I had learned after many years of working in an office that the number one problem in most jobs involves the disorganization of people's desks and work areas. It can cost a lot of wasted hours looking for things or being out of supplies that should have been at a person's fingertips. I also found that the best way to conquer the clutter in an office is to "take charge of the supplies."
In the setting of the home or day care, the "supplies" are the toys. These are the tools that are used for learning. When you are caring for six children per day and their ages range from toddler to middle school students, the "supplies" are numerous and found everywhere. I tried some of the following approaches when trying to peacefully get the children to clean-up:
- "It's time to pick up your toys" (caused everyone to get lost)
- "Mommy will be here soon" (caused yawns and ignoring me)
- "I will help you pick the toys up" (I think they heard "I will pick up the toys)
- "If these toys aren't picked up, you will be in timeout tomorrow morning when you come back" (I got the glazed over look of who cares what happens tomorrow)
What was I missing? The kids loved the "supplies." They even loved the foods and snacks. Some of the kids were begging their parents for vegetables like the ones served in my home. They seemed to get along well between each other and play without very much conflict, but it was like a silent war with the older kids to pick up and the younger kids were very vocal about protesting cleaning. My daughter had a favorite chair in the living room to hide behind during clean-up time. Well I loved them all but it was time to become the "supply sergeant.”
One night when the children went home and my daughter was in bed, I stripped the shelves of toys in the living room and dining room that the children could easily reach. In the past I had open shelves that were the children's height with brightly colored tubs of toys. Every night I would sit and clean the toys and sort them into their respective tubs. I moved all those bright tubs and the shelves out of their places to the section in the basement marked for garage sale. I replaced the tubs with plastic containers with lids that were stackable. I sorted the toys and stacked the boxes on the top shelf of the coat closet at the front door entrance of the house.
The children arrived at our house the next morning as usual. They headed for the toy shelves that were no longer there. They stopped in their tracks and asked where the toys were. I explained to them that we were doing something new and exciting. I walked to the closet, opened the doors, and explained that all the toys were still right there. I said they each could pick out what they wanted to play with and I would get the container down for them. When they were done with that set of toys, I would give them a different container after they handed me the box with the toys they had just played with.
From that day forward, I no longer had problems with anyone cleaning up. The children were much happier because they could actually focus on what they were playing with instead of getting sidetracked with a big mess. When they were done with the toy they were playing with, it became their personal goal to do an exchange for what they wanted next. Peace reigned in our home from that day forward. I actually had more time to read books to the kids and play games instead of cleaning.
This principle also works with children's rooms. If a child's room is messy, they have too much to handle and the room needs to be simplified. It is like going to a grocery store and having the manager throwing everything on the floor and expecting you to figure out what you want, how to put the food you don't want back on the shelf, and then making your purchase. It is confusing and by the time you get halfway done with the job, you can't remember what the goal was.