A few weeks ago on a forum I participate in a young mother put out the question, “How can I be organized and tidy with two children under the age of three?”
One of the next responses was from a man who said that she needed to get rid of all the stuff because she obviously had too much.
I was left shaking my head. Obviously the man never had children.
But the question remains. Can you be organized and tidy with small children?
The answer is you can, but in a different way than you may think possible. Here are my tips:
- Relax your standards. Your house will never be the same as it was before you had children. You are now dealing with more people in the house. This changes the dynamic.
- Minimize stuff. Babies and small children attract stuff. Activity centers, toys, furniture and other things come part and parcel with a child. Figure out what you really need. We needed the swing (it was a lifesaver) but didn’t need the play yard. We loved the vibrating seat but could have done without the activity saucer. Pass toys and clothes on when they are outgrown. Don’t keep something just because it was a gift. With an older child you can do a one-in-one-out rule where they can’t get something new without “releasing” something of the same type.
- Minimize mess. There’s no rule that says you can’t take steps to minimize the mess before it starts. We had a rule that art projects could only be done in the kitchen, on a plastic drop cloth, with pre-approved (read: washable) art supplies, while wearing a smock. Using this rule I never ended up with playdoh in the carpet or paint on my wood floors. It’s just like having a child wear a bib until he is able to eat fairly well.
- Make it easy. Bins are your friends. Any small child can learn to throw things in boxes. Put a picture of the item on the outside of the box and your children will be able to figure out what goes where. Even if you are the only one doing the tidying, you will appreciate how easy it is just to scoop up toys and dump. Bonus: sorting is a good skill for small children to learn.
- Teach cleaning up. Show the children how to clean up after they are done with an activity but before moving on to the next. Show that it takes less time to clean up one activity than to sort through the parts of many later.
- Confiscate. If you children are old enough to pick up on their own, implement the “Saturday basket”. My daughter has to pick up the shared space areas (living room, kitchen and office) daily. Her bedroom and playroom need to be tidied once a week so I can vacuum. After she goes to bed, if there are things in these areas they go into a laundry basket I keep for the purpose. She loses these items until Saturday, at which time she must put them away. Any item that shows up repeatedly in the Saturday basket is candidate for my disposal without any input from her. (I also use this to throw away restaurant toys and other items that seem to end up everywhere).
In the end, make sure that the standards you are trying to live up to are your own, and not something that has been forced on you. Organization and tidiness are individual things. Find a level you and your children can live with.
Photo by fazen