I have been blessed with a small house; blessed in terms of not having much space to fill with clutter! I am one of those people who needs my environment to be visually calming. For me, that means I need my house to be clutter-free-ish (I have 4 kids. Let’s be real here). If my house is a wreck and I keep tripping over toys, I get pretty anxious and start wanting to yell.
To stave off this anxiety, I have gotten pretty good at stopping what I’m doing to take 5 minutes to tidy up. Those 5 minutes have saved me many heart palpitations! When I say ‘tidy up,’ I’m not talking about making beds, vacuuming the carpet, and cleaning the windows. I’m talking about getting the clutter off of the countertops and floors and putting it where it belongs (and maybe sweeping the hard floors if the dog hair has started to look like tumble weed).
Having a clutter-free-ish living area may not just benefit you, too. I remember reading an article somewhere that there are lots of kids, especially those with behavior problems, who are overwhelmed when they are surrounded by clutter. Making their world visually clutter-free-ish worked wonders in decreasing their anxiety and improving their behavior.
I try to do the following process right before transition times each day (before naps, before dinner, before bed). That way it’s not so overwhelming at the end of the day:
1. Focus on the “community” rooms. Where does your family spend most of their time? For us, it’s the living room, dining room, and kitchen area which are all connected. Don’t worry about the bedrooms or bathrooms at this point. Close those doors if you have to.
2. Ask everyone to pitch in. If my kids are able to walk, they are expected to help around the house in whatever ways they can. Even if the toddlers make more mess while they’re ‘cleaning up,’ as long as they’re making an effort, I let them keep at it.
I usually tell the bigger kids something like, “When the timer beeps, I need everyone to stop what they’re doing and pick up for 5 minutes.” I set the timer for 10 minutes or so and when it beeps, the kids are expected to jump to their feet, ready to clean.
3. Put everything that needs to be put away in one place. While the timer is on, I tend to walk through the rooms gathering up all the clutter. I usually put it all in a laundry basket (or baskets if its a reallly big mess) or, if the laundry basket is filled with clean, unfolded laundry, I put it in a pile in the middle of the living room.
4. Turn on some music. I usually have upbeat music on when I fold the laundry or do the dishes; it makes it much more fun for me. It works for my kids, too. I often see them dancing down the hallway taking toys to their rooms.
5. Ask the kids to put away what is theirs first. When the timer beeps, I ask the kids to find a few things in the pile that are theirs and to put them where they belong. If it belongs in their rooms, they don’t need to put them away in their rooms, they just need to get the stuff there. They keep coming back to the basket or pile until all of their stuff is in out of the basket or the timer beeps.
6. What about the other stuff? If there are items in the pile that aren’t the kids’, once their things are put away, I give them a very specific thing to pick up and tell them where to put it. For example, I’d say, “Patrick, you’re in charge of putting Daddy’s shoes in our room. Julia, please put the baby’s burp cloth in the dirty clothes hamper. Andrew, please put the hair brush on the bathroom counter.” They may grumble a little, but I just point their attention to the timer telling them it’s almost over.
7. Praise them! Commend the kids on how hard they worked, how fast they got it done, and how little they complained (assuming they did these things).
Five minutes is up! You and the kids can go back to what you were doing. You did great!
But wait! What if there is still a sizable pile in the living room after the 5 minutes are up? Good question. Honestly, this doesn’t happen very often with 2 big kids and a toddler because they have become great helpers. But when it does, I tell the kids to take a break and that we will come back to it in 30 minutes, for example. (I always set the timer or I’ll lose track of time and it will never get done. Yes, I use my timer a lot.)
You can continue working on the pile, too, while they take a break if they’re feeling overwhelmed. I imagine most of parents can clean for more than 5 minutes at a time, right? The point is to get them involved, teach them some responsibility, and make cleaning up as painless as possible.
What if your kids aren’t old enough or able to help? I follow the same format. I pick everything up off the floor in the “community” rooms and put it all in a laundry basket. To spare me from walking back and forth to the pile repeatedly, I carry it with me room to room, dropping off the items that belong there. Then I close the door! You can get to the room later, I promise.
Much Mommy love, Mommy Mentor CurlyQ
What helps you clean up quickly? Let us know below or on our facebook page.
If you ever see any egregious typos in any of our articles, please let us know! We’re probably typing with our toes because we’re nursing babies, wrestling a wild toddler, and having a cup of coffee. Thanks for your understanding and help!
As always, here is my have-mercy-on-me disclaimer. Thank you!