Archives for Children
You’ve uncluttered your home, and now you’re making sure everything you’re saving has its defined storage place. You’ll usually want to store the things you use most often in easy-to-reach places — but please make sure you’re also storing things safely. Here are some of the issues you’ll want to consider.
A recent study by Safe Kids found that parents know the importance of storing medications up and away from children — but emergency department visits for accidental poisonings are still increasing. What’s going on? Children are ingesting medicines found on the floor, in purses, in pillboxes, etc. They get into these medicines not just at their own homes, but also at the homes of grandparents or other relatives.
So when you’re looking at storage requirements, be sure to think about those pillboxes and purses. And, remember that pets can also get into medications.
For more information, check out the Up and Away website, which reminds us to put every medicine and vitamin container away every time you use it — even if you’re going to use it again in just a few hours.
Most everyone knows to keep things like pesticides and antifreeze in places where children and pets can’t get to them. But other hazardous products might escape attention.
For example, the Consumer Product Safety Commission has issued a safety alert warning about the dangers of single-load liquid laundry packets. These colorful packets look like toys to children, but they often contain chemicals that are dangerous if ingested — so they need to be kept safely away from kids.
If you have pets, please be aware of the materials that may be toxic to them, and store those items appropriately. The Pet Poison Hotline has a detailed list of pet toxins for cats and dogs, including items like chocolate, matches, nicotine, and mothballs. Since so many foods can be poisonous to pets, you’ll want to be sure you have a pet-proof garbage can, one that’s tucked away where pets can’t get into it, or pets that are trained to never raid the garbage can.
Furniture, televisions and other heavy items
Living in earthquake territory, I’ve learned about the perils of toppling bookcases and other heavy items. The Dare to Prepare website reminds readers to tightly secure everything that could injure someone if it falls — as well as any fragile items you would hate to see damaged. The site provides information on how to properly secure bookcases, filing cabinets, etc.
But, until recently, I hadn’t thought about how easily children can get crushed if a television or a piece of heavy furniture were to fall on them — which can happen when a child reaches for something like a remote or climbs onto the furniture to get to an attractive item. The Georgia Department of Public Health has written about these issues, and the Consumer Product Safety Commission has a Tip-Over Information Center. Safe Kids has a report providing extensive information about the TV tip-over problem and how to avoid it.
Where do you store plastic bags? Do you dispose of dry cleaning bags immediately, in places where young children and pets can’t get hold of them? These bags can present a suffocation risk, so please handle them appropriately. The Canadian Paediatric Society recommends that you “tie plastic bags in a knot before storing them out of reach and out of sight” if you have children ages 6-12 months.
Being well organized also gives you the opportunity to be more safe in your home. Storing items securely and safely can help to prevent accidents.
I’ve written about the benefits of a trusted system before. It can be anything you like, really: index cards in your pocket, project management software, a notepad, audio recorder, whatever. The crucial thing is that your brain knows: 1.) You’ll enter information into it reliably; 2.) You’ll check on it regularly, and 3.) Nothing entered into the system will get lost through the cracks. Some people use Getting Things Done, while some use a home-grown solution. When you trust your system in your bones, your brain will stop nagging you about what needs to be done.
That nagging happens to me when I carry around excessive “mental clutter.” As I’ve said before, I use David Allen’s definition of clutter (I’m paraphrasing here): Anything that isn’t where it’s supposed to be for all time. For example, sneakers lying under the coffee table are clutter until they’re placed in the shoe basket in the mudroom. Likewise, “Dentist appointment on the 14th at 9:00 AM” is clutter while it’s in my mind until I write it on a calendar that I know I’ll check.
Mental clutter is detrimental to me in several ways. When I my mind is cluttered I remember obligations when it’s impossible to do anything about them (“Finish William’s Pinewood Derby car” is useless to me while doing 60 mph on the highway), and the subsequent distraction causes me to miss other, more important things.
Now, about the snowman.
A year ago, I was in the checkout line with my then-4-year-old son. He clanked his Keds against the steel shopping cart as I moved bottled water, bagels, and potato chips onto the conveyor belt. While my hands worked I thought about which items would go into the freezer, which ones I’d cook right away, what we’d eat later that night….
“Daddy, look at the snowman.”
“Look at the snowman.”
“Honey, it’s summer time. There’s no snowman.”
“I see a snowman.”
I looked up, my arms moving items from cart to belt, my eyes scanning the store. “Where’s your snowman, honey?”
He pointed. I looked. I saw it.
A snowman. In the floral department, there was a balloon shaped like a snowman, about 18 inches tall.
I hadn’t noticed it. I never would have if he hadn’t pointed it out. What’s more, he was right. Why would there be a snowman balloon for sale in July? What an odd thing that I missed. What else had I missed? I wanted to know.
That’s when I vowed to notice what I was missing. The first step, I figured, was to identify how I was missing things. Once I found it, I could change it and then cease missing things. I began to monitor my habits. Initially I didn’t change them, I just observed. I was stunned at how frequently I invited distraction upon myself. Here’s what I was doing:
Waking up in the morning, and switching on the news. Dressing while barely glancing at my clothing. Heck, I was watching the news while barely glancing at the TV. Between buttons and sound bites, my eyes were scanning emails while my brain was running its own acrobatics. What will happen today? What will happen this weekend? I need to do laundry. Why are the kids moving so slowly, don’t they know it’s a school day?
There were constant distractions and a mentally consuming dialogue like this throughout the entire day.
