In the ways of keeping things sane at home, we have two things working against us. First, the kids stay at home all day with a nanny. Be it a care taker or a SAHP, it seems to me that the homes of toddlers who stay at home are more cluttered and toy-intensive than their out-of-the-home daycare counterparts.
Second. Christmas! Which means More! Stuff! The worst offender? There’s this mailbox that, when you open the door, a woman’s voice goes “Special DeLIVERRRRRRRRYYYYY!” like right out of Oprah Winfrey’s mouth when she’s announcing a big sit-down with Whitney Houston. Sure, there are volume adjustments, the problem is that the levels are Louder and Loudest. Anyway.
So, given our kids spend the majority of their days at home, here’s what we do to manage the battle against clutter and overwhelmed toddler (and mommy) brains:
Take Stock. Then Put Most Of It Away
We make it a point to not have everything out and available. People are all, “well, I don’t want to limit the creativity of my child’s imagination by selecting what toys are out”. Whatever, blah blah blah. I don’t think that by making an executive decision about the toys that are out (when they’re older, they can participate in the process), that I am shriveling up the right sides of their brains. We probably put a good 60%-80% away.
This is (above) our what-used-to-be-a-living room. Because of the configuration of our home, and the fact that the ‘living space’ is on the second story, this is the room the kids spend the majority of their time in. We have those blocks in the middle (have had them since forever, first to help with tummy time and crawling, later with pulling up, and now with walking over/stacking and helping with balance and coordination), but we move them out of the way when they are playing with their grocery carts.
To keep things fresh, we rotate books and some toys (except the favorites, whatever those might be at the time) every couple weeks or as needed. If I left it entirely to our nanny and my partner, there would be a ton more stuff out, but the general rule is if we’re pulling something new out, something needs to be moved into the storage closet.
Do Not Reveal The Whereabouts Or Contents Of The Hiding Closet To Your Toddlers
This is a very important space that should be severely downplayed should the toddlers remember what goes in. For this reason, I highly recommend rotating and storing toys after the kids go to bed, otherwise it’s “mommy, but I want _____!!!!” and then queue meltdown.
Purge With Purpose
As things get rotated out, I look and decide if (a) they really needit, (b) if they’ll be past interest by the time it makes its way back out, and (c) how many like items we already have. The wheeled-objects in our garage had multiplied like wet gremlins to three ride on-toys, a double-seater wagon, a wooden push cart, a jumpy horse thing, two tricycles (Christmas presents from the grandparents), and two shopping carts (1st birthday gifts that we had kept in storage until we wrapped them up and said they were from Santa. Score!) With so many wheeled objects, guess who took pictures and listed some half of it on Craigslist on Sunday?
Keep A Few Items In Each Room
We try to instill some of the practical nature of Montessori methods in our home, one being that each ‘ family room/space’ has a child’s stamp on it. Oddly enough, we have found that in doing this, the house is less messy because the mess stays relatively contained (or at least we don’t have to walk as far to put things away in their place).
We managed to sorta fit their play kitchen (purchased used on craigslist for $50, retails $180) into the corner of our dining area (above). And we have a small montessori table and chairs (below) for snacks and working on setting tables under the island stove. I will be honest and say that we have to say “feet on the floor” and “chairs are for sitting” A! LOT!, but this is the price we pay for developing independent beings by “teaching them to do things themselves”.
Our house is “shotgun-style,” long and narrow so there isn’t a lot of space to work with in any one room. In the hall that leads to the master bedroom, there is a bookshelf (below). The books are at the top now, for obvious reasons. On the lower shelves are a few small toys: two small puzzles in the basket, that thingy from Ikea that you find at doctors offices, and some magnet trains.
This room (below) used to be the office. It’s the area at the bottom of the stairs that leads to the postage stamp sized back yard. The kids bedrooms are downstairs, too. Didn’t take pictures because the kids were sleeping and we’re rearranging things in there anyway – but by most people’s standards, their rooms are quite bare. Anyway, there’s a bouncy horse that a family member got them for their 1st birthday. It used to be upstairs before we got the shopping carts. We have a basket with books (also the basket where we choose nighttime reading from), and a couple toys. We had that plexi-mirror installed when they were around 9 months to play with/see themselves, see cause-effect relationships.
Have The Kids Participate In Tidying Up
Yeah, so, this doesn’t always work smoothly at all. But we most certainly have them help us clean up and put things away. At the very least, early childhood is all about repetition and if they see us do it enough and if they do it enough, it will become a habit (unfortunately, that applies to bad habits, too, so watch your mouth, mommy). It is never too early to create good habits.
Is something not getting played with? Do you have more than one? Is it causing a ton of fights? Freecycle! Craigslist! Goodwill! Shelter!
We try to keep things very simple at home. Granted, these photos were taken after tidying up and after the kids had gone to sleep for the night (there are plenty of times when our house is more disasterous, though back then, we had a lot more stuff out). Too much stuff at once can overwhelm any adult so I can only imagine that it is sensory overload for developing toddler brains.
What about you? Any parents of kids-at-home with special tricks to keep some order in your house? (Dumping it in a toybox and shutting the door counts!)
Rachel is the birth mom of a two-working-mom household to 20.5 month old boy/girl twins that no, cannot ride a tricycle yet. She blogs over at Motherhood.Squared