Not The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. I think I reserved that at the library back in 2015 when everyone on the Internet was Kondo-ing their collective minds out, but I forgot to pick it up and the library waits for no man. Or mom.
No, I read a book called Simplicity Parenting, and that was the beginning of something.
I've never been a hoarder. In fact, I've always been more likely to throw things away than hang onto them. I've always hated clutter and loved big, empty space.
But with 6 kids, it just kind of happens. First there's one stuffed animal in the bed, then five, and one day you go in there and realize that the top bunk is in danger of collapsing under the weight of hundreds of plush figures. They bring home party favors. People give gifts.
And even though I'm sort of a minimalist, I also hate wasting anything. So what if that car doesn't have any wheels left? The kids still play with it. Bits and pieces of craft materials will still get used.
I also hesitate to throw things out because I'm no stranger to the way my kids play: anything can become a part of their game. So when I cut something out of felt, the scraps became rugs for their dolls and disappeared into their room.
Basically, my children are ferrets.
But when I picked up Simplicity Parenting, and I realized that it was taking my kids forever to clean their rooms at night, and that I was just going around picking things up all day long, I decided to change things.
Their rooms were not packed to overflowing, but I went through each and every toy, book, marker, and game. Room by room, I've been either trashing or donating ⅓ of its contents since November. (I do move some toys to the attic to rotate back to their rooms sometime in the future.)
Basically, I follow a simple 3-step process:
Step 1: Remove everything. Literally take everything out of the closets and shelves and put it on the floor. Yes, this means it gets much worse before it gets better.
|Your husband will definitely choose this moment to walk by and passively-aggressively thank you for tidying up.|
Do not skip this step. Throwing it all in a pile on the floor means:
- You'll be forced to finish this job instead of giving up and watching Netflix halfway through.
- It becomes MORE WORK to put something back in the closet/cabinet/room than to get rid of it. If you do this, only stuff you really, truly want will go back in.
- You can clean the nasty shelves that have been accumulating crumbs and hair and dust and all other sorts of unholy things when you weren't looking.
Step 2: Sort it into piles. My patented four-pile system is:
- Trash - crumpled sketches of who knows what. Action figures without heads. Pop up books that have been destroyed by grabby baby hands. Random pieces of plastic that serve no purpose. Why is there so much random plastic??
- Donate - toys that only do one thing and don't entertain for long. Things you always pick up but rarely see played with. Picture books you've always secretly hated. (I was riding the high of giving away Barbie and the Secret Door for days.)
- Move to Somewhere Else - I still want it, I'm just keeping it in a dumb place. Like the misspelled "MOMY" bracelet from my preschooler in my jewelry box (it was supposed to say 'mommy.') It's cute and I want to keep it, but not to wear on a regular basis so it shouldn't go with my everyday jewelry.
- Keep - once all the other piles have been taken care of, I usually go through the 'keep' pile one more time. Then I start organizing everything left and putting it in its new home.
Step 3: Force everyone to admire your work. Really. Stop everybody in the house from what they're doing and tell them to go appreciate it. Don't let them leave until they sufficiently do. If they don't adequately comment on what an amazing transformation this is, physically point their face toward the newly organized space and yell, "LOOK AT IT!!"
Once I started doing this in every room of the house, a few interesting things started to happen.
First, the kids actually started playing with the stuff they have. When the shelves in our dining room/craft area were crammed with kits to make-your-own-everything, they used none of them. They didn't even know they were there.
Once we got rid of all but one or two, they rediscovered them. I used to think my kids weren't crafters; now I think they were just overwhelmed.
The second thing was that their rooms stayed clean. Before, it was always a disaster so they wouldn't even bother cleaning up after themselves, because really, what was the point? I couldn't blame them.
With less stuff, it only takes 5 minutes for the whole room. Sometimes, they even clean up without even being asked (the older ones, anyway.) And by the way, this is the kind of claim I'd previously read and yell "Liar!" while chucking a boot at the screen. But it's true.
Having seen this with my own eyes, I don't hesitate now to be very selective in the things that enter my home and very liberal in getting rid of things that are already inside it. And next time our stuff starts multiplying on its own as stuff always does, I'll know exactly what to do about it.