Eventually, I realized something significant — I never did what I was doing. For example, when I got dressed in the morning, I didn’t get dressed. Instead, I spent that time filtering much incoming stimuli: The TV, email, my children’s progress toward getting ready for school and so on. My mind wasn’t on what was happening, which was selecting clothing, buttoning a shirt, tying a shoe, tightening a belt.
With the problem identified, I worked on eliminating it. In the morning, I turned off the TV and the computer and just got dressed. I even told myself, “I’m getting dressed.” It was nice! I kept doing it. I found that I appreciate that I have the motor skills required to dress myself. I found that I have nice clothes. I found that my backyard looks nice in the morning through the bedroom window, and I can look down on the berry patch and rhubarb plants. When I was done, I felt, well, happy.
I also realize that there’s so much good in the ordinary. Kurt Vonnegut expressed this more eloquently that I can:
“[When Kurt Vonnegut tells his wife he’s going out to buy an envelope] Oh, she says, well, you’re not a poor man. You know, why don’t you go online and buy a hundred envelopes and put them in the closet? And so I pretend not to hear her. And go out to get an envelope because I’m going to have a hell of a good time in the process of buying an envelope. I meet a lot of people. And, see some great looking babies. And a fire engine goes by. And I give them the thumbs up. And ask a woman what kind of dog that is. And, I don’t know. The moral of the story is, we’re here on Earth to fart around. And, of course, the computers will do us out of that. And, with the computer people don’t realize, or they don’t care, is we’re dancing animals. You know, we love to move around. And, we’re not supposed to dance at all anymore.”
Now, I’m not saying it’s impossible to do two things at once. Nor am I suggesting that we eschew productivity or fail to pack the kids’ lunches because it’s time to examine every detail of every moment. I still occasionally write and listen to music at the same time, or breeze through my Twitter stream like a humming bird, or review the day’s schedule in my head. But now I know that’s what I’m doing, if that makes sense. And I’m missing a lot less.
If you have little ones in your life, you might also have a not so little situation known as toy clutter. Letting go of toys can be difficult because you may be considering passing them on to younger or future children or you might think that reducing the number of toys means that you’re depriving your children of enjoyment and learning experiences. You don’t have to be a parent to experience this dilemma. If you’re a grandparent or family member who often has kids stopping in for quick (or long) visits, you will likely need to determine what to do with an overabundance of toys.
How do you decide when it’s okay to let toys go? There isn’t a super hero to swoop in and take away toys that are no longer needed, nor are there flashing signals to let you know the exact moment when it’s time to let go of a toy. But, over time, you’ll begin notice whether your children’s interest in specific toys increases or wanes.
To help you recognize when it’s time to part with some of their playthings:
Oberserve your children during play time
When I was a teacher, I spent a good amount of time observing the children in my classroom. This helped me create lessons that suited their learning styles. Though interacting with them gave me lots of insight, I found that simply observing them when they were “in the moment” helped me to get to know them better. To truly discover the types of toys that your children love (or don’t love), you’ll likely need to do this as well. That doesn’t mean that you need to spend an entire hour with a clipboard in hand ready to jot down what you see. There will be plenty of opportunities for you to figure out which toys they reach for often and which one they don’t pay much attention to. Those that are not as interesting to them anymore are great candidates for donation. And, you can then decide which specific toys you’d like to introduce them to.
Look for toys that do similar things
I once worked for an organization where the motto was, “Each child is unique, precious, and unrepeatable.” Toys on the other hand, are not necessarily unique. You may have duplicates or several that function in extremely similar ways. As I mentioned before, your children will let you know which are their favorites based on their typical play habits. This means you can easily donate or give away the ones they don’t play with often.
Swap toys in/out regularly
Limiting the number of toys that your children have to play with will help you get a better sense of their likes and dislikes, and give them ample opportunities to play with specific things. Having fewer toys to focus on can be less overwhelming for them and they can get on with the business of fully learning about each one (rather than bouncing around from item to item). Rotating toys in and out will also stop them from taking over adult spaces and will make it easier to unclutter and maintain children’s areas in your home.
Once you’ve determined which toys your children no longer play with (and which ones you’ll keep in rotation), you can do a toy swap with friends or donate gently used items to a local family shelter. There are also several organizations, like Goodwill, Loving Hugs, and Second Chance Toys, that will accept used toys that are still in good condition.
What do you do with all the artwork your kids bring home from school? What happens with all the drawings, paintings and macaroni collages they also make — lovingly — for you at home? They’re so cute, but refrigerator doors can only hold so much!
My wife and I implement a simple process of editing, displaying and swapping that serves us well. It does take a little honesty and “tough love,” but it works out quite well.
Step One: Edit
In essence, these pieces of art tell a story. You can watch Jr.’s skills evolve, and notice what he notices in his daily life. This story, like any other, needs editing. Now that the year draws to a close, it’s a good time to sit down with the stack and identify the keepers and the rest. What does a keeper look like?
- A first. For example, we saved my daughter’s first attempt at drawing people who weren’t stick figures. I’m wearing an actual shirt! Other firsts might include a new home, new puppy in the family and so on.
- A beautiful piece of art. Every now and then they’ll knock your socks off with something that looks downright good. Those examples definitely go in the keep pile.
- Holiday Theme. As I’ll explain later, it’s nice to grab something to represent Christmas, Thanksgiving, summer or whatever you celebrate. Only one, though.
- Something Meaningful. Maybe you’ve got something that was made on a special trip, on a memorable occasion, or for a reason that has great significance to you and your family. Just be careful not to let your emotions get the best of you here or you may go overboard.
