Let me start off by confessing that I’m naturally a slob, more specifically that if I have no clear and convenient place to put something, I will put it anywhere. Knowing this tendency, I take a very thorough, meticulous, my wife would say tedious, approach to cleaning. I went room-by-room this summer and sorted everything—I mean everything—by kind, and tried to figure out what would be the best place for each growing collection, instead of stuffing it out of sight.
I suppose there’s something KonMari-like about this approach, although I can’t tell you really what KonMari is, and I don’t talk to my stuff. What I do know is that kids also enjoy the aesthetic pleasure of order and beauty, and kids like clear information (like where stuff belongs), and it’s easier to get kids to clean up if it’s easy for them to do it.
That means making some decisions about toys. My two-year-old has acquired all of her older brother’s knickknacks and then some, and there’s no way she plays with all of them—or even takes interest in most of them most of the time. In fact, some of the toys were still stashed away in taped-up boxes. In laying them all out, I figured the toys I wanted her to get to most readily on a regular basis were the blocks—we had wooden blocks, foam blocks, and Duplo blocks—so I put those in open bins.
Also in open bins were all the small figurines and all the toy vehicles. JB loves dumping these bins out and handling them but can also clean up after herself, even distinguishing that the blocks go in certain bins and the toy cars go in a different one. You can also see in the picture above bigger containers of soft toys, outdoors-y toys, and bigger, more complicated toys (like remote-controlled cars and helicopters).
I also collected a bunch of toys to give away, including all the Play-Doh and Play-Doh accessories, which are just frustrating to play with and even more frustrating to clean up.
Everything else got sequestered into boxes and shelves that, visually, were less accessible.
A – I have large boxes for sets of specific toys, like Legos, trains and train tracks, marble runs, magic tricks, and floor puzzles. This helps to ensure that when one of the kids wants to play with these things that they get the whole set of stuff, and they put it all back before moving on to anything else. One particular box is labeled “Curiosities” and becomes a catchall for homeless gewgaws.
B – Art supplies. Biggie is really into papercraft right now, and it helps that I can say to him, “Take all your scraps of origami and put it in the origami drawer.”
C – I have boxes of recycled materials: magazines, newspapers, bubble wrap, tins and containers. Ideally, I don’t want this stuff in boxes but in big accessible bins that we can go to for projects, but we’re not there yet, and I have to be careful not to collect “trash” beyond what my wife and mother-in-law can tolerate.
D – A shelf of puzzles. I haven’t used this shelf much, yet, but I hope it can come in handy as a go-to for quiet activities.
The lower floor has a storage room, laundry room, and two bedrooms but is otherwise a large open space. I divided that space in half; the area that opens to the outside (E) is a play area that JB tends to occupy; and there’s a larger work area that has books, table, and computer.
A – Adjustable table from Ikea.
B – I put a few prominent canisters of pencils and pens in strategic places throughout the house. Every major space needs 1) a trash can and 2) a can of pencils and pens.
C – Both the upper and lower floors have catchall baskets for 1) books and 2) anything else. Putting a random thing you found in a catchall basket is a reasonable cleanup request, and once a week (or two or three) I empty out the baskets and make sure everything goes back to its place. Lest I forget, I have an Evernote list of where everything goes.
D – Got a few tall bookshelves on the cheap on Craigslist. I started off sorting out my books very systematically but with so many books and not enough space, I pretty much gave up. I do have specific shelves, though, for just the kids.
And, of course, you need a computer. We were fortunate enough to inherit an extra one from my father-in-law.
As you can see, it is not immaculate, by far. There’s still messes and piles I have to work through, and I wish I had an extra week and a pile of cash, but what’s there so far makes some sense to me. Cleaning, sorting, and organizing has also helped me develop a stronger sense of control over the anxiety I was feeling about this new stage of my life, and it was akin to something I did before every school year.