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How to Have a Clutter Free Home (Especially When You Have Kids)

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When you have kids, it is no surprise clutter just happens. Regardless of the age of your children or if you work at home or somewhere else, things just get stacked up, in corners, cabinets or sometimes all over the kitchen! Toys and laundry pile up and we ignore it until something we need goes missing!

Our home is not unique in this struggle. And it’s not something we should learn to tolerate either! A study conducted by UCLA’s center of Everyday Lives and Families of CELF, clutter can lead to depression, anxiety and tension in the home.

Clutter starts small, but it grows and overwhelms even the best of us. We delay dealing with this clutter until it’s annoying and costs us peace of mind each day. Eventually it becomes very stressful to deal with that it and would require a whole weekend just be cleaned. Who wants to spend their weekend down time or family time tidying!?
That is why I read fascinated by A Fine Parent’s challenge to clean and completely declutter their home and keep it that way.

They realized that most clutter in their house would come from 5 specific sources. By focusing on each of these smaller sources each day, we have actually tamed the bigger clutter.
#1: Laundry: A Never Ending Cycle

The Problem: People have to constantly wear clothing. Unless you want your family to be naked, then laundry is a never ending cycle.  You must accept that fact and deal with it.

The Solution: First thing’s first, plan when you will collect laundry and make sure that it actually works.

Tall bins are used next to our laundry machines: one for whites and the second for colored items. Plus, we all have baskets in our rooms. Twice a week, we and our children would bring our laundry to the tall bins and sort them accordingly; whites and colors.
Secondly, set a schedule so that the laundry does not become overwhelming. The bigger the laundry pile becomes, the greater our urge becomes to just ignore it.
Now, my family does one load of laundry per day. Before we leave the house, we would first throw our laundries in the wash and dry them when we get home at night. After dinner, we try to take it out and fold it. It is not 100% consistent though, but I know we are making progress.
Because the laundry pile is smaller than before, our clothing is now easier to find. For example, my son would always have a clean set of school shirts ready. Before we began our laundry system, he would frantically search through the heaping pile of clothes and worse, he would wear dirty ones.
If your kids are older than six, you can assign them tasks to do. Remember that this is not only your responsibility. Let your kids put their own clothes away. By ten, you can teach them how to operate machines and have them take turns. Make the rules clear to all family members about putting away clean clothes.

Regardless of how often or how much laundry you commit to per day or per week, the key is to schedule your laundry so that it does not grow in size and get overwhelming. Make the schedule fit your family’s needs. Stick with the schedule and you will soon see that you won’t have to deal with piles of clothing all around the home.
Tame Clutter Source #2: Toys All Around

The Problem:
Toys go from a compact basket to scattered all over, upstairs and downstairs, inside and out!

When you have kids like mine, toys are dropped randomly once no longer used. What you’ll sometimes see is a clutter of Lego bricks, art supplies, games and other toys all scattered randomly at the house.

The Solution: Donate, limit and contain. These are my three toy control methods.

Donate: Once a year or maybe twice, encourage your child to donate toys. Most parents feel it is unnecessary as it is easier to clear out unused objects without a child’s input. But, making your kid a part of this will teach the difference between a need and a want. Your kid will come to realize the importance of letting go of things that no longer have value to them.
My desire is to raise adults who understand that happiness does not depend on material possessions. Moreover, I want them to make material possessions an active, conscious choice, thus avoiding clutter.

Limit: Limit the toys that your child can access. Try putting some under the bed and some at the top of the closet. Only show your child a specified number of toys at a given time. Every two months, rotate the toys out, putting those that were not used in bins and showing those that were hidden one-by-one.
The good thing here is that when you rotate toys out, your kids feel as if it is their birthday every time toy rotation happens. This is probably because they find toys they forgot they owned as their interest towards the toys are renewed.
This method of limiting toy access will simplify the cleaning process for kids. A bookshelf is available at the game room and it contains Legos and games. These activities both require using game table. Now, my kids know that they have to put all of the Legos into the bins before playing with another toy.
The same way is done with the game boxes. Once finished with a toy, my kids would keep them in a box and play with another one.
Contain: Initiate the basket trick. Put small baskets somewhere in your house with the name of your kids on each one. You pick up their scattered toys and put them in the basket based on who the owner of the toy is. At the end of the week, or when the basket is full, have your kids return them to the shelf. Encourage your kids to make use of their baskets.
Observe the systems of storage you have for toys. Large bins are overwhelming for kids, especially those with random toys in them. If it gets stressful and unmanageable for children, it’s just like how we feel with piles of paperwork. Use smaller bins, appropriate for a single type of toy and then label them.
My son has a box for small cars and another one for Pokemon cards. My daughter has her bins for Littlest Pet Shop animals and another one for accessories.
Remove Clutter Source #3: The Crap-Catching Surfaces and Drawers
Often we come home exhausted and tired, knowing there is still a lot of work ahead and activities to do such as dinner or bath and bedtime. We just drop our junk onto specific places at home or perhaps fill the drawer with this stuff until it becomes so full the drawer doesn’t close!
The Solution: Always follow the urge to throw out unnecessary stuff right away and avoid the drop-and-forget scheme. When you pull something out of a box, you generally know what cannot be used anymore and what can be thrown away. Put a trash can near your door and make it set specifically for paper clutter.

