Kid Clutter: Experiments in Decluttering Toy Tornadoes

The floor: for many of us parents, the sight of a bare floor is an amazing and rare spectacle, rather like the sighting of a double rainbow or a shooting star–beautiful and hauntingly brief–before it is submerged under a deluge of toys again.

I’ve tried many things to deal with this problem, like buying more toy bins from ikea and sorting the toys into them…repeatedly! Storage is not the solution, when everything is just going to be dumped out again. I’m also constantly decluttering and making give away bags of clothes and toys for Big Brothers Charity to pick up from my doorstep. I’ve even tried my sister’s method of toy jail, except sticking a box or bag of toys out in the garage temporarily. She told me:

I grabbed a garbage bag every night and a laundry basket. Set the timer. If things weren’t put back where they belonged they went in the garbage or into the “toy jail”. Then the jail went up on the fridge till they earned their toy’s freedom.

She was much more disciplined about doing this every night to establish a habit of tidying up. By the time I hit evening, I’m often too done in to do this. Or I’m just as overwhelmed as the kids by the sheer amount of tiny things to be responsible for. Hundreds and hundreds of little things to pick up, sort, organize, and put away. It’s a lot of pressure to deal with all this stuff.

So I finally hit a wall of frustration last weekend and decided to be a little more drastic. I brought in huge rubbermade bins from the garbage and dumped all the toy bins in them. I gathered up all the toys from the floor, everything but the toy food from in the toy kitchen, and a stuffie or two on each bed, and I put it ALL in the garage.

I waited for an explosion of outrage. For complaints. For tears. For…anything! But nothing came. The kids barely seemed to notice. My three year old Eddie turned all the empty toy bins into a toy train.

In his bed he has his Spider-Man doll and his Star Wars book. He’s perfectly happy. He has his siblings and his imagination. He has space to run and jump and play, instead of living in a toy tornado. We might bring some toys back in after a while, but not until they are specifically requested. So far, in a whole week, only one toy has been asked for, so I’ll go fetch that one thing.

I share this anecdote to demonstrate that sometimes we put too much stock in material things, thinking our happiness depends on them. It is a greater happiness to live the adventure of participating in making the world a better place. Life has much more savour and zest when we are not trapped in the tunnel of thinking mainly of ourselves. I read a great comment by a woman named Lauren in comments in We Are That Family blog:

My pastor said that we expect our children to be grateful when we shower them with gifts, but the only way to be really grateful is to live without.

I think the sheer amount of gifts children receive really cheapens everything. It’s so hard to really care about that many things. Especially when an empty box is just as fun to play with– or more!

We are still a fair way away from Christmas, the season in which loving relatives attempt to drive mothers insane by dumping down the chimney a sparkling deluge of tiny toys, to be picked up and sorted and lost and cried over and fought over approximately 2946393 times.

May I suggest, for those who may be thinking ahead, to consider experience gifts instead? Like taking the kids to a play or paying for an art class? Kids will love it! Nothing has brought my 6 and 7 year olds greater joy than their art class at 4 Cats art studio this fall. They are growing in confidence and learning new skills. Mothers all around the world will thank you for not bringing a million more tiny collectible toys to their house, especially every night when they go upstairs to read their kids a bedtime story, and can actually see that much coveted and beloved object: a clear floor!

As an added bonus, buying less toys is better for the environment, and helps preserve a more beautiful world for our kids to grow up in. Win-win!!

Habit Building: How always is easier than sometimes…

So I’ve been pondering the virtue of order again, as I always seem to be, because I’m not what the homemaking guru the Flylady calls a B.O. (born organized). So this Lent, more than focusing on giving up something, I’ve been focussing on aquiring something, namely the virtue of order. I’m hoping to bring more rhythm and smoothness to my week, so that certain things can happen more naturally, because that’s now simply when we do them, rather than waiting for them to happen in a fragmented and haphazard way…

So this scatterbrained poet is cleaning bathrooms on certain days, and doing laundry on certain days, and things like this. But how did this come about? Moving and Lent. Moving was a great way to have a fresh start…to hit the reset button and begin again. And this happened to coincide with a great spiritual impetus for interior growth and change for the better, which is the season of preparation for the joy of Easter. 

These things complement each other well, because as when more things are planned (like meals, daily topics for homeschool, some daily and weekly chores) my mind is freed up to be more contemplative. I can read or pray without being quite as distracted by my revolving to-do list spinning about my head. I find those tiny household decisions take up a lot of brain power, and prevent me from being as peaceful as I’d like. (Who feels peaceful at 4:45 pm if you don’t know what’s for dinner and the kids are gnawing on your ankles?) So in this sense, knowing when I’m going to do certain things, rather than restricting me, has actually made me more free. 

