Mamas who are home with kids all day, especially homeschooling mamas: You know how hard it is to keep up with the messes. Toys, curricula, books, dishes, crumbs all over and under the table, that Lego brick you’ve stepped on for the umpteenth time… Tidying up with young kids can feel nearly impossible.
I, too, spend most of my days tripping over the junk my kids leave all over the house. When my daughter decides she’s done with racing her Hot Wheels car, she drops it on the ground and thinks never another thought about it.
My son changes, and lo and behold, there lay his jeans crumpled up in the middle of the room like he just stepped out of them.
And the mudroom? It’s basically a minefield of forgotten shoes and coats waiting to trip up any potential intruders- or, you know, the neighbor stopping by to say hello.
If I’m honest, I do it too. I drop the mail on the counter and walk away. I leave my jeans laying on the chest at the foot of the bed. The dishwasher collects the piles of papers I set absentmindedly upon its top. Homemaking is not one of my great strengths. And if I’m guilty of it, then how can I expect my kids to follow through?
Tidying Up when You Have Little Ones: Why is it So Hard?
Kids are naturally creative, inquisitive creatures. They want to play, to make, to tinker, to explore things. This is wonderful– but it can quickly become overwhelming.
Kids are Ingenious
Your kids may see their bunk bed as a make-believe eighteen wheeler truck, complete with cardboard gas and brake pedals and pot-lid steering wheel. They’ve spread their clothes out in a path that stretches through the hall to make a complete highway. Chairs and stools are turned to face opposite the “truck”- oncoming traffic, naturally.
You, on the other hand? You see an epic mess that feels like it will take the better part of an hour to put back to normal. And by normal, I mean calm. Peaceful. No clothes to trip on, no chairs to climb over, and pot lid securely back in its cupboard– where it belongs.
Kids are Energetic
Since kids can move relatively quickly- and since there’s often more kids than parents-they can rip through a room like a tornado. The rate of all your heartfelt decluttering and organizing efforts pale in comparison to the sheer momentum generated by a bunch of kids in the middle of a game or craft.
Your morning spent scrubbing and vacuuming? Gone in less than an hour’s play. Your cute coordinating baskets that hold costumes? Mocked by the fervor of two elementary girls playing dress up.
Kids are Engaged
Remember when you were little? You spent long stretches of time on building block houses, setting up your dolls, making elaborate art creations… and when mom or dad asked you to stop what you were doing and clean it up, it probably was quite the frustrating experience.
You were in the middle of something important. This took you hours! Couldn’t your parents understand that?
You Wish Tidying Up Could Be Easier
It’s no wonder that you spend so much energy trying to keep things relatively neat. And it’s no surprise that the constant messes can push you to the point where you lose your ever. loving. mind.
And if, like us, you happen to live in a small house, the kids’ creative, energetic, messy genius can take up the majority of the space. (We live in a tiny 2 bedroom farmhouse with no closets or built in storage. Did I mention that there’s six of us in here?)
But since I can’t change my house size at the moment, I have to focus on what I can change.
For me, that involves decluttering, following simple daily routines, and trying to stick to regular cleaning tasks. I am not always consistent in these efforts, but I am trying, and that’s the main thing.
However, all of these things take time. Sometimes lots of time. I believe they are worth the time and effort they require, but sometimes you just need a quick fix.
One Simple Hack for Tidying Up: The Ten Thing Pickup
Introducing, the Ten Thing Pickup.
Ten things? Only Ten things? You expect that to make a difference in my insane catastrophe of a house?
I know it doesn’t seem like much, but that’s exactly why it works. It’s because it’s so doable. Stick with me and you’ll understand in a moment.
My sister in law first introduced this idea to me years ago when our kids were very little. We used it to encourage our then toddlers to help out picking up their toys. (Counting and cleaning, hooray!) But it still works for us now almost ten years later.
How it Helps to Tidy Up
When things get crazy and you find you’re wading knee deep in kid stuff, take a moment to declare a Ten Thing Pickup. It works exactly how it sounds: everybody picks up just ten things and puts them back where they belong, whether that be in a bin, on a shelf, in a room, or in the garbage.
The goal with a ten thing pick up is to move quickly and not overthink it. We’re just trying to get stuff off the ground (or some other zone) and back where it belongs. We work as a team and get the job done in just a minute or two.
Here’s where the power of the Ten Thing Pickup comes in:
Since everybody works together, your tidying power multiplies. In our home, we usually have five to six people home at any given time. That means when we do a ten thing pickup, we are putting away fifty to sixty items at one time. Even if it’s only you and one child, you will still get twenty items put away very quickly.
It’s also very fast, which means it’s not very onerous for any one person to do. Everybody takes two minutes and when they work together, it makes a noticeable dent in the mess.
Are you drowning in almost every room? Ten Thing Pickups can be repeated at intervals. You can do a pickup once, then do it again in ten minutes, or a half hour from now. It makes tidying up easy, fun, and quick.
In our home, we usually do a Ten Thing Pickup before lunch and dinner, and anytime in between when things start to feel crazy. It really helps to keep the mess at a manageable level.
As you may have gathered, here are some rules to tidying up this way. You may find it helpful to rehearse these with your kids the first several times you do it.
Rules for The Ten Thing Pickup
- Every person who is home participates!
- Every item you pick up must be put in its proper place- otherwise we’re just moving the mess around.
- No complaining or dilly-dallying- let’s get those ten things away in less than two minutes.
- Things don’t have to look perfect when we’re done, but we can repeat the Ten Thing Pickup as many times as necessary.
Adaptations for This Tidying Trick
There are several ways you can change the game to adapt it to your needs. Here are some of the ways we’ve done it- what are some that you can think of?
For When It’s Insanely Messy
Try doing a Ten Thing Pickup Blitz. Pick up 10 things, set a timer and dance for 5 minutes, then come back to do another pickup. Run around the outside of the house once, come back and do another pickup. Or pickup, play, pickup, play. You get the idea. Repeating it several times will get the mess put away without feeling overwhelming.
Another idea: up the ante. Make it a 20 thing pickup challenge. Or 30 if you’re feeling really ambitious!
For When You Need a Certain Area Clean
Assign everyone a tidying zone. Maybe it’s the kitchen table, or perhaps the living room. Have everyone jump in and do a pickup in a specific zone to get it whipped back into shape in no time.
For When You Need to Pick Up Teeny Tiny Things
Lego bricks, anyone? I challenge my kids to do 10 handfuls of Legos instead of 10 individual Legos. I just say, “Ten Lego-Scoop Pickup, guys,” and they know exactly what I mean. Adapt as needed for the offending mess.
Why I Love the Ten Thing Pickup
Picking up ten things seems so simple and quick, but it’s something that everybody can do. The youngest toddler can drop her blocks back into a bin, and even sloppy grownups (author raises her own hand) can participate without it being too painful. Everyone lends a hand, and everyone reaps the benefits- quickly!
If you’re looking for an easy hack to streamline tidying up, I hope you’ll try the Ten Thing Pickup! Let me know how it goes, and be sure to share with your friends. 🙂