Perhaps an organizer that can be mounted into a wall for important stuffs like mail, work badges or keys among other items would be beneficial to you. Put this organizer near your mail basket if you have one inside your home. Put things like bills and important pieces of mail at their designated places and then plan to clean it out every day or week.

Never Ignore Clutter Source #4: Stuff That We Just Step Over

The Dilemma: By determining the 3 sources of clutter in our home and taking care of them, we have noticed a significant improvement in that there was less and less stuff piling up. But as I’ve always said, clutter always finds a way!
Your kids came home from school, worn out, and that backpack gets thrown on the living room sofa. Your son’s sleepover activity of “make your own art” results in paints, brushes and paper left all over the living area. Your daughter’s project in school got extended and so the materials get left all over the table in her excitement to go to bed.
But as children do, we parents tend to get tired too, and it’s normal. Looking at the clutter around the house, the kitchen, the living room, the table, we decide to deal with it later. And later never comes. In my family we would struggle to pick the clutter up until the junk grows and overwhelms us, we end up cleaning frantically.
The Solution: Decide on a number of items that each person promises to pick up and put away each time they get up from the couch or screen. Encourage the kids to pick up after each other by making use of their named bins.
We have realized that the best solution is to plan with the family and stick with it no matter what. I have decided to give ourselves a reward for sticking to the plan.
Assign specific buckets or cabinets for school supplies and art, and always remind your children to put away their pens, pencils, crayons or excess paper after they use them. Use time to put things away rather than ignore them.
Reward yourself with ice cream or perhaps a bubble bath, a cup of tea or coffee or free time to read your favorite book when you feel that you don’t need to clean your home.
Get each member of the family involved and give your kids a reward when you see them doing their task. We have jars for marbles for each of the kids. They love marbles and when I catch them helping to clean the clutter, we put a marble in their jar. At the end of the month, we count the marbles up and kids get their reward. My daughter is old enough that marbles translate into money. Younger children can be rewarded with other things like trips to the park, movies or rides.

Do not use the “treasure box” as a reward system. They will just cause more clutter! I found the rewards you can give out can become important.
Finally, Kill the Clutter Source #5: Stuff That Piles Up Over Time
The Problem: Making decluttering a habit makes it easier to simplify the process and maintaining a relatively clutter free home.
Our drawers catch items that do not have obvious places. Our bookshelves become disorganized as days go by. The kids outgrow clothes and their dressers overflow. Tax paperwork and bills pile up even though they may be paid! Kitchen utensils break and get shoved back in cabinets. We ignore all those clothes in our closet that we no longer use.
The Solution: Plan to have regular family declutter days at your calendar. Help your children clean their rooms and have them help you clean yours as well. We can all do the task together, organizing books, removing unused school supplies, crayons, pencils and papers.  My husband and I declutter the kitchen together.

Decide as a family what items to sell, to keep or to donate. This is key: Finish the process completely in a day. Never box stuff and stack it into your closet or garage; take items that can be donated to your drop-off areas of choice. Put everything else in their designated places and be done.

You Can Achieve a Clutter Free Home and a Low-Clutter Life!
Of course having a home that is clutter free does not mean that your place is going to be 100% perfect all the time. It goes this way: books, games and toys must be used in the living room. You have to balance utility and tidiness.

A year ago, my family and I started this journey of decluttering and now we are already seeing results. It may not be perfect, but it’s fine, no one has to be perfect.
Once we get used one one set of daily declutter plans, we would search out for new ideas and try to implement them in our lives. The result is a home that less stress, is free from disturbances of clutter and has saved us from finding or even losing items in the major piles of scattered stuff.

What can you do in your home?

Ask yourself whenever you look around –
• Do you have stuff that you know can never be used again? Or perhaps you are no longer interested in using? Can you find a way to repurpose them so they can be sold? Recycled? Or donated?

• Find an area in your house that gathers more clutter. Try to avoid dropping your things there for a week or two and see the difference.

Other advice
Make cleaning and decluttering your home a family responsibility. No parent should deal with it alone.
Always know the importance of want vs. need for your kids and perhaps to yourself as well. Some things are sacred but not everything is.

Plan to declutter one room in your house each month and stick to that plan. Combining these strategies takes perseverance and dedication and if you do this then your home will become clutter-free within a year.

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