|"Eli's Room" courtesy of Farmhouse 5540|
When our children were young, we lived in a house that was about 1200 square feet (about 111 square meters). Compared to the average American home, that is small, but my house was usually fairly tidy then too. Even if the kids were in the middle of playing one of their epic pretend games, with dolls, stuffed animals, play dishes, dress-up clothes, Lego creations, and lots of homemade props, we could make the house "company ready" in a pretty short time.
Does that sound like an impossible dream?
The "secret" isn't really a secret. Everything has a home. Everything. To get to that point, you have to be willing to let go of unneeded and unloved things. Most of us live in houses that are big enough to accommodate the stuff a family needs -- or they should be big enough. If you have three couches, 32 mugs, and 23 bath towels, that might explain the chaos. I decided I didn't need so much.
Your kids need places to put their backpacks, jackets, and shoes when they get home from school, and there needs to be a system for dealing with school papers. They need easy storage solutions for clothes and toys, and the number of items needs to be controlled so it's not overwhelming for them to put those things away. They need to know where craft supplies belong, and where to put dirty laundry and dirty dishes. And they need help to develop the habit of using those designated spots!
Even teenagers are sometimes oblivious to the messes they leave behind. Don't let them get away with it. Call them from their rooms, make them get up from the table or end a phone call to put their stuff away. I know it will sometimes seem that it is just easier to do it yourself, but in the long run it won't be. Trust me.
Here are the seven secrets to a clutter-free family home.
1. Everything has a place.
I know, you've heard it before. What does it really mean? It means I can hand my child any item that belongs to her or is used by the whole family and say, "Put this where it belongs," and she knows exactly where to go.
2. Just do it.
No one loves doing chores, but if you just do them instead of putting them off, you'll feel so much better. Try timing the chores you dislike. Most chores aren't really that time-consuming, and once you realize that, it might be easier to make yourself (or your child) do them.
3. Remember clutter is a magnet.
Put your keys and sunglasses on the kitchen counter, and before you know it a backpack, today's mail, the TV remote, an e-reader, and someone's dirty snack plate have joined them. If there's always clutter in the kitchen or in the family room, your kids will be much less likely to clean up after themselves. It's as if the standard has been lowered. They think, "Why should I clean up if no one else does?" So you're going to have a mantra, "Don't just put it down, put it away!" (This can be said cheerfully, not in anger, if you remember that everyone is learning new habits.)
4. Keep everything off the floor.
This is an easy cleaning rule. Nothing belongs on the floor except rugs and the furniture. You might make this the go-to directive when you ask your kids to clean their rooms. Don't obsess about their level of tidiness, as long as the floor is clear (including under the bed). It's so much easier to vacuum, too. In the living room, this means throw pillows, shoes, electronics, board games, etc. must be put away. This rule also keeps towels and dirty laundry where they belong.
5. Embrace the idea of clean enough.
As your kids get older and begin to do more chores around the house, remind yourself that done is better than perfect. Your 10-year-old may not clean the bathroom as thoroughly as you would, but it's cleaner than it would be if he didn't do it at all. Instill some "clean as you go" habits, and his competence will gradually increase.
6. Make your bed every morning.
This changes the entire look of your bedroom. It's like getting the room dressed and ready for the day. For kids this can be as simple as pulling up the bedclothes neatly and putting the pillow at the head.
7. Clean the kitchen completely after dinner.
Wash the pots and pans, wipe the counters, run the dishwasher. As they get older, the kids can take turns doing this. I promise you that making the effort to have the kitchen clean and tidy before you go to bed will make a huge difference in your morning mood. Waking up to a dirty kitchen is like running a deficit. You feel inadequate before the day has even begun.
In the end, it really comes down to habits. It will be difficult at the beginning, but as with all things, practice eventually brings mastery. When you're living in your clutter-free home, you won't feel heavy and defeated. You'll be able to enjoy your home and your children, because you'll be living more lightly and peacefully. You'll have more time to do things for yourself and together, enriching your family life instead of feeling trapped by your house.