Being in your home with a family can bring up all kinds of conflict and challenges to complicate an already stressful time.. I have several ways to help you calm the chaos with small children, toddlers and family members. During a time like this, it is more important than ever to have calm, uncluttered spaces. Too much mess, overflowing playrooms, laundry and dishes are adding. It's much harder to stay healthy if we are overwhelmed just getting through the day. Here are some ideas to help you calm the chaos, create a little peace and space through a few simple solutions.. A purposeful set up here can buy you hours of a tidy house and independent play rather than crying, whining and hours of a kid hanging on your leg.
#1 You frankly just have too many toys.
Do you have a dedicated play space but find the kids won't play there? Are their toys all over the floor, tucked in corners, generally taking over the house? Whether you have a corner, a whole dedicated playroom or just in your child's bedroom and it's a constant mess the simple solution is to get rid of most of it. Now, calm down, I know that sounds crazy but here is the thing. If you are overwhelmed by the mess, your child is too. They don't play with it because they don't know where to start, just like you. So the solution can be set out in a few ways.
HOW do you do this?
A) Sort it out
if you have a huge toy box, that's not going to work and I will tell you why. It's a mess. Messes just create more messes. So step one is to take a few "sets" of toys and group them together, then pack the rest away. My two boys are very different. One spends hours playing with Lego, the other is all about sports but will occasionally play with cars. Eventually, I gave away 90% of our toys and wish I had done it years sooner (or better yet, not wasted the money, space, aggravation in the first place)! How can this be? Doesn't everyone shower their kids with all the things they never had growing up? Yes, they do and that is the problem. It's just too much! Narrow down your selection to a few choices. The "sets" i recommend are play clothes, Lego or building blocks, a container of dolls or superheros/cars. You can adapt this idea to suit each child's interests. You can keep the rest, but tuck it away somewhere-anywhere, just not all over your floor.
B) On the pack it away note
You don't have to give it all away but you do have to put most of it away if you can't part with it. And then you rotate toys. You can decide what is important to what child. Keep it in a smaller, easy to carry basket. That huge toy box becomes the dress up chest. Have no dress up clothes? Throw in a few things of your own-it doesn't matter, your child will now come up with a thousand different ways to use it. I basically guarantee that your child will start spending much more time in independent play if you just put away most of it! Then when boredom sets in with the few sets you chose, you can simply pack it up and take out a few more.
C) Use what you have
You can pack it up into rubbermaids, boxes or bins and store in a basement, crawl space, garage-who cares! Use garbage bags if you don't have bins, just put most of it away. You will thank me so much for this one simple tip! I promise.
On that note, be deliberate with what you put away. Markers, paint and stickers for toddlers are a nightmare without purpose and supervision, Keep them put away so they only have supervised access. When you want to do art, you can get out your kit (use a sorter, cart, basket whatever) and take it to the table or desk but keep stuff that requires lots of supervision just put away. This goes for puzzles and board games too. This will save you from hours of aggravation, stress and clean up of unfortunate accidents. Keep things with a million parts together in a "set". Have one bin or basket per set. 3-5 is a good number. Otherwise, this will constantly be dumped all over your floor. If your kid can't walk in the play area, they definitely aren't going to settle in for an extended period with their own imagination. Set up a kitchen, a dress up center, a Lego table (age appropriate of course), a train set, a doll house but try to stick to only 3-5 sets/area's. Notice what your kids actually play with-get rid of the things now no one is really interested in. Less is more here.
#2. Make it easy to pick it up.
I LOVE baskets, bins, boxes, whatever. I have them all over my house. Without lids. I don't have lids on the laundry baskets so that my family will use them. My kids throw their clothes into it every night like basket ball. For us, It is set up as an automatic thing because we just did it from the start, but it's not too late. Almost all kids, no matter the age can toss things into a basket. Spending some time making smaller collections of toys into dedicated baskets will save you hours of clean up later on. It is less overwhelming to pick up a small basket of toys, than an entire giant toy box they dumped out. And if you start with a small basket, and they want to move onto a different activity, then the habit becomes that the toys are returned to that basket before a new one can be taken out. I hear lots of parents say yah right about kids cleaning up but if you make it easy, you make it habit. If you make it consistent it will actually become just that. Consistent. When trying to create new habits the best thing to do is make it easy, and make it obvious. Even the littlest ones can watch you pick up the items from the collection and place them in a basket or bin. This can easily become a quick pick up game, which 99% of the time your kid will quickly get on board with. Just say the amazing words " let's see who can pick it up quicker" and poof, done! If we make these things something we just simply do, there is never a fight. My family is behind this idea now after using it regularly. Everyone keeps everything tidy so it's always easy to keep things tidy. It took me a few years of getting rid of things and then setting it up this way to get these things to become habits. But it's easy once you set it up the right way. Be deliberate.
#3. Involve everyone in tidying.
