People do lots of things when they want to lose weight, get into shape or achieve greater happiness. They stock up on veggies. They go to the gym. They take up meditation.
I can’t help it. Starting something new while surrounded by old messes is overwhelming to me. I become distracted, then frustrated and ultimately inert.
So last weekend I set out to rid my home of one of my greatest sources of stress: toy clutter. And with two boys 6 and under, we have no shortage of it. Toys fill the bedrooms, the living room, the kitchen, the dining room — even my purse. When the situation grows particularly dire, I fantasize about throwing everything in the garbage and making each of my sons a rag doll to call their own. You know, Little House style.
I reached such a point just before Christmas, when the thought of more toys entering our home brought out my inner Scrooge. An offhand comment to one of my son’s teachers prompted an immediate response: “You need to control the environment. Limit their choices.”
That’s when I rediscovered the classroom’s choice board. You see, kids at school aren’t allowed to wander from activity to activity, dumping out buckets of toys, art supplies and miscellaneous crap as they go. They need to make a choice, finish their work (or play) and then clean up.
What a concept! I decided to bring it home . . .
. . . where we were dealing with this. On a good day (and this is by no means the worst day), my older kiddo’s toys would sit out fairly neatly on open shelving. He could choose from anything. Of course, as kids tend to do, he usually chose everything. In no time, the floor would be covered with the entire contents of his room.
This was not a controlled environment. And it was unfair of me to expect a 6-year-old to manage so much stuff.
So we first eliminated the garbage and filled several bags for Good Will.
Then we sorted his remaining toys and packed them into covered totes, which I stacked neatly in his closet. Kitchen stuff in a tote. Bat Cave stuff in a tote. Cars in a tote. And so on.
Then I created laminated sheets with pictures and words that represent each item in his toy closet. Located just inside the door, our homespun “choice boards” let him easily see all that is available to him.
I also made a little avatar with his picture and used Velcro to create “sticky” spots by each toy. Just like at school (which he loves), he chooses an activity by placing his picture by the toy he wants. When he makes a choice, we take out the activity. When he’s done, he cleans it up and we put it away. Then he can choose something else. Simple. Smart.
Now his room looks like this. We keep only Legos in the open shelving now, but he still chooses those using his choice sheets.
So far, we’ve maintained a clutter-free kid’s room for a week. A week!
Teachers. They’re so smart.