What to do when kid stuff explodes all over your house, and you can’t help but step on toy cars, sit on books, and trip over building blocks?  This timely question from a Mindful Return alum (featured in today’s Our Gift To You newsletter)  prompted me to think about what I do to stay sane in the clutter department.

Question from New Mamas:  With the holidays having come and gone and my son’s first birthday rapidly approaching, all the toys he has received and will received on account of these two holidays have blown my mind.  What do you do to stay sane with all the “stuff”??

I already feel like I *constantly* pick up after him…his various toys and disparate parts of things are strewn throughout our small home.  Given that we live in the city, I don’t have the luxury of designating, say, the basement as the playroom and just letting him run roughshod all over that.  I’m wondering, is there a way to: (1) keep all parts that go together together?  And (2) Have a system for the endless “picking up”?  Is there an age when the kiddos can actually pick up after themselves??

Mindful Return Secret:  I’ve vowed to return my house to a state of order…when my children are in college!

Seriously, though, this is one area I constantly struggle with as a working mom with very little time to clean and organize.  Though my friend and pediatrician, the awesome Steve Silvestro of The Child Repair Guide, reminds me that a messy house is a sign of creative and happy children, there are limits to my own happiness if the house is in complete disarray.

This question is so timely, given the holidays.  My oldest son just turned six at the end of December, too, so I completely understand the grand collision of birthday + holidays = household disasters.

A Mindful Return Alum, Monica Taylor, recently shared her decluttering ideas with us on the Mindful Return blog – so be sure to check out her great post, 5 Decluttering Secrets for Working Parents.

As for my own experience, though I certainly haven’t conquered this one by any means, here are few thoughts about what I’ve tried.

7 Ideas for Restoring (Some) Order When Kid Stuff Explodes All Over Your House

  1. Put some of the new toys AWAY.  And I really mean, away away.  As in, don’t even take some of those presents out of their packages, and put them up in an attic or the top of a closet somewhere.  Especially in those early years, your little ones will never remember they got the toy, and you can pull it out at a later date, a rainy day, or a season of the year when you’re in need of a re-fresh in the toy department.  Or, if you wind up never needing it, donation or re-gifting is an option.
  2. Start young but don’t expect any miracles.  Our kids listened to their daycare teachers sing “Clean Up, Clean Up, Everybody Everywhere” from day one of daycare (which, for them, was about age 3 ½ months).  Did they learn how to clean up on their own before oh, say, age 5?  Nope.  And even at age 5, there’s some cajoling involved.
  3. Set a timer before bath for an all-family pick-up.  Part of our evening, post-dinner ritual, involves setting a timer that goes off at 7pm, letting everyone know it’s time to head upstairs for bath time.  Recently, though, I’ve started setting another timer for 7:03pm, and requiring the kids to join me in a rapid-fire 3-minute clean up before we head upstairs.  There’s something intriguing to them about the question: “how many toys can you put away in 3 minutes??”  So I run with it.  (Anyone who refuses to participate, by the way, has the opportunity to lose a bedtime story.)
  4. Give up on the idea of ONE single “toy room”.  Yes, we have a basement.  Yes, it’s the playroom.  And yes there are toys in every single room, every single closet, and every single nook and cranny of our house.  Just kidding.  Not *every* nook and cranny.  But most.  Oh, and to your question about how to keep all the parts together that are supposed to stay together?  Forgetaboutit.  (Though when you enter the tiny lego phase, check out the Blockpod…a lifesaver.)
  5. Hiring cleaning help prompts cleanup.  We have a cleaning service come to our house once every two months.  Not only does spreading it out make it less expensive (averages out to something like $75/month for us), but we discovered we just couldn’t handle the stress of having to “clean up for the cleaning people” more often than that.  I do appreciate, however, the swift kick in the butt to declutter the house and throw things away in advance of their arrival.
  6. Get thee to the Container Store. There are a million types of storage solutions out there.  At one point when every type of toy vehicle known to humankind had entered our house, we headed on over to our local container store and bought a bunch of  those “elfa” drawers that we now use for toys, art supplies, play dough, etc.
  7. Let decluttering be the thing that gets to slip without guilt.  The day’s only so long, mama.  As you know all too well, there aren’t enough minutes or hours to do everything you hope to do. And you can’t be everything to everyone.  Focusing on producing quality work at your job?  Yes, that makes sense to me.  Focusing on quality time with your kiddos and being present with your family?  That makes sense, too.  But needing to have the house pristine?  Nope.  That’s one area where I guess I’m okay being more of a slacker than I thought I’d be before kids.

There’s no magic bullet here.  Certainly, everyone’s tolerance for mess is different, and everyone has a limit with respect to what pushes them into the zone of insanity.  But when kid stuff explodes all over your house (and it will), take a deep breath, and remember that you’ll probably be feeling nostalgic for some of it when they move out in a few short years.

How do you attack the clutter in your own home (and find time for said attack as a working parent)?  Leave your best tips and tricks in comments below!

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