Inside: I see you drooling over ridiculously perfect homes. I’m here to tell you it’s impossible to be clutterfree with kids. Here are three reasons why.
I’m a hoarder.
Well, reformed hoarder that is. When I first became a mom, dirty dishes covered every inch of counter space. Wet laundry often sat in the washer, long forgotten about and turning moldy. Dog fur rolled across the floor like tumbleweeds in the wild west.
One day, walking in the brisk Wyoming spring with my newborn snuggled warmly in his baby carrier, I walked past a house that would inevitably change my life.
Old, broken toys, appliances and lawnmowers covered the front yard. To be frank, their mess appalled me.
Knowing most people keep things cleaner where others can see it, I immediately wondered what it was like inside. If someone would keep all sorts of junk in front of their house, surely the inside was packed to the gills.
For the kids living there, what it was like for them to grow up in a disorganized house? Would they learn to accept the dust, dirt, and vermin that come along with a cluttered home?
This set me on a four year (and going) journey to get my act in order and get rid of the clutter.
The problem with clutterfree
It is a noble goal to declutter your home and it’s something everyone should do.
Since the start of my decluttering journey, I spend less time looking for things, less time and money buying duplicates. I spend more time playing with my kids, more time working on personal pursuits and more time hanging out with friends.
I’m less stressed, less anxious, and more patient. But…
My home is not clutterfree.
On any given day, you will still find dirty dishes on the counter, dirty laundry that missed the basket, and some toys scattered across the playroom floor (or sandwiched in the couch cushions).
And get this: I’m happy to have this little bit of clutter in my life.
If you are one of the many moms who complain about the stress and anxiety caused by your home, listen up. Here are three reasons it is impossible to be clutterfree with kids.
Clutter free with kids is an impossible standard.
Every day, my oldest comes home from school. He’s 4, only in Pre-K, but the amount of paper, crafts and fundraiser info he comes home with is astounding.
Kids are constantly getting things, whether chintzy toys from a birthday party, coloring pages from school or a nature treasure they found outside.
My 4-year-old once came home with a squishy, yellow circle with 12 legs that looked like it had been dislocated from the toy it originally belonged to, rubbed deep in the dirt and passed through countless little hands.
Simply put, it’s gross. 🤢
I could’ve totally snatched it from his grubby little hand and promptly thrown it in the trash because it’s clutter, it’s gross, and it likely contains bodily fluids from an unidentified kid.
But you guys, his little face. He was so excited a friend gave him a special toy. He named it “squishy” and played with it for days.
As I write this, I wonder what happened with that little squishy. 🤔
If I find it, will I throw it out? Yes. Yes. 👏 I. 👏 Will! 👏 Will I feel guilty? Nope, not one bit. Will I promptly wash my hands afterward? You bet.
Because at this point, I haven’t seen him playing with it, so I know he wouldn’t miss it.
Let’s not focus so much on living clutterfree with kids that we throw out some of the joy of childhood.
Perfection is a myth.
Don’t strive for perfection. It’s a myth. It doesn’t exist. So when you set your goal as being completely clutterfree with kids, you set yourself up for the worst kind of failure.
I’m not talking about the failure that results because you put yourself out there and did something bold and courageous, thereby learning a ton in the process.
I’m talking about the kind of failure that leads to depression and anxiety. The kind of failure that sinks down internally and tells you you’re not a worthy human being.
You are worthy and amazing! Regardless of the state of your home, you are worthy!
Focusing solely on living clutterfree with kids misses the whole point.
One of the reasons most people fail in their attempt to declutter is they focus on the stuff. Focusing on getting rid of stuff is the wrong way to look at it. Instead…
Focus on the life you want, not the stuff you have.
If you were to sit down and dream up an ideal day with your kids, would it involve them sitting quietly on the sofa all prim and proper like?
I’m guessing not.
Instead, you probably would dream about a day filled with laughter and fun. You might dream about taking your kids to the playground, baking cookies with them or snuggling in bed reading on a lazy Saturday morning.
Guess what? None of those dreams require a perfect house.
On the contrary, many of the dreams you have for your kids might require your house getting messier than it already is. If you focus solely on living clutterfree with kids, you’re missing the whole point.