Step Two: Display
Now that you’ve identified the cream of the crop and eliminated a lot of clutter potential, it’s time to give the winners the respect and prominence they deserve. Here are a few ideas.
- Frame them. You can find inexpensive matted frames in various sizes at photo supply stores, craft stores and even the supermarket. They hang on the wall and really make that art look special. We’ve found that you can store three or four paintings or drawings in the frame behind the piece being displayed. So, we’ve got four frames that actually store 16 pieces of art. As the seasons (or our whims) change, we simply take the frame off the wall and rotate which piece is in front.
- Make a digital photo book. Shutterfly and Apple’s iPhoto will let you create beautiful hard-bound books of photos. You can snap photos of your children’s art and in a few steps have a beautiful coffee table book of their work. This is especially useful for items that might break like pottery or tree ornaments. These are also great to share with grandma, grandpa and other loved ones who don’t get to see your childrens’ art in person. Finally, here’s how to get great photos of objects at home on the cheap.
- Create a home gallery. This can be a lot of fun and gets the kids involved in the editing process. Pick one area of the house, perhaps a single wall, to be the art gallery. Avoid Jr.’s bedroom because you want this to be visible to all visitors. Have her select the pieces to be displayed. I love this idea of putting a frame around an office clip mounted to the wall. How easy to swap pieces in and out. When the gallery gets full, take a photo, then pull that “exhibit” down and begin replacing it with the next one.
- Re-use. That painting needn’t be a painting forever! You can turn it into a greeting card or laminate larger pieces and use them as place mats.
Step Three: Swap
When swapping out some pieces, consider sending them to far-flung family and friends. Chances are they’ll love having them.
Another option is Kids Art for the Cure. This organization takes donated artwork and puts them on greeting cards. Proceeds go to recognized cancer research organizations.
Or, consider Child’s Own Studio. This company builds actual stuffed dolls based on your child’s drawings.
What do you do or have you done with children’s artwork? Share your success stories in the comments.
The winter holidays are coming and, for those who celebrate and have kids, it typically means the acquisition of new toys. It’s great for the kids but becomes problematic when the new bounty is piled upon last year’s. And the year before that. Before long, you’ve got clutter on your hands. Fortunately, there are several things you can do to reduce the mess, keep things tidy, and, best of all, keep the kids happy about it. If you’re looking to part with used toys, the following are several ideas for what you can do with older, outgrown or otherwise unused toys.
It’s always nice to donate a toy to someone who could use it and there are plenty of options. Here are a few that should be available in many communities for very lightly used toys:
- Toy drives. To find a toy drive in your area, contact a local church or chamber of commerce. Organizations like the Boy Scouts of America and Girl Scouts also organize drives, so seek them out in your neighborhood.
- S.A.F.E. Stuffed Animals for Emergencies. This organization delivers donated stuffed animals, toys, books and blankets to hospitals, children’s services, homeless shelters and hospitals across the country. You can find a chapter in your area here.
- Goodwill. Goodwill works to foster employment training opportunities for those it serves. The vast majority of funds brought in through its stores serves that purpose.
- Local fire department. Firefighters and EMTs often keep stuffed animals around to give to children they must transport to the hospital. Call the department in your area to see if they have such a program.
Repurpose Old Toys
Repurposing is where it gets fun. You and your child can let your creativity run wild and think of fun and useful ways to repurpose old toys. It can soften the blow that comes with giving something away. Often children can have an emotional bond to a toy they haven’t touched in years. Tricks like these allow them to keep that toy around (or a part of it at least).
Repurposing helps kids (and parents) realize that making something can be more fun than buying. It fosters a real sense of ownership and accomplishment. Finally, you’re keeping a hunk of plastic out of the landfill in many cases. Here are some great ideas for re-purposing old toys.
Website Apartment Therapy has gathered 10 fantastic projects for old toys from around the web. My favorites include:
- Plastic toy as planter. This fantastic tutorial shows you how to turn a plastic dinosaur into a cute planter.
- Wooden block wall hangings. My wife and I bought so many wooden blocks for my children. At 7 and 9 years old, they’ve lost interest. This quick how-to from snug.studio shows how to turn them into wall hangings for book bags, hats, jackets and more. Very clever.
- Animal head toy coat rack. A very clever and useful project from Make: Craft uses the heads of discarded plastic animals to make a good-looking coat rack.
- Tree ornaments. When I was very young, my mother cut the plastic animals that hung from the mobile above my crib and turned them into Christmas tree ornaments. They’re still among my favorites (wooden peg puzzle pieces also make great ornaments).
I know that kids aren’t thrilled about receiving clothes as gifts, but it happens. Even I have a T-shirt collection that drives my wife a little crazy. Last year, she had several made into the quilt pictured below that has graced my bed ever since.
Honor the Memory
We often fail to part with things not because of the item itself, but with the memory or emotion it represents. This is especially true as kids grow up. One way to honor the memory without incurring clutter is with a shadow box like these from Lawrence Frames. Add an item or two and discard the rest. The memory is intact, and the clutter isn’t.
I also love this wall decoration made from small, unused toys. What a nice way to let Jr. keep some of the items he loves without letting them form a space-hogging pile.
You won’t be able to sell all of your old toys, of course. But some vintage toys and collectibles can attract buyers. Before you list your little treasures online, you’ll need to take some photos. A good photo can make or break a sale. Here’s a fantastic tutorial on how to photograph your items for the likes of ebay. And, Thomas train sets are very popular this time of year for sale on Craigslist.
There’s a lot that can be done with old toys. If you can, have your kids take part in the process you choose. They’ll feel a part of the decision and enjoy seeing the toy’s new role.
