I’m sure your kids are just as clean, neat and organized as mine are, right? Ha! Just like everyone else, I suffer from nonstop annoyance over all my kids’ stuff. They have so much. Toys here, there and everywhere, seemingly reproducing overnight. I put it all away in the evening and the next morning it magically reappears in almost the same place, as if it came alive around midnight and decided to mess with me.
Is it a kid conspiracy? Are they collectively trying to drive us parents crazy? Not sure I really want to know the answer to that, but in the meantime (between today and the day they head off to college), I had to find some solutions.
1. SWAP CLOSETS: I made the big step of taking all the clothes out of my kids’ closets. With those nice bars and little shelves and taller shelves up top, it seemed wasteful to hang shirts and slacks there when I could be shoving away Legos, blocks and every “Star Wars” film ever made, along with billions of Matchbox cars and 17 light sabers. After an honest assessment of what my children actually wear, I donated more than half to Goodwill and put the remainder into a shared hall closet — half for her and half for him — and all was well with the universe. (Helps for laundry day, too.)
Quick Tip: Kids actually love this idea. Who wouldn’t really? All of their toys in easy reach instead of boring clothes? It’s so great, that you can always threaten to move the clothes back if they start making messes again. That should do the trick.
2. THINK LIKE A KID: You know they will grab the blocks, then head back for Legos, and then return for the game of Life. So with that in mind, set the stage: Midsize bins or baskets are ideal for these sorts of toys. Line them up along the bottom of the closet, one for blocks, one for games, and so on. Anticipate that it won’t stay neat forever (or even for a day), but accept it, know they are stored away from view, and move on.
Quick Tip: Take a picture or two of how it looks when it’s pristine. Tape those pictures to the bins or doors and your kids might even try to mimic it. At the very least you can always say something like “Hey, go make your toys look like the pictures please.” Worth a shot.
3. OUT AND IN: Make a hard and fast rule that anytime something new comes into the house, two things must leave the closet. Yes, it’s two-for-one time. This simple rule solves so many problems. First, when strolling the aisles at Target and your kids start the “but all my friends have it” begging ritual, you can remind them of the rule and they'll usually stop. Second, when they do get something, it’s so interesting to watch them pick the two items from their closet that they have now deemed unworthy. Within a few years you should have a complete turnover of the old toys and be left with a few choice important ones. Those will be easier for them to pack when they head off to college.
Quick Tip: Consider massive purging before Christmas and at spring cleaning time. Tell them they have to pick a larger number, like 10 or more, to be donated to charities of their choosing. Take them along when you donate and start instilling a lifelong appreciation of helping others.