 
One of the things I’ve been trying to do this Lent is do the dishes right after each meal, instead of getting distracted by the kids, phone, next project (squirrel!) and letting them pile up. I’m actually generally doing better with them than I did when I had a dishwasher! And often it’s over the kitchen sink that I think of new blog posts…my little reward!

Both the routine and a spiritual motive make it easier to do my work promptly. Somehow it’s easier to make myself do certain things when they are simply part of the routine, instead of something I might do now…or maybe later…when I feel like it (because honestly, when will I feel like cleaning a toilet?). 

The kids agree that stuff you do always is easier than stuff you do sometimes. My 9 year old told me, “It’s like making my bed…when I do it every day, it’s easy, but when I used to just do it sometimes, it was really hard each time.” So each week I am trying to add just a few more little things that we do on scheduled days. I don’t have really specific times for each thing, because too many details would set me up for failure…and be too much pressure. But little by little, I’m hoping to make this ship run more smoothly, with the idea that more pirate adventures can be had with mended sails and a swabbed deck!   

Contemplation by Moonlight

Outside the moon smiles lopsided

ever laughing, ever the same

despite my foibles, my losses

my little tragedies and defeats,

the moon continues in it’s ever changing sameness,

shining down like a flashlight 

from eternity,

each difference but a dance with shadows.

And while sirens blare 

and strange cars drive by 

on late night voyages,

the cool air caresses me with the same

light breath and the stars quietly proclaim 

“We are forever.”

Can it be that I, too,

despite my little daily battles—

the exorbitant dishes, the laundry piles that heave and grow

like monsters animated by dust and finger-paint, 

the millionth cup of spilled juice,

the sweet stickiness of the table after pancakes—

am somehow part of this cycle of sameness

which is a gateway to eternity?

that through these daily things

and my yes to the “now”

to the goodness of each day

I am also saying yes

to eternity?

An amen which fills the heart

with joy unquenchable..

The moon looks down 

through the cool night air

upon my littleness 

and laughs, “Yes!”

Attack of the Evil Dishwasher!

So I think my dishwasher is haunted….after a busy morning of homeschooling (and ignoring the dishes) the kids and I were trying to get the kitchen cleaned up before my friend Coco came over. One was passing dishes to me to load the dishwasher, others were wiping the counter or moving about kitchen chairs (toddler helping). Anyway, as I held my squirmy baby and tried to load dishes into the open washer, the machine suddenly turned on and starting spinning and squirting hot water all over the kitchen, spraying us all. After several load exclamations, and running to put baby in his bed out of the spray, I closed the evil thing and stopped the impromptu shower. 20140612-173238-63158833.jpg Is that what it takes for me to mop the floor?! That my appliances come alive!? Ok, ok, I take the hint universe…I wiped off the soaking wet table and floor, and left the kitchen shinier. I’d give my evil dishwasher a time out for misbehaving, but sadly that wouldn’t help me any… 20140612-173524-63324646.jpg

Happy Flowers and Cleaning Robots

One morning as I was busy cleaning the exploding house, my sweet 5 year old brought me a bouquet of homeade flowers. She said," Let's do nice things so we can have a happy day." I'm so lucky to have her!
One morning as I was busy cleaning the exploding house after a very busy weekend, my sweet 5 year old brought me a bouquet of homeade flowers. She said,” Let’s do nice things so we can have a happy day.” I’m so lucky to have her!

 

Aaah, housekeeping…you know when you’ve just mopped the floor, and then someone spills soup or juice all over it…or when you spent 10 minutes scrubbing the highchair and letting it dry in the sun, and after the next meal no one can tell? Well, ‘bean’ there, done that!

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Housekeeping can be overwhelming sometimes, but not as much when you don’t do it all alone. The other day the kids were into helping, so we all put on our aprons and got to business. It’s funny how if you say, “Let’s play house!” a chore becomes a game.

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Even the baby tried to help:

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My little homeschooler had a great idea as she helped with the dishes: “I’m going to be a cleaning robot who listens to all the mommies in the world and helps them.” Sounds good to me!

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Although they really like being involved with whatever I’m doing, they’re not always this cooperative, and the smaller ones usually enjoy dumping out the toy bins more than refilling them…but I’ll take every good day as a gift!

For a good post on kids and chores, check out my friend Monique Leblanc’s “The Last Time Change: Family, faith and moving to the prairie.”

http://thelasttimechange.blogspot.ca/2014/03/why-my-kids-do-chores.html