Kids excel at many things, including the acquisition of stuff. From books to LEGO bricks, and dolls to video games, it all piles up and leads to the inevitable question: Where should they put this? There’s a larger question at work here, too: do they need all this stuff? Listed below are a few gift ideas to help children answer both questions. And don’t worry, they’ll enjoy opening these gifts, too.
- A notebook. My nine-year-old is a real “Forgetful Flower” (she takes after her father). So I’ve gotten her to adopt a habit of mine: writing things down in a notebook. Filednotes Brand sells this super-cute “Summer Camp” 3-pack of brightly-colored notebooks that comes with a three matching pencils and an oversized rubber band that make a great stocking stuffer. My daughter uses hers to write down classroom assignments.
- Labels from Mabel’s Labels. These super-cute labels clearly display your child’s name, come in many sizes, colors and themes (dinosaur, nature, etc.) and stick to just about anything. We’ve placed them on clothes sent to camp, inside baseball hats and other sports equipment, lunch boxes and more. They also make dog-tag style bag tags (older kids won’t be embarrassed to use them) perfect for hockey equipment, laundry, etc. We’ve even put the clothing labels through several washings and they’ve remained intact.
- The IRIS LEGO 6-Case Workstation and Storage Unit is awesome. Shallow, color-coded drawers make it easy to find the pieces you want. The top of the unit itself is a LEGO surface, so it doubles as a play area. LEGO bricks seem to reproduce on their own that his unit keeps their population under control.
- Wall-mounted sports storage racks. I love these great-looking racks for storing/displaying snowboards, wakeboards, surfboards, skateboards and skis. Teenagers will like them because their gear looks cool presented like this. You’ll like them because it gets that stuff up off the floor.
- Nintendo DS game organizer. These game cartridges are so tiny and they love to disappear. This organizer holds 12 cartridges and offers easy access. There are similar storage devices for all handheld gaming systems. Include a new game with the organizer, and it will make most any kid happy.
- Lap desks. In dark and bright models, a lap desk can be incredibly useful gift for a kid who likes to do homework on the couch or in a comfy chair. My kids covered theirs with strips of Duck Tape in crazy patterns for a custom look.
Younger children who aren’t yet into skateboarding, gaming systems, or homework might enjoy books that have underlying themes on uncluttering and organizing:
- Room Enough for Daisy by Debbie Waldman. Little Daisy has so many toys, she wishes for a larger bedroom to accommodate them all. Eventually, her mom convinces her to donate some items to a rummage sale. Cindy Revell’s illustrations are really cute.
- Too Many Toys by David Shannon. David’s books are fantastic, starting with the hilariously relatable “No, David!” Too Many Toys has a similar theme to Room Enough for Daisy, in that David is required to thin his massive collection of toys. It’s a fun story that my kids think is funny and I find quite charming.
- Mr. Messy, part of the Mr./Mrs. series by Roger Hargreaves, is an untidy fellow until he meets Mr. Neat and Mr. Tidy.
- More by I. C. Springman is about a hoarding magpie whose friends teach him the value of “enough.” Again, the illustrations are great and the minimal text great for new readers.
I’ve got one last tip to share. My wife and I have two kids. To make things easy on Christmas morning, we wrap gifts strategically. Presents to Child A from mom and dad are wrapped in Paper A. Those to Kid B are in Paper B. Finally, gifts from Santa are magically in a third paper. This way, we avoid the “Who is this from?” question as well as “Is this mine?” It works very well for us.
The full 2012 Holiday Gift Giving Guide.
The November 2012 issue of Dwell magazine (content not yet online) introduced me to Casa Kids, a Brooklyn-based children’s bedroom furniture company led by designer Roberto Gil. What amazes me about the furniture is how it is perfectly designed for small-space living. In addition to being very well made, almost all of the furniture also increases the function of a room — something that is so important in tight living quarters.
A few of my favorite space-saving pieces:
The Dumbo Loft Bed with Closet, which includes a desk and a closet in the first level and even has a hamper drawer for dirty clothes:
The Dumbo Storage Bed, which would significantly increase the amount of storage in any room. (Note, those are shelves on the front of the unit. There is a ladder that goes on the front left like in the picture above but that isn’t in this image.):
The Dumbo Folding Bunk Bed, which would be terrific in a room that serves as both an office and a guest room.:
You can check out the furniture online or in person at their showroom at 106 Ferris Street in the Red Hook neighborhood in Brooklyn, New York. Most of the large pieces of installed furniture hover in the $4,000 price range, but smaller items are significantly less expensive.
My dog, an oft-naughty Boston Terrier named Batgirl, recently taught me an important lesson about clinging to clutter, attachment, and the real value of memories. How?
She ruined an irreplaceable baseball that I loved.
In late 2011, my brother-in-law and I took a road trip to Boston. We went to watch a Red Sox game at Fenway Park. I love the Sox and typically attend a game or two per season. My brother-in-law is also a die-hard fan, but he hadn’t attended a game since childhood (we’re both in our 40s now). The trip was a big deal; we had never gone together and he hadn’t been in decades.
Plus, my brother-in-law was dealing with stresses at home and the game was an opportunity to shut that off for a while. We wedged our widening backsides into plastic chairs, over paid for hot dogs, and engaged in the overtly American tradition of watching millionaires hit a ball with a stick for our amusement.
Then the game went south.
The opposing team scored early. And often. The Sox answered by not scoring, which, for those unfamiliar with professional sports, is the textbook wrong way of doing things. A Red Sox comeback seemed possible, then improbable, then all but impossible. My brother-in-law joked that every time he visited Fenway as a kid, the Sox lost. It seemed his streak would remain intact, and it did.
