Monday, April 22, 2013

Embracing simplicity

I've had trouble with clutter my whole life. Holding garage sales, donating to charity, or simply throwing things away were difficult tasks for my parents too while I was growing up. I remember once, while helping pack my mom's kitchen for a move, finding a weirdly-shaped serving dish. The ensuing conversation shows how much holding onto too much stuff has been drilled into me.

Me: "Mom, what is this? I've never seen it before. Can we get rid of it?"
Mom: "That's a French bread server."
Me: "A what? Okay, so can we just get rid of it then?"
Mom: "Oh no, that was a wedding gift!"
Me: "Really, but we never use it. Can't we just get rid of it?"
Mom: "I've used it once I'm sure. You can't get rid of a wedding gift."
Me: "I'm sure they wouldn't even care by now Mom, who did you get it from anyway?"
Mom: "Oh, I don't remember.

BEFORE: Main floor play area - mid-day play time
I'll admit as an adult I've had an inner desire for my home to look like those fancy magazine photos or at least like my really organized friends' homes. In reality, it looks like someone vomited toys at my house, that and clutter of all kinds on almost every flat surface. It's not that we really ever wanted it this way, it's just how it seems to end up.

Angel triplet has a propensity to get into everything, pull things apart, and put everything into her mouth. I usually feel like I can't keep ahead of her. She is still a big "dumper" of toys, running from one bin to another to simply dump everything on the floor, without much functional play with any of them. Putting toys away after dumping is quite the challenge for her and usually requires someone to work with her, helping her by doing the activity with her hand over hand. Now add in a stubborn Sunshine triplet who simply doesn't want to either stop playing or needs her one-on-one attention to encourage clean up, plus a Princess triplet who just wants to wander around with various objects twirling them in her typical stimming fashion. When it's a 1 adult to 3 kids ratio, it's really tough to insist on the clean up routine. Often, you find yourself giving up and deciding to clean it up yourself after the kiddos go to bed that night. Unless, of course, you're too exhausted.

Too many toys, too much clutter and lots of dumping. It all leads to a great deal of stress. On top of that, the need for structure and organization is high with Princess and Angel triplets, even though it often looks like Angel is bound and determined to wreak as much havoc as possible. Tripped Up Mommy's natural spontaneous personality and overall cluttered approach makes it more difficult for them to order their own brains, body, and ultimately life. This is exactly the moment for intentional parenting - it's time for Mommy to get more disciplined and make things easier for them. Thanks to one of the girls' teachers, who recently spent 4+ hours with me in our house, we've made some HUGE strides in simplifying our upstairs play area. With   help from their teacher and Tripped Up Daddy's entertaining of triplets, we dug in and made a lot of little changes that added up to a huge one.
AFTER: Main floor play area - mid-day play time

Here's what we did:
  1. Grouped like items quickly & put a bin together for odds & ends items that will be sorted later.
  2. Reduced the total number of toys available by about two-thirds.
  3. Purchased and labeled special bins where small toys can be stored.
  4. Planned out new rules for the girls which included no dumping of more than one bin at a time. 
  5. Created a workable plan for addressing toy boredom (switching out the toys within a planned time period).
  6. Reduced the anxiety of "but where do I put all this junk on the top of a cabinet?" question by using a box to store excess clutter with the understanding it will be sorted at a later date.
  7. Set up a plan of action that will make it easy for anyone (including Tripped Up Daddy, Lotte, babysitters, Grandma) to put the room back in working order within 15 minutes.
  8. Took perfectionism out of the mix as much as possible 
After a week and a half of a cleaner slate, I've noticed it's a more child-friendly environment and everyone seems to be calmer. There's also more functional play from Angel and Princess triplets already.Yes, the Tripped Up Castle seems happier and less stressed. Plus, we only bought new bins so it was very economical as well. Who knew something I thought I couldn't do would help the girls so much in such a little amount of time? The re-design made a huge impact and gives me the courage to look at doing more simplifying in other areas of the home. Have you done re-works similar to this in your home or life? How did you do it and what were some of the obstacles you faced?


  1. Right now I am just letting things be a toy disaster because the house we are renting is too small and was supposed to be temporary for a year not a year and a half. We are moving in a month and then the girls will have a play room. That will solve my living room and dining room toysplosion. The only thing that annoys me is that the PT that comes for E seems to be judging us. After today I am sure it is not all in my head.

    1. We do have a play room, but unfortunately I can't trust them downstairs alone in it, so that means I need toys on the same floor as the kitchen. I think with Angel triplet's tendency for trouble, we're in this spot for some time yet.

  2. Have to love those tiny victories! It always feels like a never ending battle, but we have made progress in some areas that turned out to be sustainable. A shelf storage unit (actually two, side-by-side) in my front hall with bins for everyone and mail and gloves and so on, this has saved my sanity in so many little ways. Of course, God was wise enough not to bless me with multiples, my chaos is caused by living with four men, aged 13-51. Naturally, I have a pathological aversion to clutter, so how did I marry an artist?

  3. I know right! Good thing I'm not taking the photo today, however. Little miss "dumper" has been at it again while Mom took Princess triplet to an appointment. Ugh.