Strategies for Keeping Your Home Tidy with Children

Strategies for Keeping Your Home Tidy with Children
From a child-centred perspective, there are two important things to bear in mind when organising your home. 

Firstly, children can start to help you to tidy their toys away from about the age of 18 months - 2 years. Before that, you’re on your own, and after that, you’re on your own but ‘assisted’ by a really incompetent helper until they reach about 8 - 10 years. After that, you’re still on your own in setting expected tidiness and cleanliness standards, but you can expect more support in keeping it to those standards.

Secondly, nobody is happy in a household where parents have to run around after children, telling them ‘no’ and taking things away from them that they shouldn’t be playing with. Organising your home so that there’s nothing in sight or within easy reach that they can’t have will reduce the number of battles you have to experience on any given day.

Here are ways to organise your home with both of those issues considered.

1. Declutter

If you’re terribly organised, you could do this during pregnancy in anticipation of the changes ahead. If it’s too late for that, and it’s all been a huge shock to you that such small humans can create so much mess and own so much stuff, you’re going to have to do this the hard way.

Decluttering with young children
We could say, “Take some time in the evenings, when the children are in bed, to do this,” but anybody who has actually had children knows that evenings are when your children want your attention the most and are desperate to ask you deep and meaningful questions. It’s also when you just want to stare at the TV or sleep.

So instead, if you have anyone who can watch the children for a few hours for you, take an afternoon to blitz the house. We don’t recommend trying to declutter when you have children in the house - there’s a well-known saying that cleaning with children in the house is like brushing your teeth while eating Oreos.

‘Blitzing the house’ means getting rid (recycling, selling, donating) of old or unused clothes (you’ll mostly be wearing jeans and t-shirts now you’re a parent anyway) and putting away anything children seem drawn to because of their potential for danger (glass picture frames, cables, heavy ornaments). You could store anything you want to keep to bring back into your home when your children are a little older. 

Pop anything you’re keeping in lidded, labelled boxes in your loft or spare room, or rent a storage unit, and it can be like an Aladdin’s Cave to be rediscovered when your children are much less prone to getting into life-threatening situations.

If your children have toys that they no longer play with, you could store them in case you have more children, donate them to your local playgroup, or sell them. If your children are aware of what they own and are likely to miss those belongings, don’t do this behind their backs. Involve them in the decision to give away the toys to ‘children who don’t have nice things’ or to sell them to raise money for a special treat or more toys. This will teach them either the value of compassion or the nature of capitalism.

Decluttering with older children and teenagers
They will hate this, but you’re going to need their help. They can be responsible for trying on and giving you any clothes that no longer fit or that have holes or stains and handing over any toys or games they’re no longer interested in.

They can also help you put things in storage boxes, organise your self-storage unit, or sell things online (for a percentage of the profits, perhaps?).

Decluttering will never end
Know this: your home may be decluttered to the point where you do not have to chase your child around telling them that they can’t have such-and-such. It may be decluttered to the point where your teenagers can see their floors. But it will not stay that way.

Clutter creeps in. People (including you) buy children things all the time. Your house will fill up. Maybe try for a ‘one in, one out’ policy on clothing or toys? Or have regular clear-outs before birthdays and Christmases to make room for a likely influx of new stuff.

2. Have “A System” and make sure everyone knows it

Your system needs to be workable and reasonable. Don’t set your sights too high - don’t expect your children to painstakingly put all their felt tips back into the pack in the correct colour order, you’ll just be constantly disappointed and annoyed. 

It’s not unreasonable to teach young children that before they can get a toy out, they must put away the one they were already playing with. If that’s the system, make it a hard and fast rule that everyone follows so that the children learn this clear boundary, and make it easy to accomplish - use toy storage that is easy for the children to use.

Easy toy storage ideas include having large baskets along one wall of your sitting room. Make sure your children can reach them, and encourage them to keep toys together with other toys that are similar - e.g. all action figures in one basket, all soft toys in another, and all board games in a third.

There are loads of child-friendly storage ideas - in IKEA, for instance, their TROFAST storage units have large plastic bins that are kept tidy in a frame that’s the right height for children to reach. 

You can extend this notion that everything has its own place in the house (where it can be stored safely, and everyone can find it) to the rest of your house. As your children get older, they can help you put the dishes away in the correct cupboards, and maybe do something innovative and put a new roll of toilet paper on the holder every so often.

