How Do You Go About Cleaning a Terrific Mess?

At 11:20 this morning, I announced to my kids that they needed to clean up before having lunch (this is not a NEW process) and immediately both erupted into tears. I repeated myself and then two-year-old started picking up books while one-year-old continued to bellow. Little boy turned to younger sister and said, “First clean up. Then lunch.” (He definitely knows the routine and expectation)

Now, let me describe the state of today’s living room. The children took out every single toy they own (so it seemed). They pulled books off the shelf (all the books). They took out all the blocks. They scattered alphabet letters everywhere and they opened some random tins containing music toys and finger puppets. It was really truly a mess.

Where was I when this all happened? Oh, sighing, I was there. I mentioned that they were going to have to clean it all up when they delighted in pulling books down in piles, but I just didn’t intervene. And really, it all can get picked up and put away in under ten minutes even though it looks horrible.

But it doesn’t get picked up if kids flop on the floor.

I recognize that it feels overwhelming and I also recognize that the ability to tackle a daunting task is a pretty major skill in life.

So first we sat and surveyed the room and identified categories of things (books, alphabet letters, stuffed animals, etc) and then we identified what we were going to start with. And it went pretty well. I helped out by sliding blocks over to the kid putting blocks away and reshelving the books as they handed them to me. And then glitches happened.

Little boy was putting together some pieces of a puzzle and some pieces were missing (hidden under the pile) so he had to put the puzzle aside to focus on other things. It’s was a bit distressing. And then sometimes it just got overwhelming and so little boy climbed on my lap to cry and say he was tired, but he knew the routine and I stuck to my guns.

I ended up helping little girl a bit more and then giving her lunch which got little boy tackling the neverending pile of books once more. And then he finished and we took a photo and surveyed the before and after photos and reflected on the experience.

When their dad came home for lunch, the first thing little boy said was, “We cleaned up”. It’s funny because we do it almost every day, but today’s task did seem more insurmountable than others. And this made me wonder what tools I was giving to my kids to help them learn how to handle such a task.

As a child, I would push everything into one big pile and then sort things from that one point and then put them away. As an adult, I tend to walk across a room, pick up multiple things and then deposit them near where they go (dirty laundry in the pile by the washer, books by the shelves, papers on the table, forks in the sink, etc). Then I go and tackle each area.

While I was doing tonight’s dishes I also thought about how I clean and this is how I think it goes (mind you, I am not the best house cleaner, but neither am I the worst):

1. Everything has a place

2. Get things into the general area

3. Get things from the general area actually put away

4. Save organizing and putting books up facing the same direction for a project for a later date

5. Visually look around the room and scan for things that are out of place Today, I actually did a decent amount of cleaning and scrubbing, but there were so many things out and about, it didn’t really look like I did much.

I think the trick is to make it loooook clean and then to go back and actually get it clean. And that’s my process. Which is definitely different than my husband’s.

What’s yours?


Filed under Life with Kids

4 responses to “How Do You Go About Cleaning a Terrific Mess?

  1. Valeria

    Hmm…my process would be to throw sh*t anywhere and ignore it. Then, when company’s expected, whisk myself into a tidying and cleaning frenzy.

    • Laughing – well, that’s what I often do as well! I aim to be like the homes on TV where the homicide detectives can knock at any time throughout the day and I can confidently invite them and the movie cameras in for a cup of freshly brewed coffee or tea. So far, it is a failing endeavor.

  2. ….so, what’s your husband’s process??

    • laughing – um – well, he’s a much better folder of laundry than I am and spends far more time making sure each thing is folded nicely (on our sofa where all can see), whereas I am more focused on getting the laundry into the room where it belongs (forming a big pile on top of the dresser for easy accessibility).

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