Saturday, August 25, 2012

Managing the chaos with a house of boys

Here's our house. I remember when we first moved in, it seemed so big, but as the boys have gotten older, it's begun to shrink. We have 3 full baths, and 4 bedrooms.
Liam has his own room.

And Dylan has his own room.

Kieran and Cameron share the room upstairs
With four boys, a dog, and husband who works 24/7, I used to really struggle to keep the house under control. Laundry seemed to pile up faster than I could wash and fold, dishes were always in the sink, and the kids' rooms would go from clean to disaster in one day. This Fall, I start my final semester before applying for dental hygiene school. I'll probably be the only person in history who attended college for 7 yrs and only came out with an associates. But, with four kids at home, I could only take a few classes at a time. This summer, I had had it. I'll never be perfectly organized, but the chaos was getting to me, and I decided, things needed to change. I started by purging stuff!
  1. Clean out all closets and organize. Have you used it in the past year? If not, get ride of it. Each season, I go through the boys drawers and closets. Spring and Summer clothes get either hung up or folded in a bin in Liam's closet, this way, out of season clothes are jamming drawers or hogging space in closets. Each Fall and Winter, I evaluate each of the boys wardrobes. I make piles and count jeans and shirts. If Liam's grown out of it, I ship it off to one of my girlfriends who has a smaller boy. 
  2. Store small toys in bins. I bought a 3 drawer Rubbermaid container and put it in Liam's closet. Top drawer is smaller Lego's, 2nd is for Lincoln Logs, and 3rd drawer is for big blocks. Cars have their own canvas bin, and so do mini figurines. Evaluate your kids' toy collection. Do they ever play with this? Are pieces missing? Is this a baby toy or have they out grown it? Before you get ready to toss those happy meal toys, WAIT! We help support a base in Zimbabwe, and last Spring, we took all of those little toys and mailed them to the kids in Zim! They're small, light weight, and for a 3rd World Country child, they're a treasure. I know of numerous mission groups who takes these overseas, see where you can donate!
  3. Clean your kids room when they're not there! My kids would die knowing the stuff I've tossed or bagged up for the goodwill while they're gone. I've tried the partner cleaning bit, and it doesn't work. My kids are hoarders *I blame Mr. Man*, and they would keep every scrap of paper if I let them. 9 times out of 10, they don't ever realize that it's gone. Don't get all wrapped up in the emotion hub bub of certain items. 
  4. Items you keep. Certain things, I save, no matter how ratty and worn they are: baby blankets, lovies, baby outfits the boys wore a lot, favorite baby toys. Mind you, this collection is so small, it all fits up at the top of Liam's closet. These are untouchable. 
  5. Help you kids maintain. Question: How long does it take your 4 yr old to clean their room? Answer: Forever. Throw away the "principle" of the matter, and get in there and help. I usually assign 1 job at a time. "Kieran, put ALL of your Lego's in your bin." He can do that. "Clean your room!" is way more overwhelming than one given task. 
  6. Daily maintenance. Every morning when I wake the boys up, I help them decide what they're going to wear. Telling them to "get dressed" did not work. #1. They would come downstairs in shorts and a sweater. #2. In the midst of choosing an outfit, drawers would be pulled apart, and hanging clothes would be strewn about. I ask jeans or shorts, and give them a couple of shirt options. They have until "3, 2, 1" before I decide and that's that. (Any arguing beyond that is -.$50 from their allowance." While the bubbies are getting dressed, I take 2-3 minutes and pick up toys and make their beds. Doing this everyday, eliminates the stress of a messy room! Clutter doesn't have time to build up. Also, if you have a big family like mine, wash laundry EVERY day. My process is fast. Wash, dry, fold, hang up, and call the boys. Even the 4 yr old puts away his own piles. Every dresser in the house is the same. TOP drawer: underwear and pj, middle drawer: shirts, bottom drawer: shorts and sweats. Everything else gets hung up, and everything gets put away neatly. Not items shoved here and there. It's our house rule, and it's been that way for years.
  7. Mandatory 1x a week deep clean. "But it's not MESSY!" Exactly. Each Saturday morning, the boys are required to strip their sheets, dust their rooms, and make them vacuum ready for mom. Kieran and Cam scrub their bathroom, and Dylan & Liam do the downstairs one. It takes less than an hour, and it's their prerequisite for receiving their allowance.
  8. Chore Charts and Behavior Charts, make your threats count. I've spent many years threatening, grounding, and yelling, only to forget which child was supposed to do what, or who was ground from their DS...until my "chart system." I have one chart for chores, and one chart for behavior. Stars are good, sad faces are bad. Stars earn rewards, but sad faces earn extra chores and punishment. 1st sad face= warning. 2nd sad face= extra chore 3rd sad face= punishment ON THE FLIP side, exemplary behavior earns stars.
    The CHORE CHART keeps track of who has done their chore or who's forgotten. It also keeps track of hanging book bags up in the garage, putting shoes in the cubby, and getting dirty clothes out of the bathroom after showering.
 Now, I KNOW what you're thinking. "Pain.In.The.Butt!" Yes, it is, at first. However, we're on our 3rd week of the charts, and it's a habit now. Discipline and punishments are predictable and fair across the board. And guess what? We've had the most enjoyable 3 weeks with our kids that we've had in a LONG time. It WORKS!
  9. Give them an ALLOWANCE. I swore I'd never do this, but my system I had wasn't working. My boys all do chores every single day. They do well in school and are good kids. Why not? Dylan and Cam get $5 per week, Kieran gets $4, and Liam gets $3. Obviously, the  8 & 9 yr old who empty and load the dishwasher are going to get more than the 4 yr old who feeds and waters the dog. Give them reasonable duties, and make them follow through. Don't allow them to slack. Trust me, after making them redo their chore several times, they'll realize doing a good job the first time around is much easier. I deduct -$.50 if they do not complete their chore before going to bed. No ifs, ands or buts. 
10. Don't break for your routine. We have strict rules during the school week. No video games or computer time. No tv until homework and chores are done. They come home from school, and immediately do homework, then chores, eat, shower, and then watch tv. If they are watching tv before dinner, their homework should be done, checked & agenda's signed, and chores completed. No exceptions.
11. Let them rots their brains out. During the Summer, my kids did nothing. Sure, we took a vacation, and went camping, but during our time at home, they rotted their brains out. Dylan and Cam would play video games so much their eyes would be all glassy and glazed over. We'd go to the pool and spend hours playing. I'd let the boys stay up late and watch movies. They'd build forts in the living room, and have brother sleepovers. They'd sleep in late and sit in their pjs all day. They're KIDS. Let them! During the school year, we're strict, but Summer and weekends are for relaxing and laziness. The house doesn't need to be a strict dictatorship. Set reasonable expectations, and if they fulfill them, back off. 

So, is my house squeaky clean? Absolutely not, and it never will be, but it's manageable chaos. The family room will always have toys here and there:
The breakfast nook will always have a few crumbs on the floor:
And I'm sure the bathroom will always have a few dribbles under the toilet seat:
The kitchen will forever be stacked with random piles of items that need to be sorted and put away:
At the end of the day, this is a very lived in house. I'll never be homemaker of the year, but I think we've finally found a groove in this whole routine business.


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