PARENTS

Toys Everywhere? It's The Route To Madness

14/08/2014 17:02 | Updated 20 May 2015

Messy family homes. How to declutter with kids

During a recent stay in a chic Spanish holiday apartment, my husband and I marvelled at the joy of our clutter free environment.

"We should live like this every day," I declared, with sangria-fuelled optimism.

Nice idea.

The reality? The minute we arrived home from the airport, our toddler gleefully opened her toy chest. Before we knew it, the living room was scattered with Happyland figures.

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Our dreams of minimalist living faded as quickly as our tans. Soon, we were back to tiptoeing gingerly across the Duplo strewn carpet and wiping Nutella smears off the furniture.

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Children come into the world naked and without possessions. But they soon acquire mountains of stuff, in the shape of gifts of clothes and toys. As babies become toddlers and begin exploring the world around them, they also become little collectors.

My daughter returns home with pockets of 'treasures' - sticks and pebbles - which she squirrels away around the house.

I've lost track of the times I've folded Madam's clothes in her drawers, only for her to immediately empty the lot onto the floor.

Then there was the time that our little gardener decided to 'bring the outside in' – not by picking daisies but by chucking a mound of soil over her Peppa Pig kitchen. Lovely.

The problem is that toddlers have no respect for your carefully thought-out interior decoration. They don't understand that the sofa won't recover from being doused in ketchup. And they definitely don't 'get' tidiness.

"Our house looks like a toy explosion," agrees mum-of-two Debbi. "My three-year-old once dumped every single toy he owned into the middle of the room and declared it a party. Think building blocks, puzzles and tiny plastic things as far as the eye could see. I dealt with it by shouting and then muttering as I painstakingly cleared it all up."

Mum-of-two Lucy was recently reduced to tears by her 17-month-old's creative streak.

"She drew all over our freshly painted hallway walls," she says. "It made me cry. My poor husband had to repaint the whole lot. Meanwhile, I took to stalking our little scribbler every time she ventured into the hall. Her desire to create 'wall art' seems to have abated but we're still living in fear."

Juliet says that she'll flip if her two pre-schoolers ferry any more sand into the house on their toy digger.

"It's the blank faces that I'm met with," she says. "The boys are clearly thinking: 'Why is she freaking out about a bit of sand?'"

Katie thought that life with a messy spaniel was bad enough – until she had her first child, now 15 months.

"Throwing food into the dog's basket is a game to her and she also tips her food bowl on her head to get the last bits, most of which end up on the floor," she says. "Thankfully, the dog cleans the floor for us. But we've given up clearing away the toys in the evening and have learnt to live with them."

Professional declutterer and mum-of-one Jasmine Sleigh helps families drowning in stuff.

"Children generate special memories...and mess," she says. "Having toys everywhere is the route to madness. I'm all for a bit of happy chaos but packing it up until tomorrow is important.

"However, don't feel that you have to put it all away immaculately each day. It can be chucked in a cupboard and sorted out properly once a month. Good storage, especially under beds, is a must.

"One of the main problems is keepsakes, such as children's drawings. Get a colourful container and store them in there. Periodically, go through the box with your child, choose two or three to go in a memory box and get rid of the rest."

I have to admit that it's not just my toddler who creates clutter in our house. I'm part of the problem too.

I can't bring myself to chuck anything belonging to my precious child. I keep every piece of artwork and there are bags of romper suits stuffed in the loft.

"Parents feel that they must keep everything," says Jasmine. "But as your child moves on to the next stage, it's ok to let things go, especially if they can help others by going to charity."

Jasmine even believes that having too many possessions can be detrimental to a child's development.

"We confuse kids by too much choice which means that they can't buckle down," she says. "If your child's room is filled with 100 books, they won't know where to start. It's not an expression of love to give them lots of stuff.

"It's also ok to have a bit of adult space, such are your bedroom, where no toys are allowed. You need that 'protected space' for spending time alone or with your partner.

"It's not about minimalism. Belongings are a fabulous part of who we are. It's about 'resetting the home."

Parenting coach and mum-of-two Bea Marshall says that, when you're about to blow your top over yet another roomful of mess, it's important to shift your perspective.

"Take a moment to breathe deeply and remind yourself how incredible your children are," she says. "Be grateful for everything that mess represents - joy, play, learning, happiness, wealth and health.

"The mess is a sign that your children are actively exploring the world and keeping themselves busy. We want our kids to be engaged, curious and interested in learning about everything. As kids get older the mess changes, so try to remember that the stage you're at is only for a short time in the grand scheme of things.

"When we approach the task of tidying with positivity, it's a better experience. Picking up mess with a joyful attitude is much nicer than doing it with resentment and frustration."

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But it's probably best to remember that no one can live in a show home, especially when boisterous kids are involved – and would we really want to, anyway?

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"It's annoying, standing on bits of Lego in bare feet," says mum-of-one Liz, 35, from Leeds, West Yorkshire. "But I have to admit that finding my son's mini figures hidden in obscure places makes me smile."

I feel the same when I unearth one of my daughter's sparkly hair slides, even if it has been stuffed inside one of my shoes.

Anyway, it seems pointless to hope that things will improve in the future.

"It doesn't get any better as they get older, I'm afraid," says Julie, whose daughters are nearing their teens. "My girls leave mess behind them like a snail trail. To tackle the problem, I once tried attaching post-it notes to offending items, such as: 'Dear Rosie, I'm your towel. Please don't leave me on the floor as I'll start to smell and will make the carpet damp and smelly too.' The result? My daughter stuck a note on top of my note which read: 'Dear Towel, Whatever. Life's too short to pick up towels. Love Rosie'."

The battle goes on.

Jasmine's top tidying tips

Create habits that stay with young children, such as a 'thirty minute magic time', setting a timer and getting your children to help make an area look tidy 'like magic'.

Encourage them to bring their plate for washing up, and discard rubbish themselves. Teach them that recycling is fun. Make trips to the tip exciting by pointing out diggers.

Before birthdays and Christmas, review old toys and decide which ones should go.

Choose a charity to support so donations are not left in the house, or arrange a car boot sale with a friend. As children get older, they can be involved.

Store half of the presents given on birthdays and Christmas and rotate them. When a rainy day comes, kids will love the excitement of playing with a 'new' toy.

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