Do I live in magazine-shoot-worthy home, full of neatly labeled bins and artfully arranged floral displays? No. And I’m glad. I am a mom of three beautiful 6-year-olds. I live in a house with stuffed animals, markers, glue, Legos, tutus, and love. And I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.
I reflected upon this recently when we had new floors put in our living room. To prepare for the work, we had to relocate everything in the room to other parts of the house. Josh and I seized this opportunity to do something we’d been wanting to do for awhile–put all the kids’ toys in their bedrooms. I was so excited about this! I thought, Finally, I won’t step on Legos or have to share my living space with a herd of plastic dinosaurs!
But what I found was quite the opposite of what I’d imagined. Yes, the Legos and dinos were out from underfoot, but my kids suddenly weren’t. They were on me, triple-teaming me while I made dinner, randomly asking “Mama, what can I do?”, and using the dreaded B-word…”I’m bored.”
What had happened to the trio who used to play independently while I cooked dinner or checked email? How had my 6-year-olds reverted to the habits of a few years ago, when I was basically their sole source of entertainment? Hadn’t we passed this stage?
As I pondered these questions, the answer became quite clear: by removing their toys from the main part of the home, I had removed part of their purpose, their “work,” the things they used to do while Josh and I did our work. My kids were not yet ready or willing to spend time alone in their rooms while the rest of life went on in the main room.
This led me to a whole new set of questions: Isn’t their play just as important as my cooking or writing? Don’t they deserve to live in a home that honors their kid-ness alongside our adult-ness? The answers were clear: Yes and Yes.
So I brought back the dinos.
I purchased this cube organizer, which I assembled for the better part of a Saturday morning, complete with plenty of cursing and a bruised palm from attempting to smack certain stubborn parts into place. (Yes, Dad, your home improvement style runs strong in me…) I assigned one cube for library books, another for library DVDs, and the rest for toys. Note: this is not the sum total of my kids’ toys. I chose toys they play with regularly that also lend themselves to bin housing (Legos, play food, wooden blocks, etc.). Larger, bulkier toys (dollhouses and train track sets, for example) are still in their rooms.
Bringing the toys back represents a few basic organizing principles that anyone could apply to their home:
- Assign homes: If you want to keep your stuff organized, it needs an obvious-as-possible home. This is especially true if you expect a kid to be able to put it away. Kids do not instinctively know where things go unless you make it clear for them. Saying “Clean up your toys” isn’t as effective as saying “Put the blocks back in their bin.” I recommend labeling with pictures. For my bins, I used clear luggage tags. I printed pictures of what should go in each bin, cut them to size, and slipped them inside the plastic. (Another, even easier trick: cut pictures directly from the toy packaging to put inside the tag.) My favorite part about using luggage tags is that you can easily swap out the pictures if you change the toys in the bin. This is great if you set up a toy rotation or when your kids outgrow the current toy and move on to something else.
- Set limits: Decide how much space you want to dedicate to this item and stick to it. This 8-cube organizer is the limit of the amount of toys I want in the living room. If the toys don’t fit in here, they need to find a new space in or out of my home. My kids and I can both understand this. It’s reasonable and clear to everyone.
- Your stuff should reflect your life NOW: Often, we keep items that reflect the life we used to live; for example, rustic camping equipment from that early-twenties backpacking phase, VHS tapes from childhood, or a variety of fancy stemware we thought we needed before we had kids and realized that keeping stemware around kids is like having a golden ticket to the ER. We also often keep items that reflect the life we think we might live in the future, such as boxes of china for as-yet-unscheduled fancy dinners, the weight bench that’s gathering dust in anticipation of our future exercise revolution, and the bins of baby clothes for grandchildren who probably won’t appear for a couple of decades. It’s not wrong to keep these things around, but if they’re taking up valuable space in your home, they’re actually preventing you from living your life NOW. (And news flash… that’s the only life any of us are really living…) The problem with my toy-less living room was that it did not reflect my life NOW. My kids actually still want to spend most of their time hanging out with their parents. They want to be around when we’re around. They aren’t ready to shut themselves away in their bedrooms with a KEEP OUT sign, blasting some type of music I’ll refer to as “infernal racket,” and writing bad poetry to express their tortured, complex emotions. Josh and I should rejoice to see Legos in the living room, because that means that, right now, our kids still like us.
So bring back the Legos. My feet can take it. Bring back the dinos. I’m ready to roar. My home is a professional organizer’s home, but more importantly, it is a mom’s home, a dad’s home, a home full of wild kids. And I wouldn’t want it any other way.
Rose Lounsbury is the Dayton, Ohio area’s up-and-coming professional organizer. After blogging about her own journey toward a minimalist lifestyle, Rose was inspired to start Less, a minimalist-minded professional organizing company. If you’d like Rose’s help with an organizing project at your home or office, please call her at 937-626-9030.