04 May 2008

Clean Up, Clean Up, Everybody Clean Up

I love it when the twins and I go to someone's house for a playdate and the toys are already strewn about. The kids love it, too. They dive right in and make themselves at home. The cheerfully trip over and step on the bounty, happy to explore and find new treasures.

Here's the problem, though: I cannot deal with Massive Toy Extravaganza at my own house.

Oh, sure, when we have people over to play, I let it go. Usually I'm drinking coffee or wine and eating something tasty while talking with other parents, and that makes it easier to turn a blind eye. But when it's just me and the twins, there are RULES.

1. Only one "messy" toy out at a time. If you want the Legoes out, you have to put away the puzzles. Want to cook in the play kitchen? Clean up the race cars first. You get the idea.
2. The toys have zones. There are playroom toys and kitchen toys and bedroom toys. With few exceptions, toys stay in their zones.
3. We pick up the entire playroom before leaving the house for any outing (daycare, visits with friends, a trip to the store . . . anything), before naps, and before bed. And do you even have to ask? OF COURSE there are very specific places for each item: a special bin for cars, one for all the play food, one for the balls, etc.

This is a big, big struggle for me. I know the twins actually love the freedom and fun of having everything out at once. They love it! But when I try to relax about it, I can feel my blood pressure rising. I just hate all that cluttered mess.

Take tonight as an example. We went to a friend's for dinner. We cleaned up before we headed over. We returned at bedtime, and the twins were already PJ-ed up, but needed a diaper change and some milk before being tucked in. While I was changing Maddie's diaper, Riley pulled out the ball drawer and balls went everywhere! Aaaa! I asked him to pick them up and he ignored me. Who can blame him? Playing with balls is WAY more fun than sitting in the middle of a pristine playroom while Mama changes Maddie. Rather than just letting it go, though, I ended up yelling at him for not listening to me and making him cry right before bed.

Clearly I need to get over myself. Tips? (Other than upping my number of therapy sessions . . . ) And what do others do about the cleaning up? At a playdate this weekend, the subject came up of whether or not we clean up as we go or just once at the end of the day. It was a mixed bag. More data points?


B.E.C.K. said...

I'm fairly lax about toy cleanup (as long as I can walk through the house), but in the past, I've put on music and had my son clean things up for the duration of one song (or I've cleaned up with him during the song). That seems to make it a little more fun and less of a chore. I've also played a game with him to see if he can put away a certain number of things in three minutes. He's pretty competitive, so this usually works for him. :-) Another thing I used to do is use a chart on which I drew little pictures of certain tasks; for every task he completed, I put a marble in a jar. When he collected about 20 marbles, I let him choose a prize from a bucket I kept in the cupboard. That worked until he discovered video games. ;^)

Rachel said...

Sometimes I accept the mess is the price of Bella entertaining herself for an extended period of time. I don't limit her to one toy at a time, because she often invents games that involve using many different types of toys.

We try to do a big clean-up a couple of times a day, maybe before we leave on an outing in the morning, then again in the afternoon before I drop her off at the babysitter's house. I always help.

But it is still an issue for us, and sometimes I get stressed out by all the clutter. Someone in my comments suggested cycling toys in and out of storage. Alas, we don't have much storage space, but I think it sounds like a great idea.

Shelly Kang said...

Hi, I'm going to say that it's okay to make them clean up as they go. Kids really focus better on the toys they're playing with when they're not distracted by clutter all around. I know this from personal experience - we recently reinstated the one-toy-at-a-time rule, and suddenly the toys that were boring would get played for an hour at a time! Also, it's much easier to keep sets of toys together so they're more playable. Who wants to play with the kitchen stuff when it is mixed in the bin with the cars and strewn in with the play clothes, etc. I, for one, don't have the energy after they go to bed to sort it all out, and You certainly don't either. It is never too early to teach kids how good it feels to have some order in their lives. If there is some specific reason why they need two toys out at once (like part of a game they are making up) then you make an exception.

