Sometimes it feels like the word “toddler” is synonymous with “chaos” or “mess” and the antithesis of tidy. If you are a parent of a child or children under five then you can probably relate!
Young children love exploring their world and a good portion of their world is confined to the home. This means your home is ground zero for their play, exploration, and development. This oftens means… A chaotic mess!
We are now parents to three little ones: our oldest is almost three, our middle is about a year and a half, and our youngest is almost six weeks old. To say our house is sometimes tumultuous is an understatement! At any given time, there is a mess somewhere and often we have to pick and choose what is absolutely necessary to do.
However, you don’t have to give up on a tidy home just because your kids are small. Here are some tips for keeping a tidy house with toddlers.
1. Limit the toys and books they have access to.
When you have young kids, it is easy to become overwhelmed with toys and books. Tired of a hundred plastic balls on their bedroom floor? Exhausted from putting 50+ books back on the bookshelf for the billionth time in one day? Foam letters strewn everywhere got you seeing red?
The good news is that you do not have to keep everything! Periodically go through the toys and books. Toss anything broken and donate what is not played with, outgrown, or you do not want to deal with.
Not sure if you want to get rid of something? Box it up and put it out of sight (like a top shelf in a closet.) If you do not use it for six months, get rid of it.
This allows you to keep only the toys and books that your child(ren) actually play with or love. This will make free play less of a mess. For those items that are so tempting to toddlers to throw all over the place and are a pain to clean up, put them somewhere the kids cannot get to on their own and reserve them for supervised play time only.
2. Give everything a “home” or place.
Every item should have a place that it belongs when not being used.
With really little children, I have found that this works best when applied more generally. For example, a shelf for books but don’t worry about sorting the books by topic. Use baskets or bins to hide toys, but don’t stress about labels and keeping it perfectly neat all the time.
If you try to be too specific, you will find yourself getting stressed out when your toddler put things back “wrong”. The important thing at this young age is to teach them to put their toys away. You can gradually add more detailed organization when your kids get older and can read labels or understand your preferred organizational methods.
3. Use baskets, bins, and buckets to contain the kids’ toys.
Flowing from the previous tip, visit a dollar or discount store and get yourself a number of cheap baskets and bins to help you corral the clutter. Use baskets to keep the toy animals, use bins to hide shoes or keep the puzzles together, and colorful buckets are fun for the miscellaneous toys that don’t have any other place.
The benefit of having baskets and such strategically located in the areas of your home where the kids play is that you can do a very swift clean up when necessary (like guests are coming over) by quickly tossing the items into their baskets.
Downstairs we have a bench near the front door with cube storage underneath. That is where we “hide” the kids’ shoes. The kids spend a good portion of the day in the living room so we have a plastic bookshelf to put their toys (bucket of dinosaurs, bin of puzzles, bigger toys) as well as a box for their megablocks and a big toy box for their plushy animals. Upstairs in their room they have bookshelves and bins for books and toys.
4. Teach your kids to tidy up.
As soon as your child can walk and hold things, you should begin to gently teach them to help tidy up. When you are done reading a book, encourage them to carry the book back on the shelf. When you finish building a tower with megablocks, turn putting the blocks away into a fun game.
As your children grow, they will be able to do more and help more. There may be some times when they refuse to help or throw temper tantrums. (It happens!) But try not to get too upset. (I know, it happens!)
Positive reinforcement goes much further than a raised voice. Instead, try to make tidying up a fun time with silly songs and fun little games like “Who can put the most letters in the basket?”
5. Tidy as you go about your day.
One of the best ways to keep a tidy house is to tidy as you go about your day.
I have found in our home that this is most effective when done at three times:
- when the kids are finished playing with a specific type of toy (for example: blocks),
- when you are transitioning to a new activity (for example: going from play time to lunch time),
- and part of the bedtime routine.
I have gotten into the habit of spending a few extra minutes to tidy a room before I leave it or while I am passing through it. It is much easier to keep our home tidy when we do this than if we left the mess for one big “clean up” time. Little bits here and there is more manageable than an overwhelming mess everywhere.
6. Relax and have fun!
But most of all, relax! You have a toddler… or maybe even two or three toddlers! Don’t stress too much about having a picture-perfect house.
Put these tips into practice to make your life easier, less stressful, and then enjoy time with your kids!
Have fun! Play! Make messes and then clean them up. Kids are only little once. Focus on the important things and make memories they will cherish as they grow.