Young children might benefit from having labels (words or pictures, depending on their stage of development) on boxes and cupboard doors to show them what is kept where. 

If your children learn that it’s just part of ordinary life to put something away in the correct place, they can put this into practice and help you to keep your home organised.

3. Have a tidying and cleaning schedule

If you have older children, you’ll unlikely have a full set of crockery and cutlery in your kitchen. Much of it will be festering somewhere in their room. Before it learns to walk down on its own, establish a weekly amnesty wherein your children can bring down whatever’s in their room that should be somewhere else without consequence or judgment. Not much judgement, anyway. This will include crockery and cutlery, and it also might include dirty laundry, your missing laptop charger, and perhaps some of your clothes, who knows. 

To make this a bit more manageable, you could install a basket in each bedroom for things to be brought down - call it the amnesty bin or something. This will teach your children to recognise when things are out of place, which could then extend to expecting them to notice that they’ve left things like their hoodie or spare headphones in the kitchen and take them back to where they belong.

You could have a whiteboard in your kitchen or other central room in the house with a table of days of the week along the top and everyone’s names down the side. Give each child (and adult) a job to do on however many days of the week you think is reasonable. For instance, your teenager could be expected to change their bed every Monday, vacuum the house every Wednesday, and put away their laundry every Friday. Your younger child could be expected to help you wash the dishes every Tuesday.

4. Make full and flexible use of storage

For an easy life, thinking creatively about how everything is stored in your home is important. People tend to get a bit hung up on the idea of where things should be in a home - toys “should” be in a child’s bedroom, for instance, and clothes “should” be in wardrobes. All bets are off when you have children, and frankly you should only store things in the rooms where they are most often used. 

For instance, if your children are still in nappies and need changing regularly, install a chest of drawers in your living room (where you’ll no doubt spend most of your time with them) and keep their fresh clothes, nappies, wipes, etc. in there for whenever they’re needed. No more traipsing up and down the stairs every time there’s a poo-nami!

Keep your children’s toys where they play with them - above, we mentioned keeping baskets for their toys in your living room, assuming they play downstairs with or near you. Their bedrooms need to be kept as calm and non-stimulating as possible if you want them to actually sleep in there. (Disclaimer: keeping your child’s room calm and non-stimulating is not guaranteed to make them sleep.)

If you want your children to hang up their coats and put away their shoes when they come home, install coat hooks, they can reach and shoe storage baskets or bins that they can’t miss when they throw footwear at them.

5. Using storage to keep the house tidy and functional

Having practical, accessible storage for toys (and books, games, colouring things, rocks they want to keep, etc) is useful for keeping your house tidy. For a truly organised home, you’ll also need to sort long-term storage for the belongings you don’t use anymore because:
  • You no longer have the opportunity to use them, or
  • They serve no real function other than to collect dust or
  • They pose a risk to your child, or
  • You don’t want them to be broken or made sticky.
You’ll also have seasonal belongings like Christmas decorations, rolls of birthday wrapping paper, camping gear, sports equipment, winter clothes, and more shoes and boots than is fathomable. These things can’t be thrown away because they’re used every year. 

You could reasonably recycle/donate/sell your children’s seasonal clothing and footwear after winter on the basis that they will probably have grown by next year, but you might use that clothing for younger siblings and growth spurts are not guaranteed within a calendar year. It’s worth waiting until next season before you decide to dispose of anything like that.  

This seasonal gear can be stored out of the way by vacuum packing fabric things like clothes, duvets and blankets and storing them under beds or on top of wardrobes. Other items could be stored in your loft or shed. Or you could rent a self storage unit with us for a few weeks or months and make your home feel less like a storage unit; you’ll have more room for the things you use daily and be able to find things quicker and easier.

If you think self storage could help you to organise your family home, our friendly team can give no-obligation advice or information about your nearest Safestore and the size and cost of renting self storage units with us. Give us a call or chat with us online when you get a minute to yourself, and we’ll do our best to help.

Finally, always remember that your children will eventually grow up and leave home. You’ll have years where you can live in a tidy, clean home that’s up to showhome standards. For now, if you have a choice between tidying and spending time with your children - always choose the latter. Dust if you must, as the poem by Rose Milligan goes, but your children will remember messy days in the park or flour flying everywhere in the kitchen with more fondness than a spotless home.  

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