As the game came to its inevitable conclusion, it was announced that we were a part of Red Sox history. Although our beloved team had lost, that game was the 700th consecutive sellout at Fenway Park. All attendees would receive a commemorative baseball upon exiting the park. We were thrilled to have a keepsake, even if the team lost, because of this historic accomplishment and our afternoon spent together. The ball I got sat on my desk for months.
Last weekend, my son was tossing it around and left it on the floor. A few hours later, I found it as you see it above. Much like Boston’s 2012 baseball season, the ball is done. My immediate reaction was one of despair. “Oh, that dumb dog! She’s destroyed that ball! How I loved it and that day at the park! Now it’s ruined.”
As I wailed and gnashed my teeth, I paused and remembered a great quote from American psychiatrist Mark Epstein. In his book Thoughts Without A Thinker, he relates a wonderful story about a glass:
“You see this goblet?” asks Achaan Chaa, the Thai meditation master. “For me this glass is already broken. I enjoy it; I drink out of it. It holds my water admirably, sometimes even reflecting the sun in beautiful patterns. If I should tap it, it has a lovely ring to it. But when I put this glass on the shelf and the wind knocks it over or my elbow brushes it off the table and it falls to the ground and shatters, I say, ‘Of course.’ When I understand that the glass is already broken, every moment with it is precious.”
The ball itself isn’t what was important. All of the memories I relayed in this article I conjured up without it. The ball is now in the trash bin; the memories and emotions of that day are in me. When I realize the ball is chewed, or my life is short, I’m reminded every moment with it was precious.
It’s often hard to part with items of important emotional significance. I’m keenly aware of this and struggle with it all the time. I mean, I need every picture my kids drew of the two of us holding hands under a rainbow! Or do I? I can feel the rainbow, the sun, and my girl’s love without the paper and her Crayon art. The drawing is nice to have, but I know it and all of my possessions won’t be around forever.
A new school year has begun here in the US and that means parents will be chasing the kids down for forgotten homework, crumpled permission slips and library books that were due weeks ago. Not to mention the trail of shoes, hats, jackets and backpacks, which, in my house at least, lead to the refrigerator. Save yourself some frustration — and teach the kids responsibility at the same time — by creating a “landing area” for all their stuff.
When I was young, my sisters and I were often late for school because we spent too much time in the morning running around like headless chickens who can’t find their Trapper Keepers. Such drama is easily avoided with a little planning and practice. It begins with picking the right spot for a landing area in your home.
Pick The Perfect Spot
Your kid’s landing area won’t be effective if it isn’t in the right spot. Finding that spot isn’t as easy as it sounds. The key is to identify an area of your home that’s in the arrival traffic pattern, preferably the very beginning. It’s tempting to consider a beautiful desk or cubby that’s far from the door. (Or even Jr.’s bedroom.) But, if Jr. is anything like my kids, he’ll either create a path between the door and his room, or lose his stuff somewhere in between.
My wife and I have identified a small cabinet just inside the back door to our house (no one uses the front door unless they’re selling something). Now, the kids enter and just as they’re tempted to shed their backpacks, hats, gloves and coats like molting snakes, they see the table right in their path.
Set It Up
When setting it all up, consider what you’ve got to capture. The list will likely change as the seasons do, so keep that in mind. If you live in an area that experiences the highs and lows of the four seasons, leave room for bulky winter clothing. Here’s the list of items we’ve accommodated for, and where each one goes.
- Backpacks. The young student’s staple. We bought a small, child-sized coat tree from a discount department store to hold two backpacks. It works great and, since the backpacks are all that the tree holds, it handles their bulk easily.
- Clothing. We went Shaker-style here and I put two rows of wooden pegs on the wall, one above the other. There’s plenty of room for hats, coats, gloves and scarves.
- An “inbox” for school-to-home communication. This one is a biggie. If my 9-year-old were a super hero, her power would be losing papers, permission slips and notes in a single bound. A simple plastic in-tray from an office supply store fits the bill here. Now when she and her brother arrive home, they move papers, etc. from their backpacks to the inbox (more on encouraging this behavior later).
- An “outbox” for home-to-school communication. As you know, some forms must be returned to school. Place them in “Out,” and have Jr. check it at night before going to bed.
- A snack/lunch bag area. I’d love to say that I make lunches and snacks the night before and keep them in the ’fridge, but that’s called lying. After hastily putting these items together at 7:00 AM, I plop them in the bag area on the table. The kids then toss them into their backpacks.
- Library books. After receiving a few threatening letters from school librarians last year, I’ve designated a spot for library books. The rule is, if you see one there, place it in your backpack.
A landing area is all well and good only if it gets used. You can help that happen with a little behavior motivation. Prior to my career as a professional geek, I worked as a special needs teacher. We used the Applied Behavior Analysis model of instruction, and today I use some of the same techniques in my parenting. In this case, a contract system will work wonders. Here’s how to set it up.
Explain the landing area to the kids and let them see it. Tell them how it works and why you’re going to use it. Then, set up the contract. For example, I have a simple dry erase board that onto which I’ve drawn two rows of five squares. For every day that the kids put away their stuff and empty their backpacks before descending upon the house, they get a star in a block. If there are five stars at the end of the week, they receive a small treat.
Note: it’s important to pair praise and affection with the treat. That way, you can eventually stop using the contract and reward (that is the goal, after all) as your hugs and appreciation will be enough to maintain the behavior.
