It’s January, and my favorite decluttering blogger tells me that that means it’s decluttering season. Dana White says that as someone who blogs about cleaning and organizing, January is prime time. It makes perfect sense.
As a mother and wife and the primary homemaker, I’ll admit that beyond childcare and cooking, probably the largest portion of my waking hours revolve around what to do with our stuff. It’s kind of depressing. I sometimes think about the children in Laura Ingalls Wilder’s books. At the beginning of Little House in the Big Woods Laura had a corn cob that she played with and Mary had a doll. As in one.
Anyway, I’ve been a big consumer of all things organization related for a long time. I may have mentioned before that my New Year’s resolution for about 5 years running was to “get organized”.
There are a couple of frustrating things to me about the concept of getting organized that leave me not believing in it anymore.
1) A home is not a static place. You can’t get organization complete once and for all, because the contents of the home and the people in the home are constantly changing. For our family the main problem is that we have more than we can deal with. Even though we have done some large purges.
2) If your problem is being overwhelmed with keeping your spaces clean and tidy, the idea that there is some storage solution that will fix a problem with how you manage your stuff is a fantasy. Sorry to burst any bubbles on that one. I believed it for a long time. I used to search for images of storage solutions ALL the time. I would scour the far reaches of the internet for ideas that would work for my family to keep our stuff organized. It doesn’t exist.
I do not think I can tell you the number of times that I tried purchasing storage bins or tried to simply reorganize all of our possessions to try to make it easier to pick up.
When Gracie and Ava were toddlers, I wanted to be Montessori in my approach to toy storage. I wanted them to be able to get to anything that they wanted whenever they wanted. But, our house was always so messy! I remember reorganizing how we stored the toys often. I’d take a whole day and choose a new shelf to display all of their little things. It worked for the two hours after I finished organizing and I was motivated to help them put away everything they got out.
However, I think I was missing the actual problem. I would get inspired to reorganize toys when the house was a wreck. My thought process was that I needed to reorganize something so that the house wouldn’t get messy or dirty again. Because if it was easier to put things away, we wouldn’t let the house turn into a wreck. Not true. Houses get messy. No matter the organization.
Also, spending so much time getting the toys organized made another problem…. I would get even more behind. It’s incredible how fast laundry piles up or dishes, etc. And when you finish a huge project, and look around and there isn’t a clean dish to eat off of and you’re already exhausted from working on a big project, it’s a recipe for disaster. Okay, it’s not a real disaster, but when you’re home all day and you are trying your hardest and you can’t seem to figure out a way to keep your house nice….it can feel crushing. I sort of hate to admit that, because I never thought I would be one of those women that gets caught up in how her house looks. But truly, house stuff, when you are the one who stays home, is a multilayered ugly beast. It probably is for everyone, but this is what I know.
After organizing I would need to move my focus to the pile of dishes/meal prep. That’s when our toddler(s) will pull out every single toy…yep, I’ve not found a solution to this. Toddlers pull stuff out. If I’m not careful, before I even know what’s happening, every room in the house is a disaster and for some reason this leads to our kids walking around looking like a cave children with hair all disheveled playing with a chop stick rather than any of the many toys that I’d organized.
When the whole house is a wreck, the thought of even picking up a single thing is overwhelming. This is the beginning of the blame game. I blame myself: for not teaching them to pick up, for not being consistent enough in my efforts to keep things picked up, for being upset and tired. I blame Tommy: for not helping enough, for not seeming to notice or care about items on the floor, for who knows what.
The cold hard truth is — I hate picking stuff up…and it takes me a long time to tidy up a space. But…I love tidy spaces and I feel completely overwhelmed when the house gets to a certain level of messy. The only solution that I have figured out is to have fewer items, and also to have WAY fewer items that are accessible to the little children.
To get to this realization, I noticed some things about when I’m at my parents’ house. Well, first of all, my mama is a minimalist. She has everything tucked away into tidy closet spaces and her living room is a large open space devoid of items to step on. So, when we go over to their house the boys can play with one of about 5 or 6 sets of toys that they have. And then that set of toys is put away before they get out the next set . Unless of course they are going to play with the blocks and little animals together. Then they are both out at the same time. But, I couldn’t figure out how to do that at my own house.
The light bulb moment came when I realized that it’s a trade-off. Either there are multiple huge sets of toys out and they go everywhere. Or I put the toy sets away and only have 1 or 2 things available at a time. Because the wishing and hoping that I will become a person who loves tidying up and thinks that it’s easy is over.
I’m done beating myself up over something that is fundamentally hard for me. So rather than assuming that there is something wrong with me when the house gets overwhelming, it means that if I’m having trouble keeping up with cleaning and organizing and tidying, it’s because there’s too much stuff accessible to the tots.When I get overstimulated with sound I don’t tell myself that I should practice listening to loud music more so that I can handle loud noises.
There’s not something wrong with me. And there is not something wrong with you either. If you’re overwhelmed at home I highly recommend figuring out what it is that is causing the overwhelm.
Here are some questions to help you work on your own overwhelm:
- What is making you overwhelmed?
- Whatever the issue is, what would make it easier for you?
- Does that actually address the problem (the real reason that you want to blow your stack)?
- Does the solution meet with your standards?
I’m very proud to say that since the boys’ birthday I have organized all of their new toys and put them up into cabinets and closets. We have a few out. We’re experimenting with the number to figure out how many toys is the right amount for our family to have out that can be picked up in just a few minutes.
It’s lovely. I easily swap out toys that haven’t been played with in a few days for ones that I’ve stored in the closet, and we are able to keep it all manageable. Also, the boys are playing with their toys more. No more cave baby with a chop stick.
It’s not perfect. My house won’t ever look like the cover of a magazine, but I’m pleased. I’m truly less overwhelmed with toys, and I hope this helps you find the right balance for your family. The relationship between ourselves and our stuff is one that we have to deal with all the time….whether we think that that relationship is an incredibly privileged and irritating one to have or not. But, it’s tricky Because it really truly is a difficult relationship to manage…and it only gets worse if we ignore it.
Any thoughts other thoughts on organizing this season?