You can do this in a few different ways but as #2 says if you do it often, and it's easy- it's easier to keep it going. So we have a 2 minute quick clean up whenever things feel too cluttered. It is easier to ask your family members that for 1 minute they all go around and "only pick up their own things". Poof. No one whining "That's not mine"! No fighting. Then we see who can straighten the most for the other minute. And we do this as a reward system in a way.For example we will play a board game together after we all take 1 minute to clean up our living room. Our boys know that we definitely don't have dessert until the dishes are done and the table is cleared off. Takes only a few minutes. You just need a little motivation. Another tip for exhausted parents is to take 1 minute and do a quick clean up of your main hang out space after the kids go to bed. Don't worry about constantly tidying but spend a minute or two picking up any clutter, straighten the pillows, and remotes, before you put your feet up. That 1 minute will pay off in genuine relaxation time. Even better if you can get the kids to start picking up their own clutter before bed as a natural routine to ending the day.
I have helped many families set up these systems and my own personal take on people who complain that their kids won't help clean up, or do chores, is this is just not true, You just have to make it simple, straightforward and easy. Kids love to help and be involved. A sense of responsibility leads to feeling important and connected to your family. The benefits of these few actions daily are immense. None of this has to be perfect. A great quote I read in a baby book said "Begin as you mean to go on". So get out those baskets and try these tips for a few days before deciding it's impossible. Everyone feels better in clean spaces and I promise the lack of clutter will benefit your entire household tenfold. But probably you most of all.
Have a video consult with Carrie. Help reduce the chaos, de-clutter, re-use , reduce, recycle your items, redesign your home all by video or phone.
I have been a project manager aka "crisis manager" (because let's face it, we can make plans as much as we want but the best laid plans and all that...) So what do I do when it feels as if everything is suddenly falling apart?
#1 Clean – Whenever I am deeply stressed out, or when everything feels like it is spiraling out of control, I clean. I clean my office, I pick up the clutter in the house, I grab up the laundry etc. This does two things. It allows me to focus my nervous energy into productive tasks and secondly, my mind is focused but able to think on the problem and sort solutions without ruminating. It's easy with the state of the world as it is to get caught up in all the doom and gloom predictions. Cranking the music and tidying your space will infuse a better energy both within you and within your home. I like to finish this up by sorting my pile of papers in my office. Once that pile is sorted I am often reminded that there are only a few things out of the pile that actually need to be done, some is recycling , or filing, or clutter! But at the end of this I know the few things in my control that need to be taken care of and then I can plan my actions based on that. Reality instead of worrying about things I can't control.
#2 Make a list – A good way to get a hold of all the worries and anxiety swirling in your head is to get a piece of paper or notebook and start writing. List everything you can think of that is causing you stress, worries about all the things that need to be done (or can't be done), just whatever is on your mind. Write as many things as you can think of. Then you can take this list and break it down to create a more focused to do list. Make a few topics like must do, want to do, should do and I love this one-worries for another day. The reason this works so well is that your brain tries to do a wonderful job of protecting you and it wants to solve your problems, hence ruminating when you are anxious. The place were things fail here is instead of making a decision on things, we just continue to circulate worries through our mind. Writing things down and then categorizing them allows you to have made a "plan". This will help your brain relax because now you have made decisions. You have a place to focus energy on taking care of what matters and you can remind yourself that you have taken care of things when you again start to worry. One helpful thing I started to tell myself several years ago was "This isn't happening to me right now. " This statement reminds me to focus on the here and now, not in some far off future where I have imagined the worst. And as a planner and a world class worrier, I know first hand how easy these worries spiral out of control.
#3 – Focus on what you CAN control
It is easy to feel as if this is a complete catastrophe right now. Listening to the news, watching the toll of sick people go up we can begin to feel helpless, paralyzed or fearful. I was discussing this the other day with a friend, that it is hard not to be completely overwhelmed by everything that is going on. Everyone is worried about what this will lead the world to look like-for ourselves and our families, and the greater global community going forward.
So I don't focus on that at all. Again this goes to #2. I can make a list of what I can control. I can get sunshine on my face and fresh air somehow. I can take vitamins, drink tea, listen to healing or uplifting music. I can do meditations for both myself and the world. I can use this time to relax, reflect and rejuvenate. I can appreciate that today I am not sick, my family is well. I look for what I CAN do today-I can write, I can read, I can de-clutter my space, I can make a plan for wellness. I can create a place of rest, relaxation and sanctuary for myself and my family within our home. This places power back into your own hands, which in turn will lower our stress levels. This is such a key to staying well in general and especially in this position. All of these actions are useful and healthy ways to deal with and reduce the stress and anxiety we are all feeling right now...
I have been meaning to write more tips and advice on my site, so if you found this helpful or useful please share with a friend or let me know and I will keep writing!
Thanks! and take care of yourself ;)