I've recently finished reading the insanely popular The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing. It made my heart sing - I loved it SO much!!! I am one of the many people in this world who loves and thrives in a clean, tidy and organised space. My mind goes crazy with clutter and I cannot think straight around it.
The author really spoke to me.
"Order is dependent on the extremely personal values of how a person want to live."
"Being surrounded by things that bring joy makes you happy."
Ask yourself "Does this spark joy" when deciding what to keep and what to part with. "Choose those things that spark joy when you touch them". I believe this theory goes for children's things too - from clothing, toys and materials. "Discard anything that doesn't spark joy".
Tidying is a good way to get to know ourselves - find out what is important to us, gives us fresh air and space. "Tidying is a way of taking stock that shows us what we really like".
However in the last seven or so years there is has been a clash in my life, a conflict. Having children really conflicted with my need for peaceful and organised spaces. Children require so much stuff. They grow (and develop) quickly and need more stuff and we store their old stuff for the next child. I haven't always had as much time as I would like to tidy, organise, de-clutter and even clean. As my children grow and now we are settled into this house things are improving. Yes, of course after finishing the book we (the children and I) did a major de-clutter. It's so important that we involve children in this process - they need to look after their own possessions and that involves putting away and making major decisions about what to keep.
The book author (Marie Kondo) writes how at three years old a child can tidy, once they are responsible for their own space, put things away where they belong. Also saying "Of the many people I've met that are not good at tidying, often their mothers cleaned their rooms for them or they never had a space that they felt was their very own.".
We know this aligns very well with the Montessori philosophy and protecting the child's sense of order. Items/materials need to be stored in a logical position - where it makes sense. Returned to where they are stored so they can be found again or used by someone else. And how important this is while the child is in the period of the absorbent mind! "The little child's need for order in one of the most powerful incentives to dominate his early life. A sensitiveness to the orderly arrangement of things, to their relative positions, is contemporaneous with simple perception, i.e. , with the first taking in or impressions from the environment." Maria Montessori, The Absorbent Mind.
Young children can and are capable of learning;
- To identify when clothes/materials/toys are broken, don't fit or don't work any more.
- That everything has a place. Clothes/materials/toys can be put away once we have finished using them.
- The reason why we put away our materials/toys - to care for them/don't step on them/can find them.
- To find a place for new materials/toys brought into the home. Do we need to hand down toys to make space for new ones?
- To respectfully use and maintain materials/toys and living spaces. This shows respect for others and our community.
- To live within our means. Not to over consume - keep what we need and use/love.
- Create and maintain beautiful home/work spaces and environments.
Polk Lillard and Lillard Jessen also write about the importance of an ordered environment for the very young infant. "It is important now to take time to think about the organisation of the home (or any other setting where a child of this age is to spend significant periods of time). Does it make sense? It is ordered, simple and functional? Is it beautiful? We want the baby to discover an orderly environment and thereby incorporate this order within her own mind. This is the opportunity to establish 'a place for everything and everything in it's place' before baby is off and about, doing her own 'rearranging'. And we must be able to quickly and easily straighten and tidy rooms." Children's "sense of order is far more intense than ours at this age because they are constructing themselves and their understanding of the world." Susan Mayclin Stephenson.
Children Learn What they Live: Parenting to Inspire Values (also a recent inspiration) state the importance of having family rules which really go hand in hand in maintaining an orderly environment - "Having house rules gives children a comforting sense of predictability and makes it easier for them to understand what is expected of them. They know that when they follow the rules of the house, they are meeting with our approval, even when it is unstated."
We still have a couple of cluttered areas. Our down-stairs storage area and garage need work. I want to stress that our home isn't perfectly organised - but we love an organised work space.
Orderly spaces are more inviting. Looking after, putting away shows respect for our possessions and they will last longer, look better, function better. We can access them when needed, they will fulfil their purpose. These are great lessons to pass onto our children. Respect, buy quality, buy/consume what we use - get rid of it once it stops doing it's job.
Lego has always been a big problem in our home. There have been times, weeks when I have allowed the boys to spread it out over their bedroom floor. It always gets out of control. Now our family rule is the lego doesn't move outside of this activity table. Lego not being used goes in the sliding red drawer. This activity table has a solid lid (it is removed in the above picture) which is perfect for when they want to play with something else and it instantly reduces visual clutter (and stops the lego from getting dusty). Good storage ideas + family rules = tidy room.
Clothes are pretty simple. My children don't have a lot of clothes (which is why they are frequently wearing the same things). Too many clothes means too much washing - some how it just piles up more, gets left on the floor more. Less clothes means the children can easily see and put away their clothing. I believe they look after it better. They both have folded clothes (shorts, pyjamas, socks, underwear) and hanging clothes all easily accessible (here is our article on our low hanger). The clothes are not always neatly folded but they are always in the basket. Family rule - no clothes on the floor, clean clothes are put away, dirty clothes in the clothes basket.
A quick note on family rules. For us these are generally unspoken. The children (generally) learn very early what is expected (from a toddler Otis put his own dirty clothes in the dirty clothes basket, picked up his toys). However they need to be reinforced. If I see clothes on the floor I might just pick them up and say nothing. But if I constantly see clothes on the floor I will gently remind the child to put the clothes away. If we are inconsistent or don't reinforce the rules - they will not be effective. Occasionally I need to ask the boys to put things away but generally they are ok with it (they are not perfect or extraordinary).
I'd love to hear your thoughts!
Edited to add: When the boys were younger (and we didn't have so much Lego) we loved and used the Swoop Bag. Our activity table as above is from the Australia company Mocka. It's really affordable, quick delivery, we also have their coloured children's table and stools. New Zealand site is here. Please feel free to leave a link if you know of a similar product overseas (especially in the UK or US) or other Lego storage options that work for your family.