Keen said...

The one area where I've had any success getting the boys to put away their toys with any kind of consistency is the bathtub. Period.

I'm way too lax about these things, and I could stand to learn from you, for what that's worth. And my place is way messier.

Not a very helpful comment, but I just cleaned up our living room/playroom, so I hear you.

Jan said...

For what it's worth, your method -- OK, minus the yelling :) -- is what I aim for only I'm not quite organized enough to get there. I am right there with you on the one messy toy at a time rule, though I didn't figure it out until much later.

I have read that with toddlers you don't want to follow around after them cleaning everything up, because taking stuff out and spreading it around is part of how they explore their world and understand things like cause and effect, etc. Also you'll drive yourself stark raving mad trying to keep up!

Maybe somewhere in the middle -- full cleanup only before nap and before bedtime, for example. And maybe you can let them do some 'messy' stuff without making a mess -- I let my kids play (shirtless or naked) in warm bubble-water in the kitchen sink sometimes. They love it and cleanup is really minimal.

One thing we always do, though, is have a FEW things that are always out (in the living room specifically, which is kind of a limited/no toy zone). Four or five books, one puzzle and a couple of cars. That takes care of the times when one has to entertain him/herself while I tend to the other.

I think you're too hard on yourself. There's no wrong choice here -- you just want to figure out something that works for your family, including you.

Lara said...

When our kids were young, we didn't have a playroom... the living room was the playroom. I began enforcing cleanup when I realized we might die in a house fire because we couldn't make our way out through the living room at night!

We had a rule of one messy toy (per kid). But I didn't enforce it TOO much... I just enforced the cleanup. If they wanted to play with 3 things at once, fine. But when they walked away to do something else, they were taken back to the mess to clean it up.

I'd say it's ok to make messes in the playroom, but they have to clean up when done. Other rooms, no messy toys unless they have your permission to play there.

And on play dates, I allowed messes, but when other kids were getting close to going home, I'd go out there and start a clean up game... I'd supervise but have the kids work together to put everything away. I don't think it's good for other kids to be allowed to make messes at my house, and I want MY kids to know they are responsible to clean up their messes if they are somewhere else as well.

kim said...

It feels so reassuring to read that another mom has similar issues/rules with toys and messes! I totally relate to rules 1 and 2 but then start to second guess myself. Am I expecting too much from a 2.5 year old? Shouldn't I just let her have crazy kiddie fun and push my own anal organizational issues off to the side? Then I come to the realization that I should start purging some toys so that we don't have so many darn distractions around here. Gosh, who knew that toys could become such a pain?

moo said...

It's a good idea to clean up one activity before taking out another ... it'll teach goos clean up skills and make your life easier.

We don't play that way, mostly because I have a mess maker. We play play play, anything and everything. Then, before nap, we have a clean up session and everything gets put away. After nap, more play play play and then again before bed, we have our second clean up session. It works for us, but it would probably make you crazy since we DO leave the house with toys everywhere.

There's no RIGHT or WRONG way to do parenting ... there's only YOUR way and what makes you comfortable!

Rev Dr Mom said...

When my kids were little I was pretty compulsive about having containers/shelves etc for each and every thing--we had lots of Fisher Price play sets and Legos and things that I wanted kept together. But I never really limited how many toys could be out and there did tend to be a lot of creative cross-fertilization with the toys; and we really only cleaned up if it was bedtime or things were totally out of control.

I like the idea of cycling some toys in and out, and of limiting certain things to certain rooms--just makes sense. And you need to do what works best for you and your kids. So if what you are doing now works, stick with it. But if it is more stressful than it's worth, then consider how or what you are willing to change, even a little bit and then see how that works.

Momma Mary said...

I have freak outs when Little Monster won't help with the pick up... and I only have one child. I have a hard time remembering that I need to be SUPER specific... as in "put THAT car back where it goes." We try to clean up before naptime in the afternoon, and again before bedtime at night. :) Don't be too hard on yourself though. You're not expected to be perfect, just love those kids... and it's totally obvious that you do!

