Have you ever heard me say, “cleaning the house in the summer is like brushing your teeth while eating Oreos?” I heard that saying a few years ago and it stuck with me! I know many moms get really overwhelmed by trying to keep up with everything around the house in the summer. It can be overwhelming year-round, but adding in kids being home to feed three times a day and trying to deliver them to all of their activities can make it feel impossible!
I am all about keeping the house clean and ordered and truly believe that promotes better family life and mental health for moms. However, I have worked with kids on several organizing projects over the last few weeks and have been reminded that order is important, but it is not the most important thing. Each of these projects started in a home with some pretty significant chaos… we were working to uncover beds, couches and floor that had become completely covered in laundry and clutter, making it almost impossible to use those spaces for their intended purpose.
I’ll be honest, my first thought on the first couple of projects was… “this is going to be a long day working on such a big project with kids that clearly have no structure.” OH MAN! I was WRONG! In all three projects I worked with middle or high school aged kids that were incredibly helpful, polite, and respectful towards me and their mothers despite several hours of being asked to help sort, carry, distribute stuff and even work on loads of laundry.
It was such a good reminder to me of something we all forget as moms… Just because our house may be cluttered or even downright dirty, it is not a reflection of who we are as a mom. And when it comes down to our priorities… wouldn’t we all rather have successful, polite, obedient and amazing kids than a perfectly cleaned and ordered house. It has been such a great reminder to me that spending time parenting my kids and growing a relationship with them is so much more important than my house… especially in the summer when they have more capacity for building a relationship with me.
The other thing I was reminded of in working with these three awesome families, is that kids are REALLY good at organizing and TOTALLY feel the same satisfaction as we do when the project is complete. These kids engaged in the process, helped sort and categorize belongings, and expressed the satisfaction they felt in all they had accomplished.
One boy said, “my sisters are going to be so excited when they get home. We are going to be able to sit on the couch and enjoy the living room tonight.” As I left he thanked me several times for all of my help. His pride in what we had accomplished excitement for his family was so fun to see!
In another project we had been organizing a girl’s room with little involvement from her mom. As we were nearing completion her mom came upstairs to check on us and the girl yelled at her, “Stop, don’t come in! We’re almost done and I don’t want you to see it yet.” Her face had a huge smile and she was so excited as she showed her mom her new clean and organized space that she had worked so hard on. She told her mom, “I am going to keep my room so clean and organized from now on”. We all know that may not be entirely true, but she realized what she had accomplished and was so proud and excited!
In yet another project, a high school girl worked with us in her parent’s room for several hours sorting, hanging up clothes, distributing things around the house… None of the work was for her and almost none of the stuff was hers. She cheerily helped the entire time without any complaints and grumbling. She found joy in helping her mom and seeing a space in better order for her mom to enjoy. What an awesome daughter with such a sweet heart.
Seriously!! 3 amazing kids that reminded me how much our job as moms is NOT about our houses!
These projects also reminded me that we can make progress in our houses over the summer, and our kids CAN help us! If you want to tackle a kid’s room, playroom or teen hang out space over the summer, set aside a few hours to work with one of your kids. You will have much more success working on-on-one. You can celebrate your success with a trip to the pool or an ice cream shop! I know, sometimes it is easier if they know someone is coming to help and they have to be on good behavior because a guest is in the house. However, most kids really do enjoy the final result of an orderly space to spend their time in at home.
Here are a few tips when organizing with kids.
1. Start by sorting into 4 categories: Keep, Donate, Relocate & Toss. Do it fast and keep it simple
2. Resist the urge to distribute “relocate” items while you work. Just make a pile, or fill a box or bag and distribute all of it at the end.
3. Don’t micromanage the process. Hold up clothes or toys and just ask them the category it goes in. Throw it in the right pile and keep moving. Hold back on sharing all of the stories you associate with their stuff… stay detached from the stuff and help them sort.
4. If they want to get rid of something and you don’t think they should… set it aside to asses at the end. More on this in a minute..
5. Once you are done sorting, look at what is going to go back in the space and create a space plan.
- What is used the most?
- How much do you have of each thing?
- Create zones for storing clothes, toys, sports equipment… zones help kids remember where things go and recognize when something is out of place.
6. Evaluate if you need any new storage pieces to coral belongings. Never buy before you organize… always sort & create a plan and then buy product.
7. Labeling items will help older kids remember the system. Taking photos of the finished space and printing them out for younger kids will help them identify where everything goes when it is time to pick up and reset the system going forward.
Back to disagreements about what to keep… One of the biggest challenges I see when kids and parents organize together is that they have different priorities of what should be kept and what should be “on display”. If you tend to be sentimental and they aren’t… you can keep a small amount in their closet on a high shelf. If you want to keep a lot of things… you need to find a space to store those things that you are responsible for managing. I have seen many parents want to store their childhood memorabilia in their kids’ room because they think their kids will appreciate it. I have also seen parents that are too attached to every one of their child’s toys and stuffed animals that their kids are living among clutter they don’t want but their parents won’t let them get rid of. If your child is the one that wants to keep everything… set up a system with the things you both think they should keep. Then, establish one space with a defined boundary where they can store and keep anything they want. It might be a drawer in their nightstand, a basket in their closet, or a box in their room.
Enjoy this summer with your kiddos! Let the house look like all you did this summer was eat Oreos with those sweet, respectful and responsible kids of yours. Or, get your kids on board with creating order and making progress. Either way, I hope you find time to really enjoy your kids this summer and parent them into amazing people!