I remember as a kid seeing episodes of Everyone Loves Raymond and taking a genuine dislike to the aesthetic value of the front room in their home. Cast back with me will you, and try to remember the lovable sitcom of the Italian American family who argue all the time, but somehow make the constant family discord funny and cute.
Do you remember that front living room in Raymond and Debra’s house? It was the classic 1990’s sitcom living room, with the couch in the middle, door to the right and stairs going up behind. But that isn’t what annoyed my 12 year old self, what annoyed me was the collection of clutter and random toys piled up in the corner or along the back wall…one of the biggest offenders was a heinous plastic play doll-house thing!
I would cringe every scene in that room, with the visually offensive kid’s crap crying out to everyone who walks through the door…‘WE HAVE KIDS…just in case you didn’t know…WE HAVE KIDS!’
Why am I harping back to how this annoyed me as a tween? Because one thing I have realised over the last 14 years of parenting is just how much kid’s visual home and learning environments can affect their behaviour and moods…dude…it effects ours as parents too.
And if you are sitting here reading this thinking…good gravy this woman is nuts!….then trust me, you may not be aware but, even if subconsciously, your surroundings do make a difference.
Albeit, maybe I am more sensitive to my visual environment then some, but where we wake up, go to sleep, eat, relax, play and learn really do matter! There have been countless studies done on learning environments for students in school and I think any parent would be annoyed if their kid’s classrooms were cluttered, messy and jam-packed with visually distracting stuff. Yet it can be an area overlooked at home…and I have done it at times…do not get me wrong.
Kids are more likely to be calm, focused and contented when their environments are clear of clutter and not over-stimulating. I am not just talking about Children on the spectrum. I remember learning when I did my teacher training, that whatever works for a child with educational needs will also work well for all students… it’s better for everyone.
Here are some of the ways we found, over the years, to simplify our family’s environments to benefit all.
Make it Everyone’s house:
Going back to the offensive Ramano’s living room…people know you have kids…you know you have kids…no one needs to see all the kids play stuff in every corner of every room as a reminder. It’s everyone’s house and should look like one.
I am not saying that all remnants or evidence of children be flushed out and people enter your home having no idea that you have procreated!
But all in moderation. We have a small basket with a range of toys in the living room that stays downstairs and a section in the kitchen where a selection of library books stay. There is a section in the playroom where games, colouring and puzzles are stored. They know the rest of their toys, especially larger ones; need to be, at the end of the day, returned to their rooms.
Therefore, when we sit down for meals, read, watch films or play a game, most of the downstairs of our house isn’t packed with toys. They focus on the meal or game or book instead of looking around at all the other options…this might sound silly but it really does make a difference.
It would be like letting a kid watch a film with the DVD case, packed with all the other DVDs, sitting beside him…he is going to be looking through all the other movie options and not enjoy the one that’s on. In addition, it’s great to have a house that works well for grown-up time too!
Have that crate, basket or tub that things can go when there is no obvious place for them or when there is a blitz clean right before visitors arrive. Just make sure this doesn’t end up being a whole room that piles up…this was the case when we had my painting studio, which has since been turned into the games/play/movie room. Because I mainly stored my painting and supplies in the room, it quickly became the family dumping ground.
Adam also made cork display boards in all the kids rooms. They can change what they put up and it can be as cluttered or messy as they like but controlled within the board…and saves the the walls from tape, nails and blue-tack.
Starts and Finishes Matter:
We try to make sure the kids rooms are tidy and clear of clutter when they go to sleep, so they end the day in a calm and clear environment. Even more important, is the state of the room they wake up in.
A clear and clean room sets a great start to the day. We have found they are calmer and focused yet excited to start their day, whether that be school or playing.
I know that this isn’t always possible. We have had to do a big tidy up in the mornings after a trip or holiday occasions, especially Thanksgiving; when they stay up late with loads of little friends playing till bedtime. However, we do try to make it a habit, during the everyday school week, to go to bed and wake up in a clean and calm setting.
It’s the same feeling I get when I have cleared up and finished cleaning after dinner. I am able to sit down and relax in the evening with the hum of the dishwasher, the smell of the post-dinner diffuser blend and the knowledge that there isn’t a pile of dirty dishes needing to be cleaned in the morning. Don’t regularly leave, or allow them to leave, the equivalent of dirty dishes in their bedrooms.
This even makes a difference with our oldest 14 year old. He has better focused and calmer days when he starts out his day with an organised and clear start. Most mornings he starts his day off with a clean, clutter free room…and it helps. Even he has noticed.
Rotate and Give Toys:
This one has been a great help with contented and calm play for nice extended periods of time…I’m talking about whole mornings or afternoons.
After having 3 or so kids, you find that you need more toys like you need a hole in your in head. We had loads!
And if they are always out in plain view, then kids are overstimulated and struggle to play well with one, without seeing another one that they want to get out. So we rotate them. There are some large tubs that stay stored under their beds (out of sight!), filled with all Play-Mobile, Lego, dinosaurs, train-tracks etc.
The only toys that are on show, and easily accessible on bookshelves, are books and a small of amount of baskets with smaller toys like animals, cars and kitchen play food etc. This way, they will have an afternoon or morning where they get the train-tracks, Lego or play-dough out and it’s special.
The other thing we do, is every year before Christmas all of our kids do a clear out and give away. We take an afternoon, they all go through every toy and it either gets kept, thrown out or given away .
There are always the cheap little tacky toys that break 2 weeks in, that they collect or are given over the year…they normally get trashed. Then there are the ones that another kid could play with and would enjoy.
Our kids are so used to doing this each year, they are pretty good at reflecting on if they really play with it, or would another child enjoy it more. If they haven’t played with it in the last year it normally goes, either, down to their younger sibling, to charity or sometimes we send the ones in good shape to one of the kids we sponsor with World Vision for an extra Christmas treat.
It clears their rooms and in time before Christmas, when they inevitably get given more. More importantly, they learn to let go of stuff and be aware of giving to others.