Anonymous said...

It might help to approach it from a developmental pov. Toddlers have "hungry hands." They just have to touch things, like they had to put everything in their mouths not too long ago.

We think one toy at a time makes perfect sense because of how we experience the world, they think that the toys we adults see no relation between go together perfectly because of how they see the world.

I didn't use zones but I did have a few baskets that were only for certain occasions to keep them interesting. Perhaps a basket that is only for right before bed with toys that they think are fun and are easy to clean up would be a good nightime compromise.

Best of luck!

Amy said...

Past this stage but for what it is worth....

I was pretty lax about what toys were out when the kids were little. Make a big mess, fine, as long as all the toys were being shoved in the same toy box after playtime. (Which I expected them to help with.. 'Clean up! Clean up! Everybody do their share! set to music ;)

But if they wanted to play lego or any other small item game/toy the room had to be clean when they started.. ditto with art projects like painting.

Besides being a bit anal, it did help the kids as far as helping with clean up went. And who really wants to sort through toys picking out the lego while the paint dries and the table is all full of art supplies?? Not me.

Maggie said...

I don't think that it's you that needs to get over anything. Toys strewn all over common living space isn't a sign of freedom, it's a sign of no consideration. Brava to you for teaching your kids early on that they're not the only people on the planet whose needs matter.

Klynn said...

Awww man. You guys make me feel like a total slob / slacker/ bad mommy. Keeping in mind that I grew up sharing a bedroom with my brother and having the top bunk because I could go from the door to the ladder and up to my bed without having to wade through the knee-high pile of junk that covered the floor, and that my mom had a sign up that was covered in dust that said essentially "don't clean up my mess, I know where everything is", clutter was a way of life as I grew up.

Nowadays, Boog's room gets cleaned when we're having company, or when the toys have encroached on more than a safely traversable area (in the dark). The living room fluctuates. The toys will start lingering in the floor until someone steps on one, or until I decide it's just too likely that one will get stepped on, then they all go back into the toy basket. Even with all that, my house is amazingly clean compared to anything my mom's house ever was or is. I guess that's what makes me so laid back about it.

Bob's mom is more of a neat freak, so I was afraid that he'd be stressed out by my/our mess. But, his house was a disaster when we started dating, and he seems to have the same slovenly tendencies as I do.

Luckily for both of us (and the kids), I rarely let it get to a point that we can't get the house presentable for company in an hour or two.

Anyway...all this to say, just be comfortable in your own home. If that means cleaning up before you move on to the next activity, then so be it. If that means letting things wait until you feel like putting them away, that's fine too. Regardless, kids will be kids, so you'll have to work with them on learning what their roles are in keeping your house comfortable.

PS. Don't forget that none of us are perfect parents (RE: making Riley cry at bedtime). Heck, I swatted Boog on the bottom this morning for being blatantly defiant after I told him he'd get a swat if he didn't do what I asked him to do. He cried. I felt bad. But consistency and follow-through is important. (But that's a whole other conversation.)

Twinmommy2boys said...

At first I used to try to keep it all cleaned up and then I gave up. Really as I thought about it I would much rather spend my time playing with them or watching them play than stress about all the toys. I do a clean up in the evening after they go to bed and usually unless they have strewn all their books out in the floor, I do it myself. They know how to help and if someone is visiting then they help me clean but other wise if I can walk through I just deal. I have twins I don't think anyone expects it to be perfect all the time. They had a rough start being preemie and all. I had a rough start dealing with pre-term and preemies. I decided to let this one go for now. Just what works for us.

Mediated Slacker said...

First, it is good that you are teaching your kids to clean up after themselves.

Second... And you know this too. You could have let him play while you did what you need to do in there and then said, "Ok, now it is time to put these away."

When you get all ... my pristine space is disturbed ARGH you need to take a deep breath and let it out. Make a deal with the kid that you will let them play as long as you are in there, but then it has to be put away.

django's mommy said...