That’s it! Good luck setting up your landing area. Understand that it won’t work perfectly every day, or even every week, but keep at it and save yourself and your kids some frustration. You’ll probably be very glad you did.
Reader Emily submitted the following to Ask Unclutterer:
I am having trouble letting go of my old worn out and resewn Pound Puppy stuffed animal that I have been told to cut up and burn due to allergies and asthma. What should I do with it now that I am thirty eight years old?
I think most of us have a favorite item from our childhood that has traveled the years into our adult lives. For me, it’s a small pillow I got when I moved into my big-girl bed. My husband has a stuffed animal that is missing an arm. My cousin has the tattered remains of a blue gingham blanket. These items provided comfort to us when we were scared or lonely or simply needed another guest at our tea parties.
As long as you don’t have a menagerie of these items taking up unnecessary space in your home, I see no harm in keeping your single favorite comfort item from your childhood. However, there are ways to keep the item without upsetting your allergies or asthma.
It’s more expensive then you might expect, but you can send your Pound Puppy to a stuffed animal repair hospital to be cleaned, restuffed, and repaired. Your Pound Puppy will look different, though, when it emerges from the hospital, so only go this route if you’re okay with your stuffed animal looking like new again. (My mother-in-law had my sister-in-law’s favorite doll repaired after some hair loss, and my sister-in-law was so traumatized she never touched the doll again.) Most importantly, after a makeover at the stuffed animal repair hospital, you should be able to keep and snuggle with your comfort item without having an allergic reaction.
If a restoration isn’t for you, I recommend retiring your comfort item to a display box. This way, you can still look at and admire your stuffed animal, but the dander on it will no longer upset your allergies and asthma. Before putting it into the display box, you may want to first have your Pound Puppy cleaned at a stuffed animal repair shop so the mites on the item don’t continue to feast on it. But, in this case, I wouldn’t go for the full-body makeover, just a cleaning.
If displaying your stuffed animal isn’t a priority, you may want to get an archival box to store your item in for the longterm. Again, you’ll likely want to have the item cleaned before going into storage. Once in the archival box, you can place it in a plastic bin to keep other pests from invading your cherished friend.
Clutter is anything that gets in the way of the life you want to live. In this case, I think the mites and dander on the Pound Puppy are the problem, not the Pound Puppy. I also think that if you got rid of the comfort item entirely, you’d likely spend a significant amount of time regretting your decision and having that regret clutter up your thoughts.
Thank you, Emily, for submitting your question for our Ask Unclutterer column. Please check the comment section for even more ideas from our readers.
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Transitions can be difficult, especially if you’re really enjoying the thing you’re doing and you have to stop to do something that might not be as fun. I suspect that’s how some children feel as the end of summer draws near. It’s the signal that they need to bid adieu to a relaxed schedule and, with help from their parents, get ready to go back to school.
To help your children get adjusted to a new routine …
Transition before school starts
In my former life as a preschool teacher, I sang songs with my students to help them transition from one activity to the next. While you may not want to break into song every day until schools starts, you can start the back-to-school conversation with your children to get them accustom to the return of stricter schedules.
- Help children emotionally prepare. A recent study by the Mayo Clinic suggests that some children may feel anxious in the days leading up to the start of school, particularly if there will be an unfamiliar or new routine. If your children will be attending a new school, take a tour or attend your school’s open house (back-to-school night) to get them familiar with their new classroom and teacher (and to find out where the bathrooms are). Find out if any of your children’s friends will be attending the same school or be in the same class. Knowing that they will have someone to talk to or eat lunch with can help them feel more comfortable.
- Adjust sleep schedules. Give your children some practice time with getting up and going to sleep earlier, a week to two before school year starts. Implementing the new sleep routine the night before the first day of school will probably put them in a grumpy mood, which is likely not a good way to start the year.
- Plan for new activities. New activities can put a well-designed schedule in state of flux. Figure out what changes need to be made (transportation, new gear) so that transitions can flow smoothly.
- Solidify routines for yourself. Parents will need to get back in the swing of things, too. If you’re the one who is on wake up duty, who prepares meals, or drops off children at school (especially if you carpool), consider doing a practice run to see what things in your system are working well and which ones need fine tuning.
Help your children remember what to do
Having a chore chart or a checklist will help your children remember the things they’re responsible for each school day. Purchase a chart (or download a list) that your kids like or create one with them. The tasks for each of your children will vary depending on age and how involved they are in preparing themselves for school each day. Younger children may have self-care items on their list (brush your teeth, put on your shoes, help make your bed) while older children may need homework or project reminders. They may also benefit from using apps (if they have a smart phone or tablet, or have access to yours) like Dictionary.com, Mental Case, iStudiez Pro, iHomework, or Evernote to help them manage their schedules and get things done.
Find out what the school needs from you
There are many things, in addition to shopping for supplies, that parents need to do before the class bell first rings (e.g. submitting a birth certificate, proof of residency, a doctor’s approval form if playing sports). Schools often provide lists of things you need for the first day of school, so check their website or give them a call to get more information.
Also, be sure to check on other school rules and ask questions:
- Is there a particular dress code?
- Will your child have a locker (and need to purchase a lock)?
- What happens if your child is late for class?
- What pieces of technology is your child permitted to have on school grounds?
- What happens if a child breaks the rules?
Create a school command center
Having a central location for all-things school related will keep everyone in the know. Post a calendar of events (including volunteer and extracurricular activities), school flyers with important information, papers requiring parent signatures, transportation schedules, and contact information (main office, carpooling parents, after care, sports coach) in a central location everyone in the family can access. On days when things go a little wonky, having a command center will be very helpful, especially if you have more than one child and they attend different schools. If you prefer using an app, consider using Cozi Online Family Calendar or PlumLife.
