Picture this. You’ve just spent the last few hours tidying up the house while the kids are at school and you finally sit down to have a drink of water. You take a sip, let out a huge sigh of relief, and marvel at the wondrous sight of your squeaky-clean kitchen. “Nice work!” you say to yourself. Now, you just need to figure out a way to keep it like this even after your kids get home. Here are 5 tips to help you instill clutter free habits in your kids.
1. Bags up and lunchboxes open. I started this clutter free habit at the beginning of the school year and it’s been one of the easiest and best ways to save myself from tripping over my kids’ school stuff. I told my school-aged children that if they put their shoes away, hung their backpacks up, and opened their lunchboxes and placed them on the counter every day after school without me asking, they would each get fifty cents. It has worked like a charm. My kids had saved up enough money from doing this one thing every day that they were able to cash in their coins for dollar bills when we took a trip to the beach over spring break. Not only were they excited about being able to buy what they wanted but the daily “kerplunk” of the coins in their piggy banks was an auditory reminder of their hard work.
2. Placemats or bust. We do A LOT of crafts in my house. I’m not afraid of glitter and we use it often. We also have washable markers but get this, we have permanent Sharpie markers, too! I know. I’m a daring mom. But, I don’t worry about my counters anymore because my kids know – no placemat – no craft. I learned with my first child, mistakes happen and it’s a heck of a lot easier to clean off a placemat (or throw it away) than it is to cry over something that won’t come out of granite. My kids have made placemats somewhat of their calling card by picking out a new one each year that suits their individual personality.
3. Craft kit corner. My mom ordered the most adorable craft bags for my kids. They put all of the stuff they’re currently using in these bags and tote them around from place to place when they want to. It’s a cinch to clean up. When they’re done with whatever they’re using, they put everything back in their totes and hang them on their hooks. Each tote has their name on it so they know whose is who.
4. Operation pantry. Once upon a time, my pantry was unorganized; not with food but with my kids’ arts and crafts. I’d had enough one day and so I organized everything into bins with labels. My husband hung a couple of wire shelves and with a pep talk and a few incentives, I showed my kids exactly how I expected the pantry to look from that point on. It’s not perfect but it’s a lot better than how it used to be. My son has Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) so we have a lot of rice bins, bean bins, and sensory-type toys. Things like this can easily spill or become cumbersome because of the touch-and-feel type items they are. I knew I wanted to keep these things because they were helpful to my son but having them strewn about and finding beans in nooks in crannies in our house was stressing me out. I now have a system. My son knows that when he gets his sand bin out, he has to do it at a specific table on top of a placemat. He also knows he has to get the broom out and sweep (as best he can) up anything that has fallen on the floor. I’m not looking for perfection out of the cleanup process but rather, responsibility from him on what it means to be able to play with those types of things.
5. Stairway catch-all. The stairwell seems to be the catch-all for anything and everything that has been worn, played with, used, or doesn’t have a home. My kids know, that if there is something left out (not on the stairs) it gets donated or thrown away. Their responsibility is to put everything they find of theirs in a basket that I have put on one of the steps for them. This basket is big and flexible and one they can easily carry up to their rooms to help them put their things away. This basket serves so many purposes; it collects everything and my kids don’t have to make multiple trips up and down the stairs because they’re able to carry it all in one basket. They know to return the basket to the steps once it’s been emptied.
Creating clutter-free habits in our kids doesn’t have to be scary. Think of the things that you’re already doing every day and find a way to make them work for you and your family. Sometimes it just takes a minute or two of thinking, “How can I make this easier while allowing them to take responsibility?” I bet you’ll find that your kids actually like the way they feel when they claim ownership over their belongings. It’s a win-win for everyone.
Parenting journalist and author, Meagan Ruffing, encourages and equips other moms who may be feeling overwhelmed and lonely in the midst of parenting in her debut book, “I See You: Helping Moms Go from Overwhelmed to In Control.” Meagan talks about the challenges of living with a child who has behavioral disorders and talks candidly about her struggles with mom guilt. To read more about Meagan’s story and real-life parenting tips, visit her at www.meaganruffing.com.
Welcome to The Mom Project. For the next few weeks, we’ll be launching my book The Mom Project by hosting several mom friends who have tried it out for themselves. They read the book, completed a project from the book with their kids, and wrote all about it. And these are real moms. Busy moms. Unsure-of-themselves moms. Single moms. Special needs moms. Working moms. Stay-at-home moms. They do the hard working of mommyhood every day, and have found fun ways to connect with their kids in the simple activities found in The Mom Project. Read on to hear their experience:
Go outside. That’s the depth, height, and difficulty level of my activity for The Mom Project. And those two simple words are precisely why I love The Mom Project so much. Why? Because the simple task of spending intentional time with my children – of being present with them – works. It actually works! No extra time, fancy equipment, or expensive outings required. And that really appeals to a busy, budget-aware mom like me.
The plan was to go to the local park and do a scavenger hunt. As I drew scavenger hunt maps and started grabbing an extra this and a bonus that to make the experience extra-completely-perfect, I felt my shoulders tightening up. The kids were getting antsy for their lunch and dangerously close to naptime, so I knew I was about to miss my one-and-only window. And as a work-from-home mom, naptime is essential.
I suddenly remembered that the instructions for spending time with my kids were simply: “Go outside.” Go outside. So simple, and yet, as usual, I was trying to over complicate things to the point of discouragement. So we grabbed our less-than-perfect stuff and headed out the door.
