Is controlled chaos of clutter or hours of arguing the best parents can hope for in their home? Even with just one child, organizing the mess may seem unmanageable, but area experts say it’s not only feasible, it’s fun.
Carol Hamilton, who calls herself “intuitive and non-traditional,” has been a Feng Shui consultant and teacher for 15 years. She has no set “rules” in her work, just guidelines that help people create their own space, matching her clients’ energy to that of their living space, so “your house is fabulous to come home to.”
Create a ‘Kid Zone’ that Controls the Clutter
Hamilton recommends teaching children “to remember to honor all members of the household, including the grown-ups.” This can be done by making a “kid zone” in the family room or living room, which allows the children space for creativity while keeping you from constantly having to pick up their toys. Block off the space with a screen, a toy box turned outward, or even a special rug where children can bring all of their toys “home” to sleep at night. However you create the kid zone, impress upon your children the idea that “everything has a home.”
In the living room, Nelson suggests getting an ottoman or coffee table that has storage for toys inside.
Then develop a routine: “When it’s time to stop playing, kids need the job of putting things away in the ottoman or a basket in the corner of the living room. Mom and Dad have to build in the time to clean up the toys before getting the child into the bath every night.”
Children can learn to do this even when they’re just toddling, Nelson said, and though you may have to do the lion’s share of the pick-up at first, children will quickly catch on the idea. She also advocates building in incentives for good clean-up performance, such as reading an extra book before bedtime. Most importantly, kids need to learn picking up is “not a chore, it’s what we do.”
How to clear clutter by giving things away
Start simply: even getting rid of one toy is a step in the right direction for a kid who can’t seem to let go of things. Like adults who hang on to “stuff,” children are doing so because whatever they can’t let go of is giving them a sense of security.
Communication is the key here, Hamilton said. “I tend to let them have (the toy) and address the security feeling: What do they think will happen if it leaves?”
If you suspect that a child is clinging tightly to toys because you have a hard time getting rid of things yourself, you’re probably right.
“Kids sense that they should hang on to things if you’re hanging on,” said Hamilton. “Take a look at what you’re keeping, and they’ll follow your lead.”
When it’s time to pare down the clutter of toys, Hamilton said the kids must be involved in the process of what stays and what goes.
“If things disappear when they’re not there, there’s high anxiety,” she warns.
Besides, most children will respond favorably to an invitation to share and give. One of Hamilton’s clients took her kids with her to a shelter when they donated their least favorite toys. Even though they were very unhappy with the idea at first, the experience made such an impression on them that her children wanted to go home and get better toys to bring to the shelter kids.
Nelson suggested starting a “toy co-op” with friends in which children trade off and rotate toys they’re not playing with for ones that will be new, at least to them.
What to know about cleaning and clutter
Like most of us, kids are inspired by reward or by enjoying the journey, so try to make a game out of clean-up by putting a small basketball hoop over the toy box.
Make sure allowances are based on performance and contribution to keeping the household tidy. Be very clear about what everyone is required to do, Hamilton said. While scheduling can work, she feels, “it’s important to follow the natural function of things.” She suggests everyone in the family spend a few minutes a day picking up rather than trying to organize a monthly overhaul: “If it takes too long to clean, you have too much stuff,” she said
Nelson concurs on scheduling: “For me, the key is not a schedule that you have to adhere to but a strategy of taking time to clean up the clutter every day. As little as ten minutes a day will do it, as long as you build it in to your day.” She suggests kids can pick up their stuff up between commercials or before school in the morning.
Tame the clutter with storage for “now”
Clutter has to have a place to go, Nelson points out, or it will just stay in a pile. One of her clients had acquired so many clothes for her family that even when they were newly laundered, she had nowhere to put them.
“It is about creating an environment that is for NOW,” Nelson said, “not what I want to hold on to or what my kid will grow into in two seasons.” Store what you must keep in inexpensive clear boxes or tubs, labeled with what’s inside, rather than leaving things in piles or taking up drawer space until they’re ready to be handed over. Store potential hand-me-downs, for example, in a box marked “Johnny’s size 7 summer clothes” so you can find what you need when his little brother is ready for them.