Grandma's Clutter Solutions

by Roberta Paola

I watch my two grandchildren ( 2 1/2 and four years old ten hours a day, five days a week.) I always struggled with my own children to get them to put their stuff away. I made a conscious decision to do it differently with my grandchildren. Following is an article I wrote that recently appeared in my newspaper column, Resource File. I hope you find it helpful.

"Grandma. Grandma." Nicole and Steven called excitedly as they came in from the back yard. "Come and see what we did." They grabbed my hands and pulled me into the back yard to show me that they'd picked up all of the toys from the yard and put them away in the garage. "Wow!" I said, "You cleaned up all of the toys." "Come look in the garage," Nicole said, opening the door "we put everything away."

I haven't made an issue of the kids picking up their outside toys. Frequently, when we come in from outside, we're all tired or otherwise stressed. And, it just doesn't make sense to push the issue. About once a week, when it was getting close to time for Mom to come and things were going reasonably well, I'll start picking up the toys and say, "Your Mom will be here soon. Let's pick up the toys and put them away so they don't get lost in the yard." Steven will usually join right in and start picking up the toys. Nicole frequently needs a little more coaxing but eventually she joins in.

Inside the house, though, I am much more demanding when it comes to picking up toys. Again, I don't make a big issue out of it I just state that they can't do anything else until they (blocks, papers, dolls, etc.) are picked up and put away. If I get any flack, I don't argue with the kids. I simply go on about my business until they want something like a cup of juice, or want to do something else, like color. It usually takes no more than a few minutes before some such opportunity comes up. When it does, I simply say, "Yes, you may.... as soon as you put the toys away." This approach works particularly well when things like scraps of paper from their latest cutting session are all over the floor. When I first started doing this it generated a number of bouts involving tears and throwing one's self on the floor. They soon got the message that Grandma meant business, though.

Another sure way to get toys or other things picked up is to remind the children that "If I see it laying on the floor, I will think it's trash and throw it in the garbage can. Or, I announce that I am going to vacuum the floor. All it took to get their attention was to follow through on a threat to put a toy in the trash. And, that which went in the trash did not come back out. The same with the vacuum. One crayon sucked up into the vacuum was enough to forever send the kids scrambling to pickup everything when I take the vacuum out of the closet.

Shortly after the kids arrive in the morning, off come their shoes and socks. It's been this way since they've been old enough to remove them by themselves. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that Grandma is usually bare footed. For a while, each day ended with me and their mother going through the house trying to find where they'd left their shoes and socks. We found them in some amazing places, usually one item at a time. To eliminate this problem, I borrowed and idea my daughter used at home. She established a shoe basket. I placed the shoe basket on a shelf near my chair. When the children were smaller, I would put the shoes and socks in the basket as I collected them through the day. As they grew, I taught them to bring their shoes and socks to me. Now, that they no longer play with their shoes, the basket sits on the floor near the front door.

When deciding where to keep children's things there's a lot to consider. When Nicole and Steven were very young, I kept their toys where it was convenient for me. As they became more mobile, there were toys that I did not always want them to be able to access, particularly toys with lots of parts. These toys, I keep in baskets on higher shelves and bring them out at specific times. Not only does it keep pieces for getting lost, and left on the floor for me to step on with my bare feet, it keeps the toy special. The first toy I treated this way was a plastic tea set I bought for Nicole. Three years later, this $1 garage sale find is still a favorite toy.

Keep in mind the ages and abilities of the children. I introduced Nicole to the concept of picking up her toys when she was about six months old. At that time, she was just sitting up well by herself. I started by sitting a basket near her. It was natural for her to place what she was playing with in the basket. Then I made a game out of it. I handed her the toys and she put them in the basket. Of course, sometimes, she'd take a toy out of the basket and at other times she'd dump the whole basket. The important thing, though, is that she was getting the idea.... and experience.

Do yourself and the children a favor and don't repeatedly bring put yourselves in situations that are unnecessarily stressful. At one point, for example, I had a gallon plastic jar full of large beads. I brought out the beads on three occasions. Each time, although under my direct supervision, the beads ended up in every corner of the living room. The kids loved stringing the beads but soon went from stringing to throwing them. When it came time to pick them up it always turned into a real battle. The third time this happened, I told them that we would no longer play with the beads. That was almost a year ago. They have asked about the beads a number of times but we have not played with the beads since. As a result, they take me seriously when I remind them that we do not throw our toys.

I am teaching the children that we have a place for everything. I am also teaching them that having everything in it's place makes it easier to find what you want. An addition advantage for Nicole and Steven is that because I can make them responsible for cleaning up after themselves, I tend to allow them to do more potential messy things than I might otherwise. The other day, my son David came to watch the children while I went to the doctor. After I returned home, we were sitting in the kitchen and he was telling me about what they'd done while I was away. Nicole came into the room and asked David where he's put her marker. When he responded that he'd put it on the shelf, she informed him that it didn't belong there. "If you don't put it were it belongs," she explained, "I won't be able to find it."

Roberta Paolo is a former career woman who is now a writer and stay-at-home grandmother.

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