Most children are whirling dervishes of chaos and disorganization. I have heard them aptly referred to as noisy dirt. If you live with children, it is possible to maintain some measure of control until they mature or move out, whichever comes first. You might consider the following:
- Buy multi-purpose furniture. Think ottomans that double as storage, and Ikea-style cube shelves.
- Buy many bins in many sizes. Choose colors and styles that you like, because it’s your house, darnit.
- Buy a label-maker. Do not let your children touch it or you will never see it again.
- Hole-punch flashcards and put them on a sturdy ring.
- Have dedicated spaces for art displays, school papers, and calendars. Clip magnets are not just for potato chip bags. Piano wire strung between two hooks is also a great place to hang unique, not-to-be-recycled artwork, school papers, and awards. Buy a reusable-usable calendar and have an older child fill it in each month.
- Have dedicated spaces for making crafts, doing homework and eating.
- Use hooks for backpacks, jackets, hats and sports equipment, as children seem constitutionally incapable of using hangers. A bin or, better yet, a bench with a lid, is perfectly fine for non-muddy shoes.
- Recycle A LOT. Ask yourself if you’ll miss or need it when your kids are grown, then recycle, donate or trash. If you are sentimental, take a photo of that flower made out of cupcake liners and pipe cleaners before you recycle it.
You may be wondering how to get your children to actually utilize the above resources you have so lovingly provided. Bribery and threats work, but if you want to take the high road, here are some ideas:
- Use a timer for clean-up. Have your child or children race him or herself, each other and/or you.
- Play Motown or hip-hop music and have a clean-up dance party.
- Assign age-appropriate “jobs” using a felt or Velcro name chart/board. Resist the temptation to assign yourself the jobs of “provide shelter,” “provide food,” or “provide medical care,” but feel free to make it a family affair by assigning yourself jobs like “wash and dry clothes,” etc.
- Using endless patience, enforce an even-exchange rule: don’t get a new toy or game out unless you put one away.
- To extend number 4, employ endless patience. Wait them out for hours if you have to. Look at it as an exercise in Zen meditation for yourself. While they are screaming, “It’s too hard! I can’t do it! This is boring!,” choose a focal point, preferably out a window where other humans are not being held hostage by tiny terrorists, and meditate on your personal worth and goals for a future when your children are no longer completely irrational beings.
- Dedicate a day and/or time to cleaning, so it’s not a constant source of anxiety for you and your kids. Choose a palatable time, like between dinner and a family movie on Friday nights, or on Saturday or Sunday mornings between breakfast and heading out to do something fun.
- Accept some mess and disorder. Silence the external messages about cleanliness and order that have found their way into your head, and prioritize for yourself what is most important for you and your kids, and forget the rest, lest you drive yourself and your family crazy trying to find a balance that is mythical and unattainable. Make an actual list on paper of your top priorities for time with your family, for the state of your home, and, perhaps most importantly, what you want your kids to gain from and remember about their childhood. Plan accordingly, and gently forgive yourself and your family when you fall short.
We humans are, by nature, complicated and messy beings. We bend toward order and function but we are not perfect. When your house is in a state you can live with, head outside. Let your kids climb trees instead of your functional cube shelves, and everyone will breathe a little easier.