Help Kids Keep Their Messes Under Control: Simplify


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Most days it seems that my kids leave a never-ending trail of messes as they go to and fro about the house.

With three (young) children who are not very aware of the trail they’ve left behind, and one mother who is overwhelmed by the tasks of keeping order in the home and training these children to pick up after themselves, something proactive needed to be done.

As I reflected on the situation, I noticed that these messes were often too complicated for my kids to easily sort through on their own. They could execute a single job (such as “put away the Uno game”), but they were not good at reducing a bigger mess into steps and then completing them.

The truth was, my kids were overwhelmed by their own messes.

I thought about what had helped me so much in my journey to becoming a better homemaker and home-manager. It came down to simplifying.

Through the process of reducing what I had in my home, I eventually arrived at a level of stuff I could stay on top of each day without feeling stressed. It was incredibly freeing for me!

Less stuff = less opportunity for chaos = less work to neaten it back up.

So, a few months ago, my husband and I decided to simplify our kids things as well (not for the first time, but as you may know, this requires maintenance).

We hoped they too could experience success in keeping their things picked up.

How to Help Kids Keep Their Messes Under Control: Reduce and Gate Their Stuff

Simplifying the Toys

We began by dumping all the toys into a large pile in the toy room. This included all their toys in every room. Each child then had the opportunity to choose 7 toys and place them in a basket. We put all other toys up and away in our garage. (They’ve been there for the past two months with an uncertain future.)

Our children were also allowed to keep their dress up clothes, legos, and books. Fortunately for them, they’ve all had birthday’s since this time, so their toy stash has multiplied a bit.

Nonetheless, this was an instant victory for everyone.

The toy mess is no longer able to get “out of hand” any more, which has two critical benefits:

  1. My husband and I feel less stress about the way our home looks and feels
  2. Our children can be held responsible for picking up their own toy messes because these now qualify as “kid-sized” messes that I know they can handle.

help kids stay neat and tidy

Was I concerned about depriving my kids of their toys?

Yes, I was. I mean, they already don’t have a TV or go to school outside the home. How could we reduce their toys so drastically?? Wouldn’t they be bored?

However, all my concerns proved needless. My kids are actually grateful that their messes are easier to clean up! They have fun with the toys available to them, which are their favorites, and they play games, read, and explore outside for hours a day. They also love to color and do crafts.

teach kids to clean up their messes

But speaking of crafts…

Simplifying the Craft Supplies

With the toy mess situation greatly improved, it was time to address another overwhelming mess-station in our home, our craft table.

My children have a small kids’ table. Beside it is a stack of plastic drawers containing paper galore, stickers, tape, scissors, colored pencils, crayons, markers.

Each day, to my delight, my children would sit down and create interesting artwork for long stretches of time.

However, to my chagrin, they would undoubtedly get up, leaving cut-up bits of paper, crayons, and all sorts of craft supplies covering the table and floor beneath them.

Although I frequently reminded them to clean up their mess before moving on, they responded with complaints, distraction, and “I’m too tired.”

And this was happening every single day, if not twice a day or even more!

As much as I loved that my kids were spending time busily creating, this was not working. They were being allowed to repeatedly make a mess that was overwhelming for them to clean up.

So, I applied the same tactic as with their toys.

I took the plastic drawers and rolled them into our office (a no-kid zone). I set a dish of crayons on their table and made a new rule. Each child could have one piece of paper per day, and that was it.

This created instant freedom and success! It lifted an burden from both my children and myself. Over a few weeks, we transitioned our “one paper policy” to include more craft supplies, but only with special permission and only with the promise that these would be cleaned up without complaint.

Miraculously, my kids even figured out how to control the mess as they work so it no longer becomes a complete craft-explosion! Simply by scaling back and setting clear-yet-doable expectations they were able to invent their own strategies for success.

I’d love to hear you chime in! What kid messes in your home cause you stress and how could you reduce the possibility for mess? Have you tried reducing or gating your kids’ stuff as a means to control the mess and chaos? How did you do it? How did it go?

Stay tuned for Part 2 of this series, coming next week!


Do you ever wonder how some women make running a home look so natural?

I certainly have!

However, after many years of watching my friends who do this well, and after much trial and error, I’ve boiled it all down to 3 essential daily habits. With these 3 habits in place, a home can function pretty well! Without them, it will be perpetual catchup.

While I used to feel like a failure as a homemaker, I know feel a sense of success and satisfaction.

I’d love to share these 3 simple (secret) daily habits with you. If you focus your energy into establishing them, I believe you will achieve the same breakthrough in your homemaking that I did.

Can I share my secrets with you?

New to this community? Start here, friend.

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Comments

  1. Jessica says:

    I love that my kids (ages 18 months to 7) have toys that alow them to be creative. Unfortunatly, these kinds of toys are usualy the messiest. We have three different kind of building blocks, car tracks, tool sets with nuts and bolts, doll accessories… the list goes on. I have tried sorting them and locking them in the closet to be taken out one at a time, but inevitably I end up with one big pile of mess after 2 or 3 weeks. Most of these toys are Christmas or Birthday gifts from grandparents so its hard to justify giving them away. But with 5 kids that all get their own gift, its gotten out of control! And storage space is a big issue as we dont have a garage or an attic. Any advice?

    • That is so hard Jessica. We actually don’t have a basement or attic either, and storage is tough (although our toys are currently in the garage). Do you think the grandparents would like to have some of the toy sets at their homes for the kids to play with when they come over? I am doing that with our train table and tracks. We need to make room for our new baby coming, and I also don’t want to get rid of a quality toy. (Plus, much of it was a gift from my parents). So I explained the situation and asked, and they agreed to keep it at their house. Another idea is to pack up whatever you can store, and wait a few months (no rotating to prevent what you described above). After a while, I bet you and your kids will see the toys with new eyes. It will become clear which one are truly missed and which ones simply are not. For me, this process has made me feel much more confident in what I have ultimately decided to part with.

  2. Michelle says:

    Thanks for sharing your experience with this. I’m frustrated every day by the messes my two girls leave. I’ve considered this tactic before, but I’m not sure how to make it work with my almost 2 year old. She’s not going to understand picking out her favorite toys. Also, how did you deal with toys that have many accessories? For example, my 4 year old loves her baby doll, but she would also want the crib, the chair, feeding supplies, diapers, etc. I definitely need to figure out these details before trying to implement this system. Thanks, again!

    • Michelle, such GREAT questions. I don’t have all the answers, but I can tell you what we’ve done. When my kids were around 2, I did something very similar, but I approached it differently. I selected the toys I felt fostered quality play time and the toys I had observed them playing with the most. The others I put away during nap time, and for my kids, they were never missed. Out of sight, out of mind! Of course, if they asked for something specific, I probably would’ve gotten it back for them. As far as the sets with multiple pieces, we actually didn’t accommodate for that this time around. They only chose 7 items, and if they wanted an accessory, it was included in this number (which felt super radical!). However, all those little pieces are a big source of mess. Of course you could do it differently or choose a different number of toys for your kiddos to keep depending on what you feel good about. I think any reduction will be a huge benefit!

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