Bringing Order to Chaos

12 Dec

Do you ever feel that you’re constantly battling chaos? What I mean is, does it often feel like an uphill battle to keep your life in order?

I live with four children ages 9, 7, 4 and 1, and my wife and I feel like we are constantly trying to keep our house from reverting to a state of absolute filth. I cannot believe how much junk that we somehow produce. And the “clutter-factor” is astounding — there are so many little toys, hair accessories (clips, bands, ties), books and homework papers to try to keep put away, not to mention all the laundry that is constantly strewn about, both clean and unclean. If Robin and I aren’t constantly working, the house reverts to a pig’s stye in the blink of an eye. Oh, and did I mention kitchen clean-up? Dishes constantly have to be done, the dishwasher ALWAYS needs to either be loaded or unloaded, the counters/table and floors always have to be wiped off or swept/mopped. I’m frequently finding apple cores in diverse places, candy wrappers lying on the ground and used dishes sitting on any available flat surface. Add to that all the shoes and socks that always need to be put away. (Note: if you have an average of three pairs of shoes per family member, that’s 18 pairs for family of six. Wow!) And those 18 pairs of shoes often have a hard time locating their “sole-mates” and finding their way back home. Oh, and did I mention how much I hate trying to match up socks?! It’s horrible. What about disposing of used diapers? That’s always a treat.

So as I write this post, I am a little concerned that you are judging us; that you’ll think we’re sloppy people who do not teach their children responsibility and accountability. Trust me, we’re trying. But we have to constantly nag to get the kids to do stuff, and we both hate to nag. It creates such a unpleasant feeling in the home. So we offer motivation, both positive and negative, rewards and punishments. For a while, we did the “accountable kids” program. But it was hard to keep up with. Right now, we have little mason jars for each child in which “righteous deeds” are rewarded with a quarter that is to be used for their purchasing of Christmas presents for their “secret Santa” (more on that in another post). But that doesn’t seem to motivate them much.

We’re also trying to train them to avoid making messes in the first place with a few simple rules like:

1. If you get it out, put it back.
2. If you mess it up, clean it up.
3. If you put it down, pick it up.
4. And so on…

I take comfort in the fact that everyone has to deal with chaos to some degree. I also take comfort in the fact that everyone in my family situation has a cluttered house, at least occasionally. I don’t care how good you are about keeping things clean and neat, four children WILL mess up your house. Now, I won’t blame all of our messiness woes on the children; Robin and I make our fair share of messes. But we also clean up much more than our fair share. I guess that’s what we signed up for when we decided to have kids.

My goal is to do 30 minutes of work each morning while everyone is asleep. And I usually accomplish that goal, which consists mainly of unloading the dishwasher and tidying up the five main rooms in the house. I don’t do a lot of actual cleaning (bathrooms, vacuuming, etc.), but I feel I make a good contribution. (My wife might disagree since my tidying often consists of picking stuff off the floor and putting it on the coffee table…)

Last night I came home to a beautifully cleaned house. No clutter. Clean kitchen. Kids in bed. It felt (and feels) so good. But I can’t help looking around the house and thinking about how quickly it will degenerate later today, despite our best efforts. I often think of Sisyphus from Greek mythology, who was punished for an offense against the gods by being cursed to roll a huge boulder up a hill, only to watch it roll down again, and to repeat this throughout eternity. That’s how I feel sometimes. As I do the dishes each day, I sometimes wonder if I’ll be doing dishes for the rest of eternity. Will there be housework in the next life? Or will we be able to snap our fingers like Marry Poppins and have the work do itself.

Anyway, I’d better end this post since I’ve already on too long. I’ve got some more chaos to tame!

P.S. What have you found to be effective in the war against clutter/chaos?


Posted by on December 12, 2008 in Random Thoughts


4 responses to “Bringing Order to Chaos

  1. shannon

    December 12, 2008 at 9:33 am

    I feel your pain! and I think comparing it to Sisyphus pushing his boulder is a good and acurate comparison. On Saturday when I work and Chris has been home all day with the kids by the time dinner time comes he’ll always complain, “wow, this is the third time I’ve cleaned the kitchen today.” To which I always reply, “Oh really? and how many times did you eat today?” Do the math, Babe. I don’t think you can achieve a relatively clean house without being a total nag. So you have to decide if you can find more peace in a home with a little clutter but no nagging, or a nice and tidy home but a mom who nags all day long. One thing that my mom used to do that really worked for us was using MR. Gunny Sack. This was a big flour sack that she painted a grouchy face on and once a day, sometimes she’d give us five minutes notice and sometimes not, she’d go through the house and Mr. Gunny Sack would “eat” anything anyone left out of place (kid’s and parent’s stuff alike). We would then have a chance once a week to buy or earn back our belongings. If we didn’t care enough about an item to buy it back it would go to charity and be one less thing to clutter the home. She got this idea from a book. But it worked really well. I had actually forgotten about it until I read your blog so I haven’t tried it with my own kids yet. Good luck!

  2. Robin

    December 12, 2008 at 10:28 am

    Unfortunately, I would say at least half of the mess in the house right now is generated by James, who can neither be held accountable nor be made to clean up his messes. His favorite thing to do lately is get into my purse and pull everything out, from receipts to every single credit card in my wallet, and throw it all over the floor. That and the DVDs…all removed from their cases, most of the paper inserts pulled out…

    I think, though, that as they get older, the amount of mess generated really does go down propotionately. So, Parley is definitely the least messy of all our children, Brianna, the next least (although there’s a big jump there, since her latest favorite thing is making tents in the living room), and so on down the line. So, I retain hope that at some time in the future, the situation will improve, at least somewhat…

  3. Chris

    December 12, 2008 at 3:15 pm

    I so know what you are talking about dude. My parents would have fallen over dead with surprise if I cleaned back then even a small fraction of what I do now; Loading and unloading dishes, cleaning off counters, sweeping the floor. The repetition is insane. My family was never able to get me to be an effective cleaner so I’m not sure what works but when I married a woman who appreciated and expected a consistently clean house, my habits rose a few notches. So I guess the answer is to marry your kids off right away to clean people. Good Luck my friend. Let me know what you find out.


    December 14, 2008 at 11:32 am

    It sounds like Kate and James are at the same stage. Her purse dumping and DVD flinging sprees are driving me nutty. I hate to offer anti-clutter tips since it’s been a bad week for clutter at our house. But putting discomfort at hypocrisy aside:

    1. Containerize. Matching stackable containers for small toy pieces are very helpful. We have a box for little ponies and accessories, one for hot wheels, one for costume jewelry, one for plastic dishes, etc. Kate can’t open the containers by herself. This makes her play less independent, but it makes it much easier to enforce the one-open-box-at-a-time rule.

    2. Clean/Messy room rule: Our living/dining room is very public, so toys are to be rare guests. In theory, this room is supposed to always be clean. The familyroom is the playroom. I am more tolerant of mess there with periodic cleanups. That is the place for the bigger or longer term projects (Also for roughhousing).
    3. Competition: Kate is too little, but we have Duncan (4) and Amelia (9) race to see who tidies the most or the best, age-adjusted naturally. It is best to limit this game to a short period of time, 10 minutes works well for us. If things are really messy, repetitions of the 10 minute game are possible, separated by brief games or snacks. We used to race alongside them, but we found that having a separate judge/supervisor/teacher of how to clean was very important. Sometimes there are small prizes for the winner. If they both try hard, sometimes they both win. In general, I think it is more important to teach the kids how to clean than to have a clean house. It is easier for me to clean it myself, but more important to teach them how to work.


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