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We are a family of fifteen: eight already with Jesus and seven in desperate need of Him. This is the story God is writing in our lives. Proverbs 16:9

Monday, May 18, 2015

~Some~ Lessons Learned (for now) Installment 1: Toys

There have been a lot of lessons learned over the years in regard to systems of home organization and while I am absolutely still learning, there are things that I thought might be helpful to someone somewhere. My hesitation is that any suggestion would either 1) make me seem like I have it all together (I do not) or 2) make someone else feel like they don't have it together. This is not my intention. This is simply a way to adjust if you ever find yourself, like me a few weeks ago, outnumbered and starting to lose your mind over all there is to do all the time. And I am not talking stuff that can wait until later. I mean "we cannot function here people!" kind of stuff.

Sometimes, I am asked how I do it all. "Do what? What am I doing" I wonder. Then, I remember. I homeschool and have five children. The honest truth is, I don't do it all. "I am finite, I come to an end," to quote Sara Groves. One of the sure things that daily bring me to my end is all the cooking, cleaning, teaching, training, running, and constant moving. There are days when the "to do's" make me cry, crash, and pray.

One day, it hit me. A season had passed and the mess was a bigger burden. I felt like I was spending all day every day talking to the kids about cleaning up after themselves. I remember looking particularly at Andrew, as he is growing by the minute, and saying, "I don't want to be taking to you about this! I want us to have conversations about something--- anything else. I want to hear from you today." I also was exhausted from of all the time spent picking up. I want to learn stuff, dance, and play! And so do they. Having a bit of a system has helped so much. We still have days where it feels like the walls are caving in and a five-child tornado has passed through, but even then, we have a plan in place to help everyone get back on track. It really does take everyone. Now that the little ones are utilizing their opposable thumbs in bigger-toddler fashion, they are better helpers too.

That in mind, I make these suggestions with this caveat:  we all have different philosophies about play and life in general, and while some ideas may make life easier, it still doesn't mean they are for everyone. And every Mom is wired a different way and is given to her particular children to love. There is a lot of freedom here in respect to what works for different families.

Regardless of the lot, it is hard work. The pay is horrible. But there are bonuses--- moments when God grants the mercy in the mess to look up and see Him and then look around and see them. He gets His "to do" list done all the time, thankfully, and one of those items is sustaining and deeply loving me.

What is true of all Moms who hang their hope on being justified by Jesus is that we are continually loved and accepted. ((Notice that period, it is there on purpose)) Doing this, that, or something else, doesn't make us good Moms. Jesus makes us good Moms. In fact, we are Perfect Mothers in Him (Saints) even while we still struggle and somedays, throw in the towel (Sinners). What is far more difficult than running a home is believing that the Gospel is for me, today, when all my best laid plans fall flat. Without it, redeeming the time (Eph. 5) and working toward discipline in running a home becomes a burden that I cannot carry. Jesus was always timely and intentional. And His record is mine. Lord, I believe, help my unbelief.

Having made that as clear as I am able, I humbly offer this first installment. After weeks of trying to deal with clutter, I am going to focus on toys today as this is where I am finally seeing some progress. Others have probably implemented similar systems and even written about them with better clarity, but here goes anyway.

Recently, the children and I gathered every toy that they own and put them in piles by subject. It was like a page from the The Berenstain Bears and the Messy Room. For real. We got rid of the broken things, the things missing pieces, the things that no one even likes or plays with anymore and discarded or donated them. Some sets, I sold for the kids in a local "Buy, Sell, and Trade" group. Then I split the money between those to whom those toys belonged. I have five children, but we really don't have that many toys. I am ok with that. I love for toys to serve more than one function. If all it does is use up a battery, I am not sure it needs to stick around. Micah and I have spent many days and nights trying to beat the last life out of a nearly dead toy that just won't quit. Toys that require imagination are my favorite for them anyway.

Then, I went to Target and bought bins with detachable labels. Each bin comes with two labels and I really liked that they could serve us in the future if the boxes needed to change function. I also like their aesthetics. as opposed to clear ones. All the kids and I sorted and stored all toys in these bins. I also added whatever toys might fit in the closet among the bins that go along with some of the sets. This has been a game changer. No more do I find ridiculous amounts of toys all over the house--- and if you have children, especially many children, you know how toys can end up everywhere. Doll shoes, Minnie Mouse Plastic Dresses, Beyblades, Matchbox Cars, Legos, in the closet, under the bed, in my sock drawer, behind the dresser, under the stove... everywhere.

I do have a similar but more exhaustive system for Legos. My children love Legos and they can be difficult to manage. They are in a separate location for the big kids and are in clear bins by Lego type.

Whenever playtime is near, they choose a category of toy. They love to play with the sets especially when all the pieces are right there. And when they are done, they cannot have a new set until they pick up and put the first away. Sometimes, I let them have a couple out at a time. It really depends on if they can be played with together. I am not terribly rigid, only partially, as I have witnessed all to often too many toys out at one time, getting thrown, dumped, and generally slung from here to Timbuktu. If people want to sling things, we can go outside and throw a ball or something else throwable. Inside, I generally give them what makes sense, they play, pick up, and move to the next thing. This makes it really easy for them.

I also am trying to have areas in our home where other sets make sense and are stored. For example, coloring books and crayons are stored near their craft table. Playdough is stored in a bin in the kitchen where the hard floor and countertops make cleanup as easy as it can be. Stuffed animals and dolls are stored in large bins in their rooms. I do have a place for some toys in the living room that fit into one large basket. They are mostly the "B" toys and are easily identified and grouped together when pick up time comes around. We also have a music area so if I or one of the big boys go to play some instrument during the day, people gather 'round and play something to add to the band.

The garage is the (almost) same. I have been working on this one more lately. Bins for sidewalk chalk, bubbles, sports equipment, etc. One group of items at a time. Everything has a home.

Even though the system might sound solid and even simple, there are times (many times) things are misplaced and still end up all over. After breakfast, lunch, and dinner, I set a clock for 5-10 minutes. The kids go over the first and second floors (I split them up) and clean up all the toys they find. There are two designated bins (different from the toy closet) they use to collect toys. If a toy is too large for the bin, it is immediately put all the way up. Everything else, goes in the bin. At the last meal at home for the day, either lunch or dinner dependent on our evening plans, the bins are emptied and all the stuff is put back in its appropriate home. Even my threes can do this fairly well with some help. Elijah calls it "a tornado, in reverse."

Sometimes with prompting, I will help with whatever is left. I don't always get everything of mine picked up all the time so it would seem reasonable to give them some help. Sometimes, it does gets donated if it floats around too long or it is obvious no one really cares about that particular thing anyway. You get the picture.

If you have any suggestions or thoughts, please feel free to leave them in the comments. I love when I hear brilliant ideas, even if I store them away for a new season of life. You never know, I may suddenly need a new plan if I begin to lose it again.

One last note,  if you have a community of friends you can help with a project such as this, I can imagine it is much more fun as a team. If you find that one way is not working, friends can be great at helping problem solve. Most of all, we need friends that point us outside of all the work, give us a means to relax, and the are the best at loving us in the struggle and success.

This toil will not remain forever. There will be a day when I will miss my little mess-makers. For today, there is rest- not in systems or in plans but in the One who carries us through the gamut of the calm, challenge, and chaos of raising children. God help us so that all our burdens, big and small, be light and joy remains outside of us, drawing us in.