Having kids is messy. It starts with spit-up stains on your clothes and couch, evolves into toddler juice spills on your floors, then backpacks piled up in the hallway, mud tracked throughout the house, and clothes everywhere. It feels like the laundry never ends, the kitchen never closes, and piles of things crop up all over the place.
Somewhere along the way (probably deep in the middle of quarantine), I felt overwhelmed by the mess. To control the chaos, I started saying NO more than YES to activities that brought in more messes. No more play-dough. No painting today. No helping me cook tonight. No popcorn on the couch. No pillow forts. No playing upstairs. No toys in the tub. No. No. No.
Some of the rules we put in place in our homes are sensible and meant to keep the peace. Our kids (and the adults too!) need to respect common spaces, clean up after ourselves, and help out with chores around the house. It’s not fun for anyone to live in a constant mess.
On the flip side, it’s not fun to live without messes, either. Sometimes fun is just…messy.
It’s a lot of fun to play with water (which turns into mud), have sandboxes, play dress up, paint, and even make slime. I realize that keeping things totally clean, and making myself uptight, doesn’t spark any joy for my kids.
In an attempt to say yes to more messes (the good kind!) I’ve realized that a few guidelines make a big difference for my sanity.
First of all, I aim to set myself up for success. Before I say “yes” to a mess, I’m honest with myself. If time is tight, or I’m not in the best mood, I don’t push it! If we decide to undertake some messy fun, I make sure I have the supplies to contain the mess where possible and clean it up when we’re done. Ikea’s huge paper roll is my best friend here. I put it underneath whatever we’re doing and throw the whole thing out when we’re done.
Next, we all have to agree that everyone will help with clean up. Dress-up games, pillow forts, and tea parties are all a ton of fun, but it’s not fun if everyone walks away from the mess at the end. When playtime is over, we put on music, and everyone has to help chip in and clean up! It doesn’t matter if you didn’t add that particular pillow or never wore the superhero mask. Anything that’s left out has to go away.
Along these lines, most of the things we make have a shelf life. Play-dough, slime, and art projects can stick around for a little while, but after a week, it’s time to throw them away to make room for the next fun project.
Finally, I’m reminding myself to embrace messes as a part of life. We don’t live in a Pinterest-perfect house, and time with young kids is fleeting. The sooner I can let it go when it comes to messes, the happier we all will be.