Friday, September 11, 2015

Kids and Clutter

Kids and Clutter

I spent a lot of time this summer thinking about kids and clutter. After getting the majority of my own stuff under control following the KonMarie method, I could feel a major shift in the atmosphere of our home, but at any given moment on a day to day basis, my house still looked like a disaster zone, thanks to my kids. It feels like they are just programmed to make messes and leave a constant stream of clutter in their wake. My 3 year-old "plays" with his toys by systematically dumping every basket or bin of toys on his floor every morning, and then slowly disseminating that mess throughout the house as the day wears on. It's discouraging, to say the least.

But after trying several different strategies, I feel like I've figured a few things out, and come to terms with other things. I am by no means an expert on the art of kids and clutter, but for what they're worth, here are my observations from a summer of trying to tackle this issue.

1. Get Rid of All the Toys. And by all the toys, I obviously don't mean all the toys, but this simple piece of advice is the only one that was legitimately effective at reducing clutter. Kids don't actually need a lot of toys, or anything really. I did a big overhaul of the toys at the beginning of the summer and threw out a bunch of stuff, keeping only what I thought was really played with. But then I got super frustrated one evening in July when my son wouldn't help clean up his room, so I pulled out the old gunny sack and bagged up all the toys on his floor, which was about 70% of what was left. I thought the next morning would bring a dramatic begging for the release of said captured toys, but he didn't even notice most of them were gone. He played just as happily with the few remaining toys (although, I did notice he started dumping his clothes drawers out, I think because he was just used to having more stuff on his floor). Thus all those toys are still sitting in the gunny sack in the closet. I've rotated a few things in and out when he asks for them (he eventually noticed his train tracks were missing), but mostly he has a drastically reduced toy collection, and it takes far less time to clean it all up in the evening.

2. It's NOT About Being Visitor-Ready All Day Long.  I think this one was a big paradigm shift for me. At the beginning of my clutter-free quest, I had this grand notion that keeping clutter under control meant that anyone could knock on my door at any minute of the day and be welcomed into a sparkling pristine home. With kids, this is simply an impossibility. Also, it shouldn't be the goal. Kids need to be allowed to play and make messes, it's part of the process of growing up, and if you want your home to be a happy, kid-friendly home, it will not be pristine at every moment of the day. It just won't.

3. It's About Being Visitor-Ready Once a Day. However, living with kids doesn't mean your home should never be pristine. I've found that for me, I like to have the house in complete order at least once a day. With the massive reduction in our stuff, it takes far less time to clear up the clutter at the end of the day, so now, as part of bed-time routine, we always pick up all the toys together (with more or less of my son's help, depending on how patient I feel), and there actually is a moment at the end of every day where things really are tidy and neat and the kids are in bed and I get to relax and unwind in a house of order. This is a huge shift from where we were a few months ago, when the clutter was so overwhelming I just didn't have the energy to tackle it, and so toys stayed strewn about the house for days and days until it felt like swimming through an avalanche.

4. Most "Strategies" Don't Work. I did a lot of reading on this issue, looking for that one solution that would work for us to keep the kid clutter under control. I read about toy rotation systems (which I kind of do with the gunny sack, but it's far less formal), and rules about cleaning up one thing before being allowed to play with another (has this rule ever worked for any family anywhere?), or systems of cleaning up three or four times a day (before every meal, before leaving the house, etc.) to keep clutter under control, but none of them worked. I tried making it a rule to clean up before we left the house, but then I found we were chronically late to everything. I tried cleaning up before meals, but found it just wasn't realistic to expect us to tidy more than once a day, at the end when it would actually be clean for hours more. Maybe some of these strategies work for certain personality types, but not mine. The only "strategy" that really worked was just to get rid of stuff.

5. There's a Difference Between Surface Clutter and Deep Clutter. Deep clutter is the stuff that the KonMarie method really attacks. It is the excess of stuff everywhere that really clogs a home, it's the items that don't have a real place and so they sit in a temporary spot for so long that it becomes a permanent spot, it's the stuff that just never gets put away. Surface clutter is the mess that happens from daily living: the dishes, the laundry, and especially toy and kid messes. KonMarie helped me really tackle the deep clutter, but there is still surface clutter. However, what I learned is that when I permanently took care of my deep clutter, it somehow became so much easier to take care of my surface clutter on a daily basis. I'm not sure why this is true, but when deep clutter is under control, kid clutter can be managed so much more easily.

6. Teaching Kids to Clean Up is Important, But Hard. Marie Kondo does not offer a lot of useful information on how to deal with kid clutter, but one thing she pointed out in her book that really struck me was that clutter-management is a skill that kids need to be taught. It is not something intuitive or natural, it must be taught. My kids are still pretty young (almost 1 and 3.5), so right now they are in the stage where teaching them anything feels Herculean (potty training, par example). I've been trying to instill the habit of saying please and thank-you in my son since he started speaking over two years ago, and he has yet to use either word without a reminder. So getting him to really, truly manage his possessions? It will be the work of a life-time. But I know it must start now. I do it by setting an example. I do it by forcing him to help in the toy pick-up every night. I do it by not buying him more things than he needs, and communicating the proper respect for the toys he has. But I also do it by allowing messes to happen. Because he's just 3. And a little mess is not just normal, it's crucial to other parts of learning too.

Kids and Clutter, clean room

How do you manage kid clutter? Any strategies that work for you? Or concessions you've just had to make peace with?

For more reading on this topic elsewhere:

-Interesting thoughts about teaching older children to declutter.

-More tips for KonMarie-ing it with kids.

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