I call it ‘the toy-nado’ – the cyclone of toys that seems to hit our living room every day, no matter how tidy it was twenty minutes earlier.
For a long time, I thought I had two choices. Ignore the mess, on the basis that the toynado would strike again within minutes of putting anything away. Or tidy it all up myself after they’d gone to sleep, so that I didn’t have to eat dinner with Mummy Pig in my peripheral vision.
I never considered that I could make my children tidier. Then my younger child went to nursery and one day I saw him enthusiastically tidying up with other children in his classroom. It made me think that perhaps he (and I) could behave differently at home, and maybe even influence his pathologically messy older brother. Since then, while we don’t live in anything like perfect order, I have managed to keep our home a bit straighter.
These are my top 10 tricks...
1) Withhold TV until the toys are away
Since we all resort to the square babysitter now and then (ie every single day), you may as well use it as a bribe. I have found the most effective way to get kids to tidy up is to say in a loud, teacher-like voice: “OK, no TV until all the toys are away.’ Very few pre-schoolers will fight you.
2) Sing a tidy-up song while you tidy
Many nurseries play a tidy up song when the time comes to put everything away, so if your child is already aware of this concept it’s worth trying at home. If you can download the same song to your phone, do it. If not, sing your own. It’s not like you aren’t used to singing terrible songs with your kids.
3) Be tidier yourself
Very annoying but very true - if children see the house in a tip all the time they won’t see it as ‘mess’ or know how ‘tidy’ actually looks. This is particularly true if your own stuff is everywhere, as well as their toys... Children are natural imitators, so it also helps to actually say, out loud, every time you put something away.
4) Keep repeating ‘Put Each Toy Away Before You Get a New One Out’
Obviously, this is only going to happen half the time, at most. The point is making children aware of the concept of objects having places (besides the floor), and of ‘tidying up as you go along,’ rather than binge tidying at the end of the day
5) Enforce tidiness on entry
Make sure you have an easy-to-reach hook for your child’s coat, and a place where they put their shoes. Even the messiest kids can generally manage this, and it means they enter the house on a tidy note.
It’s obvious, but if there’s nowhere to store toys, the storage is out of reach or hard to understand your kids won’t use it. Ikea’s Trofast storage units and bins are really easy to use, and fairly inoffensive looking. If you’re feeling extra organised (ie exasperated) print and stick photos of the toys that go in each drawer on the drawer itself. Your partner then will have no excuse for putting the Lego in the wrong place, either.
8) Limit toys in communal areas
The easiest way to limit mess is to encourage children to play in their bedrooms, but this is often unrealistic. Storing toys in their bedroom does help, though. And the fewer toys you have the easier it will be to store and tidy them, too. Getting rid of anything that hasn’t been played with for over a year frees up space for the new plastic tat that will inevitably find its way into your house.
9) Talk positively about tidiness
Comment out loud on how delighted you feel when a room is neat and tidy. This is much better than grumbling about the mess - and does actually seem to make kids more aware of tidiness - even if you feel like Julie Andrews doing it.
10) Resist the urge to re-tidy
If you’re a neat freak, your toddler’s attempts at tidying almost certainly won’t meet your standards – but resist the urge to correct their efforts. You can always go in later and put everything in the right place, but if you do so in front of them they’ll probably stop bothering. Instead praise their efforts excessively, and know that they’re already on track to becoming as tidy as you on day...
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