The point is not to have a house so clean, your kids feel afraid to breathe, let around run around in dress ups and build a fort with couch cushions.
The point is to have a house that is clean and organized enough so these fun messes are possible.
If you live amongst mountains of clutter, it’s difficult to make it through your daily routine, let alone doing something special with your kids. The goal is to remove enough clutter to give breathing space for fun to happen.
Your sanity is valuable
There is nothing wrong with having a clean house. It’s something I work towards every day. A clean house gives you the space to do all sorts of fun things.
Try doing a craft project with your kids on a kitchen table filled with dirty plates, papers, and magazines. Try reading to your kids on the couch while twisting your body around the laundry waiting to be folded. Try to keep your young toddler from choking if there are LEGO pieces scattered all. over. the. floor. 😫
Working towards clean and tidy is a good thing…until it’s not.
I hear stories of friends staying up late so they can have a clean kitchen at night. Or not being able to sleep if there’s still laundry to be folded.
I’m going to be real with you. Those are often the same friends who complain about being exhausted, stressed out and full of anxiety.
My son has never once complained about the pile of clutter that often morphs out of nowhere and slithers across our kitchen table. Is it a bad habit that he’s gotten used to shoving it aside so he can eat at the table? You bet. There is massive room for improvement.
But let’s not go to the opposite extreme that we deprive ourselves of the basics like SLEEP so we can have everything 100% in its place before we rest.
Don’t let a goal of having a clean slate for fun activities turn into a quest for perfection.
What you CAN do
While being clutterfree with kids isn’t a goal I want you to strive for, there is much you can do to improve the state of your home and the quality of your life.
#1: Throw out trash.
Whether it’s the pile of notices from your kids’ school that you no longer need or a squishy your kid brought home from school and no longer plays with, throw out things that add no value to your life.
Some things can go immediately in the trash. Others you might have to hang on to for a bit. Come up with a centralized location all papers can go where they will be held temporarily until the event passes.
When a notice comes from school, I add the date to my calendar. If it has detailed information, I’ll put the paper in a pile on my kitchen counter, right where I keep my keys and wallet.
At the beginning of the week, pull out the papers for the scheduled events. When they’re over, throw them in the trash.
#2: Get rid of excess toys
Are there any toys your kids no longer play with? Unless you live in a hut in the woods, I’m guessing the answer is yes.
Throw out any broken or dirty-beyond-cleaning toys. Donate or sell toys that are in good condition.
Here are two posts that will help you purge toys and learn how to what to do with old toys.
#3: Develop simple toy organization
Once you purge excess toys, it’s time to develop a simple toy organization system. I emphasize the word “simple” because we have all seen the pretty playroom organization inspiration that is completely unrealistic.
Simple does not mean themed or decorated by a team of professionals. Unless that’s your jam, then by all means, go on ahead.
But most of us are busy to the max and can’t handle one extra thing on our plate. Develop a simple toy organization system, whether it be toy cubbies or one giant toy box.
Put it into place and teach your kids how to clean up by themselves (or with minimal help).
Here’s where you can buy this toy storage system.
My four-year-old hates being by himself, so asking him to clean up the playroom all by himself is like pulling leeches off of your body. The more you pull, the more they stick.
For us, the quickest way to clean up the playroom is by blasting a “cleaning song” of his choice (he’s a fan of a metal cover band at the moment…sigh…).
I give him simple directions to keep him focused (“Please pick up all the wooden blocks and put them into this basket”) while I pick something else to do, and we clean up together. The whole process takes about five minutes.
#4: Give yourself (and your kids) grace.
Mama, you’re doing a great job. If your house is a mess, you know what? That’s not a reflection on you and how much you love your kids.
A messy house is just a messy house.
It doesn’t mean you’re lazy or you don’t care. A messy house is just that: a house that is messy.
Please don’t berate yourself (or your kids) if things are out of place. Do what you can with what you have and let the rest slide.
These babies will only be living under your roof for a short amount of time. As Gretchen Rubin says “The days are long but the years are short.”
Before you know it, these babies that cling to your leg and insist every single toy is their favorite will be moving out of your house.
Give yourself grace if the house is a little messy. Did you laugh today? Did you spend time hugging your kids? Did you show your kids it’s okay if life isn’t perfect?
Well, then, you’re doing a great job.