Consider it a preemptive strike.
Each December, roughly mid-month, I attempt to rid our home of its thin layer of excess. Ken loves this about me, my Grinch-like tendencies to Subtract during The Great Season of Addition, but I don’t know. Consider it a gift in white space. (Like snow.)
We will forever be on opposite ends of the spectrum, Ken and I. He, with his pack-rat bent, his sentimental attachment toward odd everythings. The man has never thrown away a child’s drawing given to him. His closet is filled with stacks of old college tees, service project tees, gifted tees he never wears. Once, in college, I opened a drawer in his rented kitchen to find an astronomical stash of Wendy’s ketchup packets for “Someday Use.”
It’s darling until it is not.
And me? Well, you know me by now. If it holds no purpose, it holds no place. Ever the practical. There’s a balance somewhere, and I haven’t yet struck it.
These are the folks I live with, and these are the folks I love. A bit of grace, then.
Below are a few simple tips that help me keep a tidy(ish) home while embracing the styles and bents of the ones I share it with:
- Person over point.
I am forever repeating this mantra in my head throughout the day. It’s a wise method to keep myself in check when I start to let my own theories or philosophies get in the way of embracing someone else’s. Person over point invites you to stop and think about the relationship, rather than your reasoning. Am I seeking to correct this behavior because it’s best for the other person, or because I’m attempting to prove a point? (Be honest; it’s generally the latter.) Person over point forces me to peek outside of my ideals to see the nuanced people in my home for who they are — and teaches me to see myself in that same light. When at the forefront of my mind, this simple phrase helps me to deliver teachable moments in a far more gentle manner.
- Consider the style.
My organization style is compartmentalization – I love having set “collection” zones in my home to house a variety of different uses: baskets for books and blocks, a bin for stuffed animals, a caddy for art supplies, storage ottomans for puzzles, a toy chest for miscellaneous items. But this sort of organizational style feels overwhelming to Bee, and she’s prone to dreading the act of tidying because she dreads the act of sorting. Instead of forcing her into my own methods, we have a new rule: Off the floor, period. Toys can be sorted as she wishes in whatever storage area she’d like, as long as they’re cleaned up and off the floor by the end of the day. (Note: Just as our organizational style changes by season, their’s will as well! Older kids are far more gifted in the art of compartmentalization, so play to their current strength – it will all shift in good time.)
- Model it.
Get on the floor and clean out your diaper bag, your laptop bag, your backpack. Let your young kid practice organizing (even though she’ll inevitably find gum wrappers she wants to keep as treasures forever and ever, Amen). Teach her the main tenets of tidying – a place for (nearly) everything and everything (nearly) in its place. It’s an easily-contained lesson you can tackle in 5 minutes or less – and who doesn’t love a clutter-free diaper bag?
- Get specific.
When asking little ones to clean their rooms or tidy up, we often have to get specific about what that means. Using additional directives like, “Put your clean pants back into the bottom drawer of your dresser,” or “Throw away your paper scraps into the kitchen garbage,” or “Move your stuffed animals from the floor and into your toy chest,” helps offer a tangible task they can grasp, rather than an overwhelming concept that’s open to interpretation. (This also avoids the ever-familiar exasperation of “I asked you to clean your room!” and the child’s loose translation of the task: “But I made my bed!”)
- Gather up.
Young kids haven’t yet developed spatial reasoning and often overlook clutter, so I’ve found a gather mat or blanket is immensely helpful in their understanding of what, precisely, needs tidied. At the end of the day, a gather mat goes into the center of the room and Bee and I throw the day’s toys and activities onto the mat. She’s in charge of making sure everything on the mat finds a home for the night (Bonus: sometimes the mat doubles as a super hero cape when tidied, so it’s a natural reward!).
- Try a stealth purge.
As kids get older, more stuff comes into your home than you have the time or inclination to control. My rule is simply this – the space available is the space available. We have a set amount of hangers, a set amount of storage, a set amount of capacity. Once those capacities are filled, they’re filled. So if Bee wants to keep her rock collection of approximately 1,23,493 pebbles, she needs to find space for it, and that likely means letting go of something else in order to make room.
For the littles with packrat tendencies, my secret, tried-and-true method for de-cluttering is simple: the stealth purge. Sort through her toys/games/books while she’s preoccupied. Take notice of what you see your child playing with (no bias – sometimes the cutest toys you love are the ones she could care less about!) and place everything else into a bag or bin for the garage. Style what’s left so it feels orderly and tidy, then invite your toddler to come see how organized her space is! Communicate that you’ve designated some old things for donating, but that if there’s something she misses in the next few weeks, she can let you know. (Chances are, your kid will never even notice, but I always like to give them the benefit of the doubt.) After a 2-week mark has passed, you’re in the clear for a Salvation Army drop-off or to move your more beloved items into storage for future generations.
When you can, be mindful of what you’re bringing into your home. It’s no secret that the toys kids love most are cardboard boxes, sticks, blocks, balls, etc — the basics. There are clear benefits to offering our children less toys and more creativity, so whenever possible, avoid the temptation to fluff their nest with more bells and whistles (the grandparents and loving extended family will do plenty of that, after all).
In that same vein, being mindful about the way toys are stored will go a long way, too. Open storage looks pretty when styled on Instagram, sure, but when kids are involved, exposed shelving often invites clutter and appears chaotic. Be realistic about your own boundaries and limitations. For me, clutter only bothers me when it’s visible, so I opt for closed storage (chests, bins, boxes, cabinets) whenever possible.
- Deep breaths.
There will be clutter. There will be clutter. There will be clutter. This is a season, and it’s a beautiful season – vibrant and busy and full and bright. There are Legos to step on and marker stains to remove, but soon there won’t be. Let yourself enjoy this for what it is: a magical mess.
Tell me, what are your secrets to keeping a tidy home that’s void of rigid rules and offers a bit of flexibility for all? I’d love to hear!