House too small? Messes too big? How can a stay-at-home mom bring some order to that chaos while caring for active children? With my own six children, I’ve learned the following seven “T” tips for decluttering.
First, tackle only one room—or part of one room—at a time. Organizing the entire house can be overwhelming, so start with just one bedroom or the kitchen. If even that’s too daunting, work on one closet today or sort through one drawer.
Time yourself. Yes, I literally mean set a timer. If you want to organize a bookshelf or clean off your desk, you could dawdle and take all week. But if you allow yourself just 30 minutes until the timer rings, you’ll hustle and probably get the same amount of work accomplished. I suggest 3-5 minutes (the length of one song) to motivate children to pick up their LEGOs or cars; it truly keeps them on track.
Take pictures. Much of what I hold onto are mementos, arts and crafts, and school papers my children have created. I fear throwing things away, maybe because I’m afraid I’m also throwing away the precious memories. When faced with piles of papers, take pictures of the most special items and then you’ll feel better about throwing them away. Once you take the photos, remember to transfer them to your computer, cloud storage, or a flash drive for safe keeping.
Quick clean up at meal times. What if you’d have the kids do a quick clean up three times each day? While you prepare meals, ask your child to clean up their toys and books on the floors and the tabletops. Decluttering small messes is more doable, especially for children, than a week’s worth of straightening.
Train your children. Admittedly it takes longer to teach your toddler to pick up his toys than it does to do it yourself—the first time. But if you gradually train your children to keep the chaos under control, you will hand yourself so much time in the long run. After all, the kids contribute to the mess so they should help clean up, too! For instance, today I began to teach my 8-year old how I want him to unload the dishwasher. It took twice as long as if I had unloaded it, but I’m committed to teaching him until he learns it to my satisfaction. It’s an investment in the long term.
Track the tasks. If you assign cleaning jobs to each of your kids, follow through to make sure they accomplish the work. In our family, I give each child a daily chore for an entire month: sweeping floors, doing laundry, restocker (i.e., replacing toilet paper and tissue boxes throughout the house, filling up the dog’s food container), and kitchen assistant. It’s easy to know if a child isn’t doing his job well after just a week—the floors get dirty and there aren’t clean clothes. Other families I know keep chore charts to track finished tasks.
Think about sorting into categories. Faced with a cross-country move, I knew it was time for a major junk overhaul. As I worked through each room and closet, I sorted items four categories: move, store, throw away, and donate. The result? I reduced our possessions (and clutter) by 50% because I removed items in the latter two categories from our house. It simplified our living and it felt so good. Haven’t worn it in a year? Give it away. Haven’t read it in a year? Sell it. You can always find another one if you really need it.
Taming the mess is an ongoing challenge. Breaking it into “T’s” gives me hope. Adopt one tip into your lifestyle to work toward a more organized home.