Some of the most common questions that professional organisers get asked are around how to keep on top of clutter and keep a semblance of an organised home when you have small children. In this post, Rebecca Caution of Conscious Space Professional Organising shares her top tips on how, with a little bit of effort, it really is possible to do so.
When it comes to maintaining an organised home with small children as inhabitants, take inspiration from the Montessori approach. Montessori is a method of education based on self-directed activity, hands-on learning and collaborative play. In Montessori nurseries and schools, children make choices in their own learning, whilst staff and classroom set-up guide the process, developing independence and encouraging creativity from a young age. But what does this look like day-to-day in the home?
Children learn through repetition, so putting in place routines which allow them responsibility for getting themselves ready each day will be effort rewarded with less stressful mornings. Consider affixing a hook for each child – at their level – in your hallway or by your front door. Coats and bags can live here, so that each morning your children can grab them as they leave, and each afternoon return them there. Likewise, shoes – along with seasonal accessories, such as gloves and scarves or sun hats and sunglasses – can be kept in an easily-accessible container under the sofa. My children love having their own special hooks and even though the 17-month old can’t quite put her coat and bag on herself just yet, she has a clear sense of pride at being able to get them herself when she knows it’s time to leave.
Similarly, child-friendly cutlery, crockery, baking equipment and lunch containers can also be kept in a place which your children can reach. Once items are within easy reach, rituals can be established around accessing plates and bowls for each meal and returning items to the sink or dishwasher afterwards. In our home, cereals, fruit and healthy snacks are also accessible, so our Reception-aged son can prepare his own breakfast and the toddler can pull out whichever cereal she chooses each day. It may take a little time and repetition to get children to return items to the same place, but it is worth it to see the self-esteem it builds when they are allowed to do these things for themselves.
Our consumerist culture would have us believe that the arrival of a child in our homes is synonymous with the sudden necessity for a multitude of items we never before considered we would need (clue: we don’t). And the bombardment of daily marketing plying parents and children with messaging that they “need” this-that-and-the-other just carries on from there.
Whether you store and rotate toys, or simply make a commitment to have fewer to play with, the benefits are numerous: it’s quicker and easier to tidy up; it fosters far more creativity; children play better and for longer with what they do have.
Store toys which are most loved and are played with daily in open baskets. If baskets aren’t your thing, use other easy-to-access open containers which you like the look of, such as a shelving unit, canvas bags on hooks or felt boxes – especially if this is in your living space. That way, you can feel satisfied each evening that all toys are tidied away without having the eyesore of plastic boxes encroaching on your limited child-free time.
Store toys by type (cars, soft toys, dolls, building blocks, dressing up clothes), by colour or a different way each time – whatever works because any method of distinguishing toys means it’s simple to make tidying up a game and get even the very youngest of children involved. Think like Mary Poppins: “In every job that must be done, there is an element of fun. You find the fun and – SNAP – the job’s a game.” Those with the musical ability of Mary Poppins can come up with a catchy tidying-up song too. The rest of us can find one on Spotify.
Another Montessori-lesson is to store toys and books in bedrooms on easy-to-reach shelving, with as few items in each space as possible, and then to encourage your children to return an item before another is selected. This allows easy child-led tidying and also leads to more focused play rather than the over-stimulation that can come from having access to too many toys at once. When everything is visible, it becomes very easy to assess which toys are getting regular use and which have been outgrown, at which point you can decide with your children whether it’s time to rotate, or to pass some things on to someone else who might like to play with them. When this is part of family conversation and encouraged from a young age, children become less attached to a multitude of items and really value the chance to be able to share toys which they have outgrown with someone who might be less fortunate than they are.
These small and simple changes can really make a difference to a household. You will notice all the wonderful benefits of having a tidier and more ordered home: more time, less stress, clearer focus. Perhaps more importantly, you’ll also notice the pride and joy it gives small children to have a little bit of independence; to take responsibility for their own possessions and daily chores; to focus and play when they have fewer toys to choose from; to truly value those that they do have; as well as gaining an understanding of the value of being able to share their good fortune with others. What could be a better pay off than that?
If Rebecca’s advice has inspired you to get your family more organised, you can find your local professional organiser here.