Monday, 4 October 2010

simplification: before and after

Sometimes I look around my house and want to scream. It feels so cluttered and full of stuff. On the whole, I have given in to having several small children and their things filling every space, but my inner Monica longs for a streamlined, easy-on-the-eye home. I am forever looking for ways to re-organise, smarten our storage solutions and make it easier for the children to take responsibility for their own belongings. I try very hard to resist the urge to do all the tidying myself - I want my kids to grow up knowing how to pull their own weight and to appreciate the effort it takes to create a comfortable home.

I have a sense of needing to find balance. I am sure that a clean, well-ordered home is conducive to family harmony...most people feel more relaxed in an ordered environment, I think. And I also think it is useful and healthy for children to have little chores for which they are responsible. But equally, I do not want the kids to feel like lodgers in their own home. I want them to feel safe enough and relaxed enough to truly inhabit their spaces. I love the visual cosiness of watching them play on the thick wool rug in the middle of the living room floor (especially when said rug is freshly-vacuumed!).

I have found that one way to encourage the children to care for their things and to put them away when they have finished with them is to scale down on the number of things at their disposal. For instance, my eldest - Jake - has amassed an enviable collection of Brio wooden railway track, trains and accessories over the years. And when the huge tub of train track was accessible, more often than not I would find every single piece strewn about with nary a usable line for the trains to travel along. The little ones would begin pulling out track and quickly became so overwhelmed that they couldn't assemble it into any shape. This led to frustration for them and frustration for me that the wooden pieces were now being scatttered about like confetti. I finally realised that they could play quite happily with just a modest selection of track, four or five trains and one or two buildings; now, that is all the Brio you will find in my living room, in one small, easy-for-even-the-smallest-person-to-carry-around basket.

Books have become the recent bane of my life (what an odd thing for an English teacher to say!). The girls must own 200 books - baby board books, pop-up books, picture books, noisy books, story books, counting books, puppet books. Honestly, these kids do not need any more books! And we do read a lot. But every day I was finding myself picking up the books, trying to re-organise the books on the shelf, fixing the back of the bookcase that had been pushed off the frame by little hands struggling to fit so many books onto each shelf. There was also the problem of losing library books - I can't tell you how many times I have torn the house up looking for a library book, or paid a fine for a book I didn't even realise we had because it had made its way onto one bookshelf or another. And then, I looked at the small basket of Brio, and it dawned on me.

As luck would have it, it was market day in town, and I happened on a very sweet wooden wine box. I expected the stall-holder to say £10 when I asked what he wanted for it, but to my delighted surprise, he was only asking for £2. I didn't hesitate!

When we got home, whilst the little ones had their afternoon nap, I set to work on that those bookcases. I chose about 10 books that reflect the season and put them in our new 'book box' in the living room. The rest of the books went upstairs, to 'rest'. I did take the opportunity to sort through them, and I'm pleased to be taking a large stack of books we have outgrown to work to give to a colleague who had a surprise baby earlier this year.

The girls are loving the new book box, and are using it exactly the way I'd hoped they would. They can now see the covers and can easily choose a story to snuggle up with. We all know how much kids like to hear the same story over and over again, finding comfort in some small aspect of life they can predict, and having such a limited collection of books at the ready seems to feel 'safe' for them. And guess what? I haven't had to pick up one book since we've started using the book box!

Our current selection includes the following titles (I plan to change the selection out every month):
It's Heaven Having You by Giles Andreae and Vanessa Cabban
Guess How Much I Love You by Sam McBratney
Cookie Monster's Book of Seasons
Paddington by Michael Bond
The Tale of Squirrel Nutkin by Beatrix Potter
The Tale of Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle by Beatrix Potter
Woody, Hazel and Little Pip by Elsa Beskow
The Very Noisy Night by Diana Hendry
On the Way to Kindergarten by Virginia Kroll
The Booktime Book of Fantastic First Poems edited by June Crebbin
plus Imogen's birthday book, made by her teachers and classmates


  1. Cute bucket you have those books in. I always feel so much better when I have cleaned things out. Which reminds me..fall clothes need to be sorted...not my favorite job!

  2. I love getting the new season's clothes out - with three stair-stepped girls it's always fun to pull out old favourites and see them being worn again.

  3. Carrie I love the book box idea, how ingenious!!! I may even have to do one of those myself. Even if it's a cardboard box (I get lots of those from my Creative Memories deliveries) I'm sure the kids would enjoy decorating it to make it more appealing.
    I struggle as whilst I don't like my house to be a complete tip and disorganised chaos, I want the children to enjoy their toys, and like you, take responsibility for tidying up etc, but I have to deal with a husband who can be slightly OCD about tidy-ness! He has however admitted that he has had to make himself compromise somewhat since having children! :-)

  4. Jenny (lovely to see you here!), that's a great idea to get the kids to decorate a book box - you could have a different one for each season.

    It's hard to get the balance between order and relaxedness, isn't it? Especially with someone who has very high standards!