Oh, and I supposed to get my kid to help clean up the toys more than once a week? Shoot.

I am thoroughly unqualified to answer this question, and moreover, I am scared to death to have any of you over to my house!

Meika said...

As I read this I became increasingly envious of your naturally-organized self. :)

I'm a messy person actively trying to live a neater life. I've found that I and my family am much happier in peaceful surroundings than when surrounded by clutter, though I never would have said this just a couple years ago.

I guess I really don't see your neatness as a problem. I mean, you already know that you need to look the other way sometimes. The episode with Riley last night seems to have reminded you of something you don't like much about yourself, but it doesn't seem to me to indicate a need for all-out change. You're doing fine, mama. :)

Amnesia said...

I learned that I have to "let it go" - although I know that makes you itch all over just to think about it. The time I would spend sorting toys, picking up until the place is spotless, and keeping everything in its place could be spent doing other things. Sure, I need to keep things clean in order to be safe, but there is a limit there.

I read some silly poem a long, long time ago about letting laundry and housecleaning go, because before you know it, kids are not little anymore...and it made an impression on me. My oldest girls are leaving soon, and I can tell you that I don't look back on life with them and thank god that the house was clean when they were little...I think about the stuff we did together, the artsy things, the walks, reading, making messes...those are the things that really matter.

Dorcasina said...

Me too, me too, me too. We pick everything up before we leave, go to bed, or change activities. And while I don't have "zones" (nice one!), there are lots of activities that, say, can only happen at the kitchen counter. I say, accept this part of yourself and enjoy a clutter-free house (relatively) in which you can relax. I hate "mess"; I can tolerate a certain amount of in-process stuff, but I need to have my home look like a home, not a daycare--and I'm a calmer and more pleasant mama without all the chaos. There are some exceptions: when she's really into her big dollhouse, we leave it out in the living room all week, but fold it up at night. And sometimes we keep a really cool train set-up up for several days, until she or the dog knocks it down.

Her Montessori program stresses the need for order and focus, within which there is plenty of room to explore and create. And it makes my life really, really simple that, for the most part, with only occasional defiance, she cleans up after herself beautifully, without my nagging, and often without being asked.

When she was smaller, we'd divide up the clean-up; she'd bring stuff to me to sort into its bins, or she'd put away the red blocks while I did the others. Now I make her do it all, although I will go in and do some token "helping" to keep her focused.

And I think a certain amount of yelling is inherent in the job of motherhood--not that I'm proud of it!!

buddha_girl said...

Toy Hell. That's what I call it in my house.

The ball thing right before bed? I would have let it go until AFTER changing Mads, so that Ri-Man could be occupied. If he'd refused after I was done, I would have taken ALL of the balls and put them in time-out until the following evening around the same time. There's 24-hour time-out for toys in my house.

I've even gone so far as to have a HUGE black trashbag handy when Buddha deems it beyond him to clean up his trucks. They go OUTSIDE on our screened-in porch. He usually has a kiniption fit, but I will not give on this. If the refusal to clean up the way it's expect continues, I take the offending toys (they usually end up being his favs) and they're mine for 24 hours.

He's getting better.

I don't do the one type of toy thing unless we're crafting and he suddenly decides that he wants to play outside or with Legos or his vast truck collection. Crafting stuff MUST go back from when it came because it's MUCH too costly to replace if the crayons, paints, etc. go missing or get destroyed.

Julie said...

I don't worry too much about cleaning up until the end of the day. But we have a huge family room where the toys live, and so that room is a free-for-all. I need to get better about having Alex help me clean up.....currently we are stuck on ME cleaning up while Alex sings the clean-up song. Ya, I'm a sucker. But I just want it done so we can move onto bedtime. If I waited for him to do it all, we'd be there until midnight. He's in that phase where if I ask him to do something he will either do it really REALLY slowly,or the exact opposite of what I asked (with a smirk on his face to go with it) or just ignore me completely. A lot of my energy these days goes into just maintaining my cool.

yasmara said...

