The Day I Stopped Putting My Kids’ Junk Away Was the Day I Finally Reclaimed My Sanity

Image Source: Wendy Wisner

Every Saturday morning, I kick my husband and kids out of the house for a few glorious hours so I can clean.

Yes, I know house cleaning is not the most luxurious task on Earth, but I honestly look forward to those mornings — it’s my “me” time. I blast ’80s music and get into a groove of wiping, dusting, vacuuming, mopping, and scrubbing. There’s a lovely satisfaction to getting rid of all the muck and mire from the week, and clearing our space for the next week ahead.

However, before I can get down to the actual business of cleaning, I have to clear away all the miscellaneous junk that has piled up in every nook and cranny of our house in the last seven days. You know — the permission slips, the half-finished books, someone’s baseball mitt, someone’s sketchy-looking undergarments, a snack wrapper (or 20), random pieces of some school project or other — and, of course, the socks. ALL THE SOCKS.

I know, I know. Why don’t I just make my kids (and — ahem — my husband) clean up their own stuff? Well, I do try. And so do they.

My two kids both have daily chores, and part of that requires them pick up their junk so that messes didn’t get out of hand in the first place. But you know how that goes: some stuff gets cleared, other stuff piles up, and by the weekend, it looks like a hurricane passed through our living room.

I’ve also tried to get them to clean up before they go out on Saturdays. But getting two kids out of the house after a lazy morning of TV watching (you know, so their parents can sleep in!) can be a disaster. So more often than not, I just shove them out the door and take care of the decluttering myself.

But a few weeks ago, I finally broke. I’d had enough of that massive job of putting away their junk. I was also tired of all the nagging and asking and begging that is necessary to get them to pitch in. Because we all know that the struggle isn’t just getting your family to do chores, but also having to be the one to remind them to do them.

The emotional and mental labor of it all is the real zinger, isn’t it?

So there I was, rifling through an overstuffed closet one Saturday, when an old empty vinyl basket plopped out. And just like that, I suddenly had a lightbulb moment.

I brought the basket into the middle of the living room, where I was in the process of picking up my family’s miscellaneous crap — and instead of making little piles that I would then put away, I just started tossing everything into that little basket. In all of five minutes, every last stray sock, book, paper clip, and plastic sword was out of sight and out of mind.

My house was clear, and I didn’t even have to put a single thing away.

As much as I hate nagging, it often feels second-nature, and as though nothing will get done around my house if I don’t direct it to myself.
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Then, I put that basket at the bottom of our steps, and went about my business cleaning and bopping along to Cyndi Lauper’s “Girls Just Want to Have Fun.”

In a few hours, my family returned, and I told them the plan. They had one job to complete by the end of the day: find the little black basket, figure out which stuff was theirs, and then either put it the trash, or in an appropriate place. (Hint: Not back on the counter, couch, or floor!)

I decided that after those instructions, I was going to do my best to keep my mouth shut, and also not help with the task in any way. It wasn’t easy, let me tell you. As much as I hate nagging, it often feels second-nature, and as though nothing will get done around my house if I don’t direct it to myself.

But by some small miracle, the task ended up getting done — and without my help.

My kids suddenly knew where their stuff was, and having it in that dinky little basket rather than scattered around the house somehow made the whole thing more concrete for them.

At 4 PM, I walked into the kitchen, where all the various items were laid out on the floor and my husband and kids were dividing things into piles, deciding where everything went. I’m not gonna lie: It was a beautiful sight to behold.

We’ve had the basket system in place for nearly a month now, and it continues to amaze me how well it works. The other day, my son even asked me where the basket was and if it was ready for him. It’s still a bit of a novelty to him (let’s hope that lasts!).

I know that the process still requires a bit of hand-holding from me because I’m the one that has to find their stuff and fill the basket with it. And some people might object to even that amount of work. But hey, it works for me. And since I’m the only one who seems to notice clutter around here in the first place, I might as well be the one to pick it up on throw it in there. It’s really the nagging and sorting and putting things away part that I want to avoid.

Obviously, some families will need a bigger basket, or more than one. There was a week when I had more stuff than could fit in the basket, so I ended up throwing it all into a plastic bag on the steps. It wasn’t ideal, but we made it work. I’m also thinking of getting separate baskets for each family member, but who knows — that might end up being too much sorting effort on my part.

We’ll see how long this “Magic Basket” keeps its potency, but for now, it is definitely working wonders for me and my family. Really, anything to get my family’s junk out of my field of vision without my having to nag the heck out of anyone in the interim is a HUGE success in my book, and I will take what I can get.

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Article Posted 2 years Ago

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