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Monday, August 16, 2010

shoveling: on toys and picking up

A wise woman once said:

“Trying to keep your house clean with children around is like shoveling during a blizzard”

What is the point, right?

I like neat though. I am what I like to call an organized packrat. Sure I have my pink heart covered diary from the 3rd grade, but I know where it is, and that, in my mind, makes it ok to keep.

I find messy houses too chaotic. I can’t think. I can’t feel peaceful. If I want to put my feet up with a cup of tea and a magazine (umm, when the kids are asleep?) I have to pick up first. Kind of nuts-o like that. I need order to feel sane.

But with two children now dumping toys around the house this can be challenging.

(As I type my dear 3 year old says to me, “mama, I want to play a game. The game is dump all these toys out of the basket and then play with them.” Sigh. Okay….DUMP)

The battle that ensues when one tries to get a child to pick up toys is almost, ALMOST, not worth it. Then after this hour long “Lets-sing-the-pick-up-song” schtick results in all of the Duplos finally back in their green plastic container babydear of course comes by and, you guessed it…DUMP.

So. What is a mommy to do?

I have found two effective tactics.

One, I try to limit the toys that are out. I choose the good looking, pretty, colorful toys to display in my living room, nicely, on shelves. I read once somewhere that kids don’t feel motivated to take care of and pick up toys that are ugly (some of those action figures out there!) or broken. Pretty things that have their place encourage play and encourage putting them away.

Doll babies go in the cradle. “Night night baby.”

Cars and firetrucks get parked on the bottom shelf “Brrooom…lets put the trucks away!”

Blocks get stacked on the shelf, baby toys like rattles get put in their separate bin.

Etc. etc.

Downstairs I do the same. This red bin for toy cars. That bin for trains. This bin for Rescue Hero guys. Etc.

Each play area gets a bin or basket for random odds and ends that occur. Then, this is key, every few weeks I rummage through the odds and ends basket/bin and take out stuff that doesn’t get played with and into the garbage bag it goes. I do the same with the bigger toys. If the kids haven’t been playing with this or that collection of blocks or that truck into the bag it goes. No, I am not heartless, I don’t throw the bags away, they get stuck at the back of the closet. Then, when little man comments how he wishes he had a plane/stuffed dog/whatever VOILA I pull it out of a bag. “Wow mom! Thanks!” Fewer toys to pick up at the end of the day and you get to be a hero!

Obviously this tactic may not last when they get old enough to track their toys. But for now it works perfectly.

Each kid also has a few spots for those treasured items like Ironman action figures, superhero masks, and marbles. Babydear has a basket at the foot of her tiny bed that she uses for naptime with stuffed animals, a favorite book, and a babydoll or two. Little man has a shoebox on top of his dresser with items he doesn’t want sister to get. They also each have little backpacks that old a collection of things like matchbox cars and shaky rattles, etc.

Having special spots for these things makes your kid actually treasure their treasures and it also makes life easier for you. If I find Ironman hanging out underneath the pillows on the couch (he likes to hide from little sister person who tends to chew on him) I just put him back in the treasure shoe box, knowing little man will be able to find him there tomorrow, safe and sound. Same goes for super hero cape and other must haves of my child’s daily play.

Let’s face it. How many hours have you spent tracking down the missing puzzle piece that little one discovers is missing and freaks out about…TOO MANY. I have better things to do than to search the house from top to bottom for the missing wheel to the Lego car (showering, for example, but I digress).

So that is one tactic, having a place for your kids stuff and keeping it all pleasant looking.

The other tactic is to limit the amount of time you spend picking up. I have made myself crazy before I had this revelation, literally following my child from play zone to play zone yelping about picking up and then just doing it myself.

This is tiring.

Picking up after your children ALL EFFING DAY is like….its like…I can’t think of an appropriate analogy to relay the pain of this but it is mind numbingly frustrating.

I try to limit myself. My living room is currently in shambles (remember “DUMP!” Yea, he still hasn’t picked that up) I let them go to town during my morning “sitting-on-my-ass-drinking-coffee” time slot, which may last 15 minutes or 2 hours, depending on my mood. As we leave for another “zone” to say, go downstairs and throw in laundry, knowing that my children are going to follow me and start tearing into the downstairs toys I make them pick up, or before lunch or whenever we move on to the next thing.

During quiet time (which little sister is currently refusing) little man hangs out in his room and I, after getting baby to sleep, pick up the house, sweep from lunch, etc. Little man then is in charge of picking up his room from whatever devastation he inflicted on it during quiet time (quiet time for him usually means shut the door to his room and go to town).

During dinner prep time/waiting for daddy I also let things go. But then we have our grand “picking up for daddy” time around 30 minutes before the grand (blessed) entrance of dada. That may sound corny (very June of me) but picking up before daddy came home was a thing my mom did that I now realize is really an excuse to get the house neat for the evening of dinner and etc. leading to (hopefully an early) bedtime.

I confess, I really need to work on getting my children to partake in this effort. It is much easier to do it oneself. And then when they do help it is very difficult to restrain oneself from putting the Legos in the Lego box instead of the toy bin where the kids threw them “helping.” In any case. They will learn. Someday. Right?

In the meanwhile…those are my tactics to keeping things sane.

1) pretty and organized playthings
2) limiting pick up to a few times a day

Another word re toys, hmmm…well, this may deserve another post. In fact, I think it does. More on pretty, simple toys (and my favorites) later.

So, wise women, what do you have to add?

*I have no idea who said this but she was very very wise. I stole it from a friends status update on Facebook. Shout out to Alexa!


  1. Oh, the Battle of the Clutter!!! I hate clutter--it makes me feel edgy. It always seems like I'm trying desperately to stem the tide of crap that continually flows into the house. I used 12x12 bins for the longest time, but I'm only now realizing that the kids never really played w the stuff in them bc they couldn't see to the bottom. They dislike a jumble as much as I do.

    Now that we're lucky enough to actually have shelves in the basement, the puzzles, toys, etc. have a nice neat place to sit out and they are played with then put away. I do need some bins, but I'm switching to smaller ones, like you mentioned. Each basket has a limited number of items and a specific purpose...and a label...from my label maker...because it soothes my OCD soul. ;-) I'm also going to try adding a picture to the front to help my 4-year-old know what goes in which container. I replaced a book bin with a reading nook in the family room with some shelves and a beanbag, and my daughter frequently escapes there.

    I will say this--now that mine are 7 and 4, they're much better about picking up. So all the hard work and training in the early years will pay off eventually! (Then I remember the Level-5-tornado-disaster that was my room in high school, and I shudder at the upcoming possibilities...)


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