Helping your children get organized and ready to go back to school doesn’t have to be chaotic. With a little planning ahead of time, the transition can run smoothly for the entire family.
According to a recent study released by the UCLA Center on the Everyday Lives of Families, U.S. families have reached “material saturation.” The back areas of our homes (closets, basements, attics, cupboards) are so stuffed with possessions that our things spill out into our front areas (table tops, floors, furniture) and create more visible clutter than ever before in the history of the world. We’re no longer enjoying leisure activities and our children’s stuff is at the top of our clutter piles.
Published July 1, 2012, Life at Home in the Twenty-First Century examined the homes of 32 southern California families. The visits took place from 2001 to 2005 and involved families with two parents who worked full-time and who had 2 or 3 children in the home (and at least one of those children was between 7 and 12 years old). The families represented multiple ethnic groups, neighborhoods, occupations, and income levels. Data was collected on each family through week-long in-person site visits, interviews, videos, and surveys.
The study makes one point very clear — clutter and children have a strong correlation.
Our data suggests that each new child in a household leads to a 30 percent increase in a family’s inventory of possessions during the preschool years alone.
How is it that children lead to such a drastic increase (30 percent!) in possessions? The researchers provide two explanations: parental guilt because of working outside the home and generous grandparents.
The United States has 3.1 percent of the world’s children, yet U.S. families annually purchase more than 40 percent of the total toys consumed globally. Spilling out of children’s bedrooms and into living rooms, dining rooms, kitchens, and parents’ bedrooms, the playthings of America’s kids are ubiquitous in middle-class homes. … A sense among working parents that they have less time to spend with their children may be spurring them to shower kids with toys to compensate for a perceived loss of quality time at home. Other relatives contribute to children’s material assemblages, including about $500 spent by grandparents each year on toys, clothes, books, and other gifts. Given the high divorce rate in the U.S., many children wind up getting gifts from multiple sets of grandparents.
Another interesting correlation emerged during the study of the 32 families was that the number of items on a family’s refrigerator seemed to have tracked to how much stuff cluttered up the home. The more densely populated the front and sides of the refrigerator, the more crammed the house was with stuff.
… the refrigerator panel may function as a measuring stick for how intensively families are participating in consumer purchasing and how many household goods they retain over their lifetimes.
U.S. families are no longer taking advantage of the bicycles in their garages, the hot tubs or swimming pools in their backyards, their swing sets, or their patio equipment. Items conducive to relaxation were purchased by the families in the study, but rarely or never used.
Leisure is indoors. Most families have cluttered home offices or desk spaces with computers that are visually stress inducing and intrude on indoor leisure time, reminding families of workplace commitments. The material residue of families’ vanishing leisure includes these overused home offices and rarely used back yard patios and play areas.
How Does It Happen?
In a recent interview in The New York Times, Anthony P. Graesch, an assistant professor of anthropology at Connecticut College and one of the researchers of the study, commented that he believes U.S. families are overwhelmed by their stuff. Stress levels are almost as high as the clutter.
In this interview, he provided more reasons for how he believes physical possessions have taken over U.S. families.
We can see how families are trying to cut down on the sheer number of trips to the store by buying bulk goods. How they can come to purchase more, and then not remember, and end up double purchasing.
In short, a family’s desire to save time ended up costing space and creating anxiety. Finally, he postulated families could reclaim their homes and stress levels if they became more comfortable with letting things go.
The inflow of objects is relentless. The outflow is not. We don’t have rituals, mechanisms, for getting rid of stuff.
I’m of the belief that pretty much anything — no matter how obscure or abstract — can be organized. Dog food? Easily done. Thoughts? With a lot of practice. Worries? Most certainly.
I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve never considered organizing recess. In fact, it wasn’t until my friend Martha directed me to the article “Study Weighs Benefits of Organizing Recess” in Education Week (it’s free to register to see the full article) that I was even aware people wanted to organize recess. Why would someone organize recess?
It turns out, through study by researchers at Stanford University and Mathematica Policy Research, that organized recess improves transition times back to classroom learning and reduces bullying. From the article:
The study found that, on average, teachers at participating schools needed about 2.5 fewer minutes of transition time between recess and learning time — a difference that researchers termed statistically significant. Over the course of a school year, that can add up to about a day of class time.
Teachers at schools with the [organized recess] program found that there was significantly less bullying and exclusionary behavior during recess than teachers at schools without it, but not a reduction in more general aggressive behavior.
How does one organize recess? Schools start by hiring a “full-time recess coach,” who is usually an Americorps volunteer trained by Playworks (a California-based organization that develops organized recess programs). The full-time coach can also be a member of the school staff who has gone through the training program. Then:
The coaches map the area where students spend recess, setting boundaries for different activities, such as kickball. They help children pick teams using random measures, such as students’ birth months, to circumvent emotionally scarring episodes of being chosen based on skill or popularity. If conflicts arise, coaches teach simple ways to settle disputes and preempt some quibbles by teaching games including rock-paper-scissors.
Forty percent of the surveyed teachers said students used the rock-paper-scissors game to resolve conflicts or make decisions when they were back in class.
Organizing recess is certainly an interesting topic and one I had never considered before reading this article. It seems to make recess more like camp or gym class, which were both things I enjoyed as a kid. Mostly what I thought about as I read the article, though, was how much fun it would be to have the job of recess coordinator — you’d get paid to play at recess.