We do the same with my 3 year old and 1.5 year old - clean up as you go along and a big nighttime/pre-leaving-the-house clean-up session to grab anything else.

The value of "begin as you mean to go on" has been proven to me time and time again, so if cleaning up the clutter is important to you, by all means, keep it up! Maybe just don't expect that the twins can clean up on their own w/o your involvement/direct supervision.

FWIW, I have a friend who can't get her 5-year-old to clean anything up...because he's never been required to.

NanarocksWeen said...

My 37 year old daughter, who has a 2 1/2 year old son AND teaches Special Ed. Kindergarten says:
"You tell her cleaning up is ok....teachers will expect the kids to do it. It is not a bad skill but use it when you can. When the kids are overtired or fussy she should clean up the rooms, not make the kid cry. Aiden helps me clean, but if he is tired I will clean for him. If she is like me, which I think she is...she may need the toys to be under her control. So much of our lives we can't control. She may need to feel like she has control over something and...if it makes her feel better, she will be a better mom for it. The kids are still playing with all their toys. Just a point of view.


I hope you don't mind, but I share some of your thoughts with my daughters, both of whom are around your age and with young ones of their own. You share a lot of your life here, and you get a lot of good feedback ;-)

twinboysmom said...


I'm pretty relaxed about clean up, I wish I was more strict with it but I can't bring myself to struggle with two two-year olds about it. We always clean up the downstairs before going up to bed at night and they are getting the hang of it. Their playroom is another story and I do need to clean it more often. RIght now it's an every few day thing but I plan to get it to once a day. I love how your kids only get one toy out at a time, I can't get them to do that. Sometimes they play with so much at a time though. Do waht works for you, I get stressed when I know I have to clean it all the time so we just let it go a little here. however, I do feel bad when one of my twins runs in the playroom and declares it messy!

Trenches of Mommyhood said...

Make yourself LET IT GO.

We do one cleanup in the playroom at night, just before baths and bed. During the day, if I'm tripping over something, I just toss it in the playroom.

I found myself actually getting TICKED at the boyz when they would get something out to play with if I had just cleaned. They're kids--of course they want to play! So the once-a-day thing now works for me.

What A Card said...

Hee! You know my house is a total sty! We clean up once a day...after dinner before bedtime. However, since you were here we re-instituted our toy swapping plan that somehow had been let go by the wayside: instead of having out every messy toy in existence (i.e., trains, play food, 2 different types of lego-ish toys, wooden blocks, little people, dinosaurs, etc), we left out a few and put the rest in a closed off closet. If they want something else, they can trade in one of their other toys. And we'll keep swapping them out after they've gone to sleep...it'll keep the toys fresh and interesting!

So our house is still a sty, but it's only taking 10 minutes or so to clean it up each night, even taking into account that my boys are the slowest cleaner-uppers on earth :)

Anonymous said...

First of all, is that a real song? My daughter sings "eribudy kween up kween up kween up" over and over when we make her clean up her toys. I know she did not learn it form me. I thought maybe the daycare teacher had made it up but now it occurs to me that I may be giving the teacher too much credit... :-)

Anyway - we try to clean up every day, but never before bed because it can be frustrating and we all end up in tears. But I know at school my daughter has to clean up after herself (and others) as they go along. So I know she can do it...

Jenn said...

I tend to let it go and (usually) clean it all up once they are in bed. If they've really gotten out so many toys that they are having trouble walking around, then I'll put some away in the middle of the day.

I'd love to have a "one messy toy" rule, but really, trying to enforce it would raise my blood pressure. Easier for me to let chaos build until bedtime then clean it up when they aren't trying to take more things out faster than I can put them away.

Kathleen999 said...

I am the only one who cares if the house is clean, but it drives me crazy to have it messy. So recently I went to IKEA and got some of their TROVAST storage bins for toys, and sorted the toys into types. It works beautifully for everyone. The boys like having their toys where they can find them, and I like having a place where everything goes. We clean up once a day, in the evening. I do a lot of it, and sometimes all of it while they are in the bath. I leave up new train configurations so they can continue playing the next day. It's helping me mostly...no one else cares!

