I like a tidy house. Always have. It makes my mind feel calmer, clearer, more in control. So when my two kids trash the house, it literally feels like they’re messing with my mind.
Before my first child was born, I bought a beautiful armchair, in a delicate, duck-egg-blue fabric. It was my first really adult furniture purchase, and I thought it would make a lovely place for snuggling with my incoming baby.
Six years and two children later, and the duck-egg-blue is now murky grey. There are unsolvable grease stains on the arms, and it makes a worrying squeak every time I sit in it. I know, first world problems. But the chair has come to symbolise what children do to your house. They ruin stuff.
Some parents are really good at coping with this. They have a high comfort level with mess, and a perfect zen-no-mind about crunchy kitchen floors and hand-printed hallways. Whereas former neat freaks like myself suffer in silence as one more cup of juice slams into the carpet. I try to look cool about it, but I’m not. Is it too much to ask to have kids and a few nice things?
In defence of mess
Lots of studies say that we should embrace mess (or at least let a bit of it) into our lives. Researchers at the University of Iowa found that toddlers learn the words for solids faster when they can get messy in a highchair. There’s also psychological evidence that messiness can lead us away from convention and actually encourage creativity.
I get it. But I also suspect our generation of parents is wading through a bigger pile of crap than those before us. For example – remember the grown-up room? It was that fancy-looking lounge room with the nice velvet couches and lots of china lamps, and mum never wanted you in it.
I remember thinking grown-up rooms were pointless when I was a kid, but now I understand. Now we live in insanely open-plan houses, where instead of having a little corner to call our own, we have to skirt around our children’s detritus of toys and empty chip packets all day. Modern design has conspired against us.
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A plan for the neat freaks
So what to do? What happens when you’re not that breezy mother who laughs in the face of spilt milk? How do we all live together without having to sweep a pathway to bed? I asked a few of those admirable zen mothers, and here’s what they told me:
Get rid of excess toys and kids clothes you don’t need, and do it at least twice a year. Hand it down, pass it on, all those size zero leggings are dead to you now.
2. Look for storage systems
Which usually means lots of those big tubs with snap-on lids. Building a quick routine around packing up at the end of the day is also useful.
3. Relax about bedrooms and just close the door
A kid’s room should be their sanctuary, so it makes sense to give older children some responsibility for maintaining their bedroom. That said, there’s a difference between dirty and messy. So maybe clothes on floor okay – dirty dishes not okay.
4. Start them young
While we can’t expect too much of toddlers, we can start setting some expectations around cleanliness. By the time our children reach age seven, they should be able to take on more substantial tasks around the house like making their bed, sweeping and putting stuff away.
Fingers crossed right?