The summer I lost control

The summer I lost control logoThis summer, I completely lost control of the kiddo clutter. The kids were a never-ending mess that started from the moment they woke up and went until they were supposed to be asleep in bed. They would jump from activity to activity and they would raid Barbie bins, Calico Critter stashes, American Girl collections, and Lego boxes only to mix everything up in one big disaster that spread from room to room.

With one borderline hoarder of an 8 year old who decides random scraps of paper are "special", one 5 year old who has never met a toy he didn't want to pull apart just to see how it works, and a one year old with zero impulse control, the deck was stacked against me from day one. It was just too much for me to take, and I started fighting back.

So, this summer I boxed up tons of stuff, I donated massive amounts of toys, and I made more "pick up piles" than I can count just trying to contain the mess each day. But, nothing seemed to help because they would just find something else to play with and leave out, like when they raided my recycling bin, sewed toilet paper "quilts", and when they decided they were going to sell handmade crafts that took over my entire kitchen. Sadly, we missed many a playdate because my kids didn't clean up their messes in time for us to get out of the house on time. 

WP_20150720_001Just thinking about all the hours spent cleaning, sorting, labeling, nagging, reorganizing, yelling, and then waiting on the kids to finish picking up their piles makes me incredibly sad. All told, I think we had maybe 8 days without piles to pick up. Maybe. And, that's with a whole lot of nagging and reminding. 

Sure, there's a silver lining to this mess and that was that the kiddos had the time of their lives playing together with everything from Playmobil to arts and crafts. Even their daily pick up sessions usually turned into a big party where I would find them giggling and playing like we weren't three hours late and probably not going to make it to the beach/museum/park we had planned that day.


I knew I needed to change something, but I couldn't figure out what. I mean, I know I could have been more firm and doled out additional punishments, I could have gotten rid of all of their toys, and I know yelling never helps anything, but I was just sure it would eventually click that they were wasting our precious summer days forcing us to stay home and clean. But, it never did.

I began to long for a playroom like I never have before. A playroom that I could send them to so they could play somewhere other than my living room and their bedrooms, a place where toys all had a place and could be locked if I needed to. I convinced myself I would be okay with a messy room as long as it was contained in one specific kid-centered area {we all know I would not, but that's what delusions will do to you}. I knew that if we had a playroom, it would look like this. WP_20151026_003And, then one weekend we worked on that side yard hopscotch project I wrote about this summer and we just kept the kids outside with us. They were out with us while we dug down the side of the house, spread the weed barrier, laid the pea gravel and sand, and then placed the stones. In those two days they found bugs, they helped us relocate all the newly displaced dirt to the backyard, they dug holes in the yard, they jumped on the trampoline, and they played together like a dream, only without the mess inside my house.  Bugs in backyardThe problem was that the backyard now looked like it hosted a mole convention, that is if moles liked to play with yard and inside toys interchangeably and hated picking up after themselves. But, I reminded myself that it was not inside my house, and that made me super happy. Backyard meets summerI realized this was what we needed more than a playroom, or even more pick up piles and time spent organizing. We needed a place where I could let them play, with very little rules except for safety. So, I gave up control of the backyard. Where there was once a nice lawn ringed by a large tree with fairy garden underneath, a little veggie patch, and a cute little playhouse with sandbox and ride on cars, now there was a kid haven of toys and dirt and… mess. Garden in backyardEven though I've always wanted to have a gorgeous backyard that cried out for BBQs and garden parties and playdates, I knew I needed to embrace this mess and just let it be whatever the kids made it. We set a few boundaries where they couldn't go crazy: the trampoline, the veggie garden where we grow our family's food, our stepping stones we make each each with the kids, and the BBQ patio.
Backyard funBut, for the most part, we let them just play, explore, and learn by doing. They learned how to make a line that ran to the neighbors for sending and receiving messages, they learned how much work it is to dig a hole {and then fill it back in}, and they made all sorts of makeshift structures that they used for play. There's all sorts of studies that say that unstructured play is so important for kids, and this is my way of giving them a way to learn these life skills in a safe environment while they get to work through problems on their own.Summer backyard 2Really, so what if my backyard looks like this? I have learned to love this mess because it is a manageable mess. It would be a few hours of work to get the backyard decent again, and all told it's been roughly 200 hours of fun. I'm going to call that a win. Boy in backyardI would love to report that the house is cleaner than it's ever been, or that our days of pick up piles were over after I opened up the backyard to kid management, but I don't think I will ever have an entirely clean house until the kids are grown. But, at least the mess is more manageable, and I have a place to send them when I don't want to follow them around and nag about cleaning.

If I don't feel like cleaning, I can shoo them outside and then when they are done playing, I shut the door and leave all the mess right where it is so the kids can pick up right where they left off. This means that calling them in isn't a half hour long process, an argument about cleaning, and them feeling like they still don't have a place that's all their own.    Digging holes in yardBecause we all need a place of our own, where we can just come in and everything is as we left it. I'm still working on getting mine, but for now I can survive this stage in our lives and embrace the mess, in a contained way. Digging in backyardOne day I might look back and actually miss this stage… at least that's what I've been told.

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