had I wasted all this time drilling organizing skills into my sons’ heads, expecting them to be organizing savants? Instead, all I had to do was wait for the organizing gene to kick in when they were ready.

I only hope they don’t carry my cringe-worthy dance gene.

This post was originally published on Ten to Twenty Parenting.

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