Meaning the closet.
The problem was never with the stuff itself. As I said, it was remarkably not in a tangle, despite years of neglect on my part. No, the problem was with the closet itself, and actually, I think if we talk about it a little, you will see how it is that anyone can keep the toy area reasonably neat and tidy. With fluctuations.
Of course, part of the way I personally will keep it that way is that nothing that is out of the reach of very little hands is accessible by anyone under the age of 17, so how messy can it get, at this point?
And the people who do come here with littles are very good about making sure everything is the way it was found.
But that doesn’t mean that it wasn’t possible to have things this way all along. It is.
No, the real issue was the closet itself. The reason things were like this —
— is simply that I, the household manager, did not ever ever ever ever want to go in there. It was too dismal, unclean-able, and neglected. And everyone who would have played with those things is gone, pretty much.
The proper way to clean something, as I have told you when we went on our Reasonably Clean House journey together, is to pull everything out, clean the space, sort and clean the things, and put back what truly belongs there. You can see an actual tutorial, on this process in this post.
This is true for everything. Even things that clean other things — like dishwashers and washing machines — occasionally have to be pulled out, scoured out, and put back the way you want them! So, how much more a toy closet.
But that assumes that the space can be cleaned and that you would want to try. Here is the reason I tell you to do what I didn’t manage myself: make sure you get the closets repaired and painted before you put anything in them, even if it means having things out for a while! I did that in this house for many of the closets, but just didn’t get to this one in time.
People might be frustrated with where they keep their games and toys and skeptical that my closet will remain fabulous, and I will address their assumptions one by one. Not yours, Karen, because no doubt you are actually a good housekeeper yourself, but others’ assumptions.
1. The space doesn’t matter — it’s only for storing things.
No. The space matters. Whether it’s a part of the room or an actual closet or under the beds, it needs to be something that you can clean when it’s empty. The actual surfaces have to be free of gaping holes or torn carpet or what have you. They have to be finished in a way that when they are wiped down they actually look clean. This is something to work on. Having lived in old houses most of my adult life, I know the issues. Just be prepared to consider that it’s not your cleaning that’s at fault, it’s the space itself!
2. Shelves don’t matter.
No. They do matter.
You can’t pile things on the floor and then continue piling. Maybe one thing that I did appreciate so much about this closet was the shelves — to the point that I thought #1 wasn’t important, especially in light of all the other projects in the house that needed attention. So I am here to tell you that shelves make a huge difference to how you can organize stuff. It’s the shelves that kept this confrontation of mine from being devastating. As it was, it was only slightly overwhelming (mainly because we had the blessing of being able to pay someone to do the work of repairing and painting!).
3. If everyone puts things back into the proper place, I will never have to clean.
Well, yes, they need to put things back — We Are In It Together, after all! — but no, it’s still the manager’s responsibility in the end (not that you can’t delegate most of that responsibility — but not all).
Let’s look at this.
Are things arranged so that there is a good chance they’d get back in their spots? For instance, the bins on the floor hold legos, duplos, blocks, and playmobil. Each bin is large enough to hold its contents. (Sorry about the pictures — the closet is hard to get an angle on, and now it’s dark and stormy out so we will have to do with the ones I have).
These are the toys that are most likely to be pulled out — and it’s not hard to get the bins back. Things with fiddly pieces are stored higher — in ascending order of likelihood to be a) a terrible mess if spilled and b) difficult to put away. (My ceilings are high, so to give you the scale, that 3rd shelf is actually my eye level. Granted, I am short.)
Don’t put the 1000 piece puzzles within reach of even a six-year old. Don’t even put the dominoes or playing cards really within reach. There needs to be some sort of actual thought process that has occurred before these many-pieced games get taken down. And maybe a stool-getting process as well.
So it’s partly how clever you are at arranging in the first place. Low-down things shouldn’t be stacked more than two items high. They should be spaced out on the self. If this is a problem, do some trimming of your inventory, because it just won’t work to expect young children to cope with piles and stacks of toys. (A commenter in the first closet post mentioned rotating toys out, storing some in bins under beds. I did that too and heartily recommend it. They don’t need all their things all the time.)
You should consider how annoyed you would be if the whole thing were spilled out. I am okay with two containers of army guys being spilled out (they are in those blue lego tubs). But, it kind of gives me an anxiety attack if the bingo game is spilled out. (That’s mainly because if one number is lost, the whole thing is ruined.) So the bingo game goes on the top shelf. Not that I care about that game, but it would take an effort even to know a number has been lost.
It’s also a question of inspection and training. Even a three-year old will put things back if you spend some time asking him to, helping him, and making sure he did. It takes a while but it pays off in the end. If he’s Pippo, he will consider putting things back part of the process of playing with it, and simply not understand a child who doesn’t do that.
But — sometimes you need to rush out of the house, and sometimes the three-year old has a meltdown, and sometimes ten three-year olds are over to play, and sometimes everyone was just having a lot of fun and a lot of things got taken out, rules or no rules.
So every day there has to be a time when things are sorted through and someone makes sure that in fact, things got put away properly. That’s The Blitz, and it will keep you sane.
4. So if they don’t put things back where they found them, it’s their fault, not mine, if the closet is messy.
Well, no. Not that it would even help to think this!
Occasionally this area needs real attention, and the only person with the big picture is you. You have to notice that a toy in front of all the others gets things messy but isn’t actually enjoyed. You have to get bigger bins for a growing collection of train tracks. You have to throw away puzzles with missing pieces or broken games. So every once in a while (probably during your once-a-week cleaning of the room — that’s The Moderate Clean), you need to go in there and really straighten things out. Re-arrange, dust, and tidy. A large child (somewhere over the age of reason) could be given this job with you just coming in to inspect. Some really get offended if things aren’t kept neatly — there’s your man.
5. Then that should do it — just the moderate clean?
Nope. The Deep Clean is still a necessity. I always feel that the thing that needs to be deep cleaned will let you know it. You just won’t be able to take it any more. And really, only you can do it. Pull every single thing out, vacuum from top to bottom, wash down if necessary, air out, and then put things back.
Be critical. Only what belongs there gets to go there.
The reason things were a jumble in my closet was that I couldn’t face the closet itself. But now it’s a joy even to open the door!
So who wouldn’t want to make sure that only puzzles are on the puzzle shelf, or only board games on the board game shelf!
By the way, children are perfectly happy being given the job of making sure that only legos are in the lego bin and playmobil in the playmobil bin. That’s as good as playing to them.
Okay? Are we good? You can do it!