Several months back my friend dropped me off home when I was about to head inside and my neighbor caught my attention. I walked over to her to chat since it’d been a while since we’d seen each other. She’s a super sweet older Caribbean woman who lives alone and has been the epitome of a dream neighbor. She accepts packages for us when we’re out of town, she constantly buys little gifts for Camille and she’s even sent over some delicious homemade sorrel for Christmas. Anyway, she mentioned how she thought about Camille last week and she almost came over to say hello. My heart legit froze. In my head I was thinking “Nooooo!” It’s not because our neighbor sucks, but because our little space was overrun with Camille’s toys. Jo & I had been too exhausted to put it all away so that Camille could just wake up and wreck havoc again. Toddler Life.
Anyway, sweet neighbor did not make a surprise visit, but it made me really want to have a space that is ALWAYS ready to have visitors without compromising Camille’s ability to truly enjoy her toys. I kind of laughed this off because let’s be real here – we live for order, she lives to destroy; it’s just the way of nature. The more I thought about it though I began to brainstorm how we could actually co-exist and have an adult & kid-friendly space. So after some trial & error I determined some simple guidelines that actually worked for us.
Exhibit A: Embrace the Idea of a Family Space
It should come as no surprise that in communal spaces, like the living room, every member of the family should feel welcomed and should enjoy their time spent there. The space should reflect that. With careful planning your space can be adult & kid-friendly.
The big issue that we have as it relates to Camille’s toys is that there are sooooooo many of them and they often make their way into our living room. Instead of constantly expending energy trying to put Camille’s toys in their proper places, we’ve opted for seagrass & linen baskets that vibe with our aesthetic. These diverse vessels are in various places in the living room (some where Camille can reach them by herself and some intentional places where she cannot).
Having this simple, yet effective system in place really does cut down on my frustration by a lot. Her toys are welcomed in the family space and when they are not in use they live in beautiful, yet durable containers. This simple strategy works in Camille’s room too. In the event that Sweet Neighbor decides to unexpectedly ring our bell I can easily throw a decorative blanket over a basket if I desire to. Some of my favorite baskets are from Pehr *drool*.
Lay Down the Law
Toddlers are so much fun. They’re cute, weird, and mischievous. If your babe is anything like mine, she actively tries to take the reigns of the household. It ain’t happening kid. Although words only go so far with toddlers, I am proactive with Camille about what the playtime expectations are before we play. I’d like to think that she’s listening. Most of the time she isn’t, but that’s okay because Mama has a few tricks up her sleeve.
One of the biggest game changers for us has been designated spots for play. You have to set limits for kids in terms of where their toys go. If the “playtime law” is not established, how are kids to know what is acceptable and what’s not? They will only know what you present to them. Establishing designated play spots takes time, but it is time well-spent.
My mom once bought CC a massive puzzle playmat that was beyond colorful. It was sensory overload for me. Puzzle pieces everywhere and every color in the damn rainbow. That lasted about 0.2 seconds (sorry, Ma). We promptly replaced that mat with one that did not clash with our decor, but still offered CC a designated play space. The tagline for the Little Nomad playmats is “Make their play space your happy place,” and boy did it. Guests often think that her playmat is just an area rug. Camille has free-reign on this mat and when it is time to put it makes the clean-up easier. Now this isn’t to say that she doesn’t venture outside of the confines of the mat, because she absolutely does, but she genuinely seems to enjoy playing more on the mat, which works out for us all.
We also have another mat that is super portable and works similarly to the aforementioned one. It’s a 2-in-1 playmat from Play&Go that doubles as a storage system (GENIUS). When playtime is over we literally just pull the drawstring and we’re on our way!
Aside from making the most out of setting expectations and utilizing playmats as designated play zones, make sure that clean-up is a habitual part of the play experience. There are ways that you can frame clean-up in a way that is alluring to kids. Sometimes we tell CC to bring her toys to their “homes.” This prompts her to put them away. It’s really cute, people. Afterwards, we celebrate her efforts with lots of cheers.
You know your kid better than anyone else, so take note of what excites them. Establish extrinsic, and better-yet, intrinsic rewards for your kids for taking ownership of the clean-up process.
We love positive reinforcement in the Jupiter household, so CC really feels the excitement and love when she helps to maintain the space. We are genuinely proud of her and she knows it. Actions quickly turn into habits, so make sure you’re teaching the little ones some good ones.
Get Picky about Toys
To be transparent, some toys require more maintenance than others. It’s just the truth. We tend to donate stuff at least 3 or 4 times a year and this includes some of CC’s toys. Rule # 1 of regaining your sanity as a parent is to reduce the amount of stuff that you have … toys included. If you have less stuff then you have less to clean up. It’s a law of physics, people. I have a friend who has a strict 20-toy per child max. If her kids get a new toy they have to donate an older one. I love this concept, but I haven’t pulled the trigger on it yet.
One thing that we have done is to choose CC’s toys wisely. I much rather opt for a singing stuffed animal than 1,345,034,275 Lego pieces. IJS. Consider what makes sense for you and your lifestyle, but whatever you do, choose your toys wisely.
Toys are a double-edged sword – they entertain and can teach your little one life skills yet their existence can be the bane of yours. In any regard, know that with some planning you can use a multitude of systems to craft a space that works for your lifestyle. What has worked for you? We are constantly on the hunt for making our home less stressful and more welcoming for all, so please share with us!