What can I do?
Know when to let it go.
Kids are messy - if you can, try to accept a certain amount of mess for the sake of your sanity.
If other family members are getting wound up about the mess - talk to them about whether their expectations are reasonable.
Ask the rest of the family for their ideas on how you can work together to make tidying up easier.
Have a system.
- Find areas for storing different things - toys/ clothes/ etc.
- Have toys/activities in separate containers
- Collect old shoe boxes for storing small stuff – they can stack under beds.
- Store extra toys out of sight so they don’t get pulled out when you’re not looking.
- Have a ‘de clutter day’ every month to cut down on stuff you don’t need.
- Choose a song that everyone knows is the tidy up song and when it plays its tidy up time.
Don't expect too much from younger kids.
- Younger kids will need help cleaning up. So you’ll need to lead the cleanup and usually they’ll want to do what you’re doing.
- Pulling things out is of much more interest to them than putting things back.
- Give them time – create the rule playtime includes tidy up time.
- If you have older children let them have an area for their play undisturbed by younger brothers and sisters. This will prevent grizzles about younger ones making all the mess.
Reduce the amount of toys available.
- Only have a few toys out at one time.
- Put away toys they only play with occasionally – then when they reappear it’s like having new toys.
- Simplify and organize - get rid of any extra things you don’t need.
- Create ‘sets’ of toys stored in different containers - kids will learn to ask for the set they want.
- Think before you buy more toys and keep an eye on how much each child has in the house - let friends and family know when you think the kids have enough stuff.
Create cleaning up shortcuts.
- Using a sheet or blanket to tip toys onto makes cleaning up quicker. It also acts as a boundary to stop toys spreading over the entire house.
- Have a clean dustpan and brush set for ‘scooping’ up little things quickly. Keep it next to the toys so kids know you expect them to use it at tidy up time.
- Try using empty shoe boxes for collecting up small toys – they hold a lot more than a child’s hands. You could make it more fun by tying a short string to the box for a ‘pull along’ collector.
- Have wet cloths on hand for ‘painty’ fingers.
- Spread newspaper on surfaces for a quicker clean up.
Set an example.
- Create clean up routines that the whole family take part in.
- Clear up after yourself - children learn from watching what you do.
- Let them hear you say things like “hang on, I’m just going to put these away where they belong first.”
- Try and avoid the easy route of cleaning up toys after kids are in bed.
Be consistent in setting limits to control the mess.
- Kids need limits to understand what’s expected of them. For example one rule could be to clear up one lot of toys/activity before getting out another.
- Stay strong - calmly ignore any tantrums or grizzles for another activity until the last one is cleared away.
- Make it a rule that everyone cleans up including visiting kids and younger brothers and sisters.
Have reasonable and related consequences.
Talk about your expectations about cleaning up before ‘mess-making’ play/activity starts. Explain what will happen if kids don’t help - eg “Any toys left lying around will get put away for a while” or “If I have to clean up on my own, it will take longer and there won’t be time to go to the park…”
Make clean up fun.
- Make tidying up a game or set the phone/ oven timer and race the clock.
- Make up a cleanup song or play a song and see if you can finish your clean up before it ends.
- Make pathways through the mess and make it a game for all.
- Put away the same number of things as your age.
- Give a category for each child to tidy up. Eg "I’ll put away blocks, Jay can do things with wheels and Min’s got soft toys."
- Choose a number of things or a colour for each child to tidy up.
And what about you?
Over it? Use your phone timer to set a time limit for a play activity – your full attention for five minutes is better than half pai for longer.
Had enough? You may feel like you need alcohol or drugs to relax – but they often make the situation worse, especially when you have to deal with kids. Who could help you cut down or cut it out?