Kids and clutter

Decluttering with kids tip: sweep the toys into a pile before picking them up.

Tip: sweep the toys into a pile before picking them up.

When I left hospital with my first baby, a nurse advised, “forget the housework for the next few weeks. Just focus on your family.” Forget the housework?! There’s no way I could focus mindfully on my child while my house goes to rack and ruin.

At home with my beautiful little bundle, it took me many months to figure out exactly how much stuff you really need to have a baby. A visitor saw our bathroom counter with nappies, towels and lotions piled high and remarked, “wow you could set up your own baby supplies store in here!” I’m still working it all out now. In fact, I’m constantly discovering products you don’t need to raise children.

Recently, I’ve been inspired by Lissanne Oliver’s Before and After galleries. She is Australia’s most famous professional organiser, so she can achieve fantastic results in just a few hours. It made me wonder if I could perform a similar makeover in my home. So I decided to organise some babysitting on a Saturday and Sunday so my husband and I could have a big clean-up. Here are the conclusions I came to:

  • You can achieve a lot in just one day. I thought I would need a week to clean and organise my home, which is what put me off starting the task for so long. But if you can arrange just one day of babysitting, you’d be surpirsed at the difference you can make.
  • However, more can be achieved by doing a little at at time. At the end of each day, I pick up the toys from the living room floor, sorting them into categories and putting them back in the right containers as I go. This ritual is important not only because it means I don’t have to wake up to a mess, but I think because it prevents a bigger clutter problem from developing.
Kids and clutter declutter living room

Look how much mess kids can make in a just a few minutes!

I think parents should be wary of some of the cheap advice out there on the subject of clutter. People say that children should be able to keep their own rooms tidy and that if you clean up for them you aren’t teaching them anything. But actually, it takes time to learn this skill, and you can’t expect a child to be able to keep their rooms tidy if they are disorganised to begin with. That’s where they need your help. I’m still learning how to organise my home better as an adult, and I don’t think I’m the only one.

You’re not a bad parent if you have a messy, disorganised home full of toys. You’re just dealing with the normal pressures of parenting.

Clutter is a symptom of stress, and starting a family is a life change that is traumatic as much as it is joyful. It’s not just the extra equipment that contributes to the mess, it’s adjusting to the fact that life will never be the same again. I always try to keep in mind something my mother told me after I moved out of home. She said that she’d always thought her children made so much mess and she was forever cleaning up after us. It wasn’t until she had an empty, but still untidy, nest that she realised that perhaps the problem was her as well!

So that’s why I clean up after my kids. In fact, I pick up and tidy throughout my day. I do get the kids to help, but I keep my expectations of them realistic. It’s also important that they see me keeping busy and having pride in how our home looks. I know they’ll get it eventually, just like using good manners and learning to read. These things take time.

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2 thoughts on “Kids and clutter

  1. Wow I’m so glad I found your blog, I’ve read countless posts on clutter, decluttering, etc and until I read your post I never had that long-awaited lightbulb “aha” moment… I knew instinctively the clutter issue was my issue and not about my two toddlers but I couldn’t pinpoint it as the reason it didn’t feel like I was committing a sin when I clean up after my kids as everyone says it should. I am constantly experimenting to find the most optimal toy storage system, no wonder my 3- and 4- yr olds have trouble keeping up. My lightbulb came on when I read “clutter is a symptom of stress”. I don’t think anyone has explicitly stated that, and yet it is the fundamental truth, at least for me. It isn’t that I have too much stuff or that my stuff doesn’t have homes. All my life, including my first few years as a mom I’ve been ridiculously tidy and organized. But now, I’m looking back on two of the most stressful years of my life, back-to-back events that have nothing to do with my kids, and at the height of each stressor my living space was at its most disorganized and cluttered; I remember the days I had to call in late to work because I couldn’t find my car keys but I couldn’t call b/c I couldn’t find my phone. I was so preoccupied that I didn’t have the brainpower or energy even to resort to previous daily habits /rituals, my “autopilot” consisted of making it through the day, I couldn’t have cared less if all my items had organized homes. Knowing that my clutter has come from stress gives me tremendous hope that as my life reassembles itself, I will be able to focus on my organization systems and moreover, that there is a reason behind all the mess!

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