We arrived at the small local park armed with our scavenger hunt maps. Once there, we met another family who was eager to join in on the fun. Together, the kids raced around, buckets in hand, searching for various nature items on the list: something purple, something soft, something lovely, etc. After all the items were collected, we huddled in a circle to examine our finds. As I held up each of the spring-fresh discoveries, ranging from flowers to sticks to pinecones, I interjected a few statements about God’s beautiful creation: “Did you know that we can see evidence of God everywhere we look? When we find something LOVELY, it points to its Maker, God.”
It was a fun time. We finished things off by making nature bracelets. I wrapped a strand of packing tape (sticky side out) around each little wrist, and set them off to attach bits of nature to their bracelets. After the excitement of the scavenger hunt, the kids were eager to set back off on the trail in search of more loot. The results were beautiful.
What I Learned
So what did I learn? Turns out, I’m the holdup. I get in my own way. Remember earlier in the day, when I was racing back and forth, packing the perfect items, trying to make the perfect day? Did you catch it? That problem word? Yep, that’s the word… “perfect.” By doing this simple project, I learned that my perfectionistic tendencies trip me up, discourage me, overwhelm me. Friends, I almost canceled the whole trip to the park! I was stressing myself to the max, when all I needed to do was “Go outside.”
My kids just want to spend time with me. The scavenger hunt didn’t need to be sketched in multi-colored markers with 3D relishes. I wasn’t required to do a scavenger hunt AND a treasure hunt AND a nature bracelet AND make a scrapbook of the experience the same day. Through this project, I learned to let less-than-perfect be enough.
This applies to all of life, too. Sometimes it seems as if I live my life waiting for the perfect moment…when all along, the moments are happening right in front of me. I just have to engage.
If you’re doing this activity with littles, think simple. It doesn’t have to be a Pinterest production. It really can just be a blanket on the ground outside for lunch instead of at the table. After all, who would’ve thought my kids could have fun in the same environment, with the same things they see on a daily basis? (They did.)
Apparently, The Mom Project is all about tweaking my everyday routine, just a tad. It’s about incorporating this purpose, this focus, this worshipful moment into what we’re already doing anyway. It’s about making the everyday mundane special. It really doesn’t take a major schedule overhaul – just focused effort on what’s already going on.
In my perfectionist tendencies, I’d always thought I needed to wait until I could “Martha Stewart” a project with my kids. Turns out, they don’t care what it is or how pretty it is. They just want me to show up. To be there. And to love them well.
It calls to mind our mandate for telling our children about God: “These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.”(Deut. 6:6-9, NIV) When should I be speaking about the saving, transforming power of Christ’s love in my life? When I have time? Nope. I never really will have that “perfect” time. It happens as we go: in the van, when I lay them down for nap, in the drive-thru, in the carline. Not when I finally have time to do it perfectly.
Ready for your chance to win a copy of The Mom Project? To be entered into the drawing, just comment on this post and you’ll be entered to win. *Only US readers are eligible to receive the free book.
When was the last time you had a conversation (I say that word with a chuckle because it may feel more like a daily lecture) with your child about them remembering to pick up after themselves? I bet it was not that long ago. I bet just this morning you had to remind your fourth grader to put her homework folder in her back pack instead of leaving it on the counter. Well I can tell you, there is really only one way to fix that problem and as simple as it is, it is probably the number one thing that ALL people struggle with. It is establishing good habits and routines.
Routines rock, really they are so awesome! Ha, I know you are thinking I’m nutty, but hear me out- routines are the brain’s way of feeling safe, at the same time functioning on auto-pilot. Routines mean the brain does not need to worry (the fight or flight response) because predictability is peaceful. Children especially need routines and the more fine-tuned we have our routines, the better the outcome for the child!
Here are some ways you can build in routines with your kids, that makes getting ready for school much easier.
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Declutter the entryway.
I make this a routine every afternoon when the kids come home from school. You know, when they come in, throw their backpacks and shoes by the door, sprint for the pantry for an afterschool snack, and you are there going through the sea of papers that just came in. That is a perfect time to start your afternoon routine of decluttering. Go through the mail, go through all papers, fliers, reminders, etc. that come home in the folders right then. Next, have the kids put the supplies out they will need for homework, and have them get busy. Then, when they are finished, their job is to return all homework to the backpacks and get that part ready for tomorrow.
Declutter the pantry.
Declutter the pantry so the kids can help make their own lunches. I started my girls making their own lunches right away. I wanted them to eat what I was preparing and knew if they helped prepare it, they were far more likely to eat it. I then needed to declutter the pantry of the enticing junk that I did not want them packing in their lunches like the chocolate, candy, packaged cakes and cookies. This is good in that you too will snack less often if it is just not there! Put the items they need to make their own lunches at their level so getting the good food is right within reach. Place the items like chips that you want to limit, at the top of the pantry.
Declutter their closets.
Declutter the closets with school approved clothes. Most schools these days have guidelines of what can and can’t be worn (if not it’s a uniform). My girls’ school has rules about straps on tops and dresses, lengths of shorts, no holes, etc. When you do it with your kids, it goes faster and you can show them ways to group their clothes that make it easier for getting ready in the morning. When the closet contains only (or almost only) the clothes that can be worn at school, it prevents any problems that could arise.
By involving your kids in the decluttering process, it will help make them more responsible with their things and have an easier time transitioning into adulthood if they have these routines down pat.
What are your best decluttering tips for before baby? Tell us in the comments below and we will randomly pick one commenter to receive “21 Ways to Connect with Your Kids” by Kathi Lipp and Cheri Gregory.
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Paula Tobey is founder of PheMOMenal Life Ministries a community for women to go get encouraged and equipped to be the best mom’s they can be to their children by living a healthy balanced life and by becoming all that God created them to be.
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