When I was in third grade, my classmate and friend Julianne told me she wanted to grow up to be a pediatrician. Today, she’s a pediatrician.
In third grade, I didn’t have that kind of determination and foresight — I seem to recall I wanted to grow up to be a giraffe — and I’ve always been envious of Julianne’s focus. Her desire to become a pediatrician was something that meshed with her personality and was an idea she came up with on her own. However, her parents listened to her wishes and helped her develop the diligence and dedication needed to be successful in school and her future career path.
One of the things they did was create clear goals to help her establish positive habits. In elementary school, she had a chore chart that identified what she needed to do every day (brush her teeth, feed the cat, make her bed, read 20 pages in a book, practice piano, etc.). Her parents trained her how to complete each of the chores, monitored and guided her to see that she understood how to do each of the chores, and then reviewed her chore chart with her each night before bed to see what she had successfully accomplished. If she did the chore properly, she received a check on the list. If she didn’t do the chore, she did not get a check. After accruing a set number of check marks, she would get a reward that she and her parents had agreed upon at the start of the week (extended television time, a book of puzzles). Julianne’s mom also supervised her as she did her homework at the kitchen table after school every day and had her review what she learned in each of her subjects, regardless if she had homework for that subject.
After reading books like Willpower and Top of the Class, I understand why Julianne’s parents’ guidance was such a strong contributing factor to her achieving her life-long goal to become a pediatrician. From an early age, her parents helped her to develop the skills essential for her success.
These books conclude the easiest and best way for children to develop the self-control necessary to be organized, uncluttered, and have positive study and life skills is for parents to:
- Set clear goals for young children and/or help them to set clear goals for themselves as they move into middle and high school.
- Train children how to reach their goals and complete tasks. (If you want your preschooler to make her bed every morning, show her exactly how to make her bed, and have her practice making her bed so you can see she is aware of your expectations.)
- Stay engaged with your child’s progress. When starting new routines and taking on new chores, it may take a few weeks for your child to really master the task. Don’t be obsessive, simply make it clear to your child that you are monitoring his behavior because you love him and wish for him to succeed.
- When creating rules, have a reason for creating each rule and be realistic with the rules. Don’t create rules for the sake of creating rules. Have rules that promote positive behaviors and skill building, and rules that are appropriate for the age of your child. A two-year-old child cannot be expected to hang her coat up on a hanger on a closet rod she cannot reach, but she can be expected to hang her coat on a hook that is only three feet off the ground.
- Consistently enforce rules and expectations, without exception. If two parents are in the home, both parents have to respond the same way every time whenever a rule is broken or expectation is unmet. For young children, this might be returning to a playroom to pick up toys if they are left out on the floor each and every time it happens.
- Meaningfully reward a child when he achieves a determined valuable milestone. Rewards should be established when goals are set so that children know what they are working toward, and the reward should be given immediately when the goal is met. If a child is to receive a pack of stickers after five days of successfully doing all of his chores, the stickers should be given as the last chore is completed.
Personally, the most difficult aspect of taking on these responsibilities is consistently helping my two-year-old son through the process. If I’m tired after a long day at work, I want to take the easy way out and do his chores for him to save time. This isn’t fair to him (he doesn’t earn check marks) and then there is the repercussion that the following night he protests doing the chore because he knows I can do it for him. Being consistent, though, is what he needs to properly develop the skills … so now I’m working on my willpower.
Parents often ask me what chores and responsibilities are applicable for toddlers. They want to start teaching their children about putting away their things, but they also don’t want to bestow unreasonable demands upon two, three, and four year olds.
Young children are eager to be independent, and helping your child learn skills that foster this independence as well as acquire valuable organizing concepts are a great place to start the teaching process. The following are a handful of suggestions for responsibilities that are appropriate for toddlers and some recommendations for teaching these skills:
- Hanging up her coat. Put a couple 3M removable utility hooks on the back of the coat closet door at a low enough height that your daughter can reach the hook but high enough so her coat won’t drag on the ground. When your daughter comes inside the house, let her be responsible for putting her coat on her hook.
- Wiping down the bathroom countertop. Get a small step stool for your child to use in the bathroom when he is brushing his teeth, combing his hair, and washing his hands. Have a stack of wash cloths or hand towels within reach that he can use to wipe his face, dry his hands, and then wipe up any spilled and splashed water from the counter top.
- Making her bed each morning. Pulling up the sheet and pulling up the comforter are tasks that most kids can handle by two and a half.
- Putting dirty clothes in the hamper. Have a hamper that your child can easily put clothes into and see the clothes inside the basket. After you assist your child in getting out of his clothes and into his pajamas, hand him his clothes and ask him to put them in the hamper. As your child gets older and can dress himself, simply monitor him to ensure that he continues with this responsibility.
- Setting the table. By age three, most children will be able to set a table with minimum supervision. Place setting placemats are terrific for helping children learn where cups, plates, silverware, and napkins typically go on a table.
- Returning toys to their storage locations. After playing with toys, toddlers should return them to their proper storage bins or shelves. As a result, storage shelves and bins need to be within your child’s reach. Label bins and lips of shelves with adhesive tags that have an illustration and title of what belongs in each space. Programs like Microsoft Word that include clip art are great for finding toy illustrations. It takes younger children significantly more time to pick up toys than older children, so be sure to leave time in your schedule for your child to pick up her toys before needing to move on to another activity.
At age two and three, most of these chores will need some level of supervision. The closer your child gets to elementary school age, however, the less supervision she will need to successfully carry out the task.