Shel said...

we use a kitchen timer and everybody spends five minutes cleaning up before the time dings. We do this at night before bath time... it only takes about five minutes if everyone is doning it fast, and toys have places they're supposed to be. We love to try and beat the timer.

Kidlicious said...

ok, I know I'm late in my comment, but I have to tell you how impressed I am with all of you who actually keep your play areas clean!

I have tried to keep everything in their place, given bins tags so that toys get put back in the right place, tried to institute the rule of getting one toy out after you put the other one back. But, alas, my efforts are fruitless. My twins constantly have everything out at once, dump entire bins out on the floor, only to go to the next bin to dump. I am so tired by the end of the day that it stays there and they get the whole messy play room all day the next day too. Occasionally I'll get things cleaned up.

But, you have given me new motivation. I need to impress on them to keep their play area nice an clean. (I just lost all my energy thinking about this!)

Anonymous said...

I babysit for one almost two year old and I have one daughter who's two and a half. I have a really hard time with this, partially because the girl I babysit does not how to pick up (or maybe she just refuses--I can't tell). When we pick up, my daughter does great, but the other little girl only does something when I get firm with her. And the whole process becomes very stressful for me because it's so hard for this little girl when she is shuttled back and forth between 4 different houses a week sometimes--each with their own rules. So although I try to get them to clean up before nap, sometimes it just is less stressful to put them to sleep.
It's also nearly impossible to get them to put the right thing in the right place.
So I feel your pain in the clean up of toys!

Kathie said...

My husband died when I was 29 and we had an 8 year old son. I am now 60 and he is a 40 year old with a masters degree, makes $90,000 a year and has 3 wonderful kids, wife and new puppy of his own. So I must have done something right. My advice is very simple. Kids mimic the parents. Your actions speak louder than words. If you are neat and clean about your own things, your kids will notice and want to do what you do. Your babies are still pretty young to follow rules exactly. I would create a play area that you can close off or shut the door to not see it. This will be helpful when they are teenagers. The rule at my house was his room could be in any condition he could stand as long as I couldn't smell it when I walked in the door.

Sarah said...

I really need to start doing what you are doing, only 1 toy out at a time. I end up spending the last few minutes of my night picking up toys. And my son is 4! He will never learn if I do it for him. Gonna work on that! Thanks!

Anonymous said...

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If you have the time, check out this link - it's titled "How you react shapes your kids memories forever."


Best of luck

Anonymous said...

k, the link didn't post fully on your site so i'm trying again.


Michele (Moosh) said...

Oh Stacey, we are so much alike! I have so much to catch up with you on but I never have time to type it all!!! Yeah. I hear ya and am enjoying the feedback.

I still owe you an email regarding the day you left Oregon. Jeez. Smack me upside the head sometime!

kp said...

Don't worry so much about the little things or turning yourself into a neat freak. The house will never be as clean as you want it to be with little ones around. It's more important that they are happy and that you are happy. Instead of screaming at him and expecting him to clean up by himself, which may seem insurmountable to a little guy, have him try to make as many baskets as he can.

Julia said...

As late as I am to this, I thought I would chime in. As you know, I am pretty relaxed these days, but that's because the kiddo is big enough to understand when I tell her to go clean up the whole sorry mess at once. We used to clean up a bit at a time, and at the very least every day before bed. Started very early, certainly before she was a year old. I would tell her to bring me a particular toy, and then we would put it in the correct place (yes, we have places too). These days if playdate goes late, I let her go to sleep without cleaning up, but we make a deal for when the clean up will take place. My whole point is that doing whatever you are comfortable with is a good plan, and the level of comfort may evolve with the level of twins' ability to negotiate and keep up their ends of the bargains. I also recommend extra lattes and extra wine-- always works for me. :)