Photo: Louise Gleeson
When I come home, I toss my keys into the clutter on the table by the door. There’s a basket there that’s supposed to help avoid the morning panic about lost keys, but it’s always filled with other stuff. Lately, it’s been holding all the 3-D glasses with punched-out lenses that our eight-year-old has been collecting.
If any of the kids are home, I am greeted by shoes, backpacks, dance bags and music-lesson paraphernalia, which will trip me as I make my way into the house. Yes, we have a mudroom with hooks and more baskets for those kinds of things, but we’ve all accepted that none of the clutter will find its way there unless it’s the weekend (or my more organizationally inclined husband decides he’s had enough and orders a tidy up).
Truthfully, there are various levels of chaos in most of the other rooms in the house, too. And we are okay with it. Not just resigned, like a lot of parents with young kids, but really, truly okay with it. Really! We are a busy family of six, and anyone who steps into our home can see that we fill every corner of the space we live in with stuff.
We did try to have an organized home in the beginning.
When we were first married, and even after our first two kids were born, we cleaned up after playtime, everything went back to its designated place, and laundry wasn’t seen on the first level. I was proud to have a tidy home and felt like I was setting a good example for our kids.
But then we had our third child in four years, and my husband was travelling for work, and somehow along the way we lost our grip on those routines. And so our house got messier and much less organized, but it also felt familiar and comfortable.
When I visit my parents in their sparsely decorated townhome, I’m struck by how different it looks from the cozy space where my sister and I were raised. My childhood home was known for epic sleepover weekends, and neighbourhood friends (kids and adults) would often gather in our kitchen after school. There was a board game closet and a family room stocked with toys and craft supplies. If we created an elaborate Barbie world with our friends, my parents were fine with us leaving it until the next weekend rolled around and we could pick up right where we left off. I would describe it as a place you wanted to stay and spend time, and I know our friends remember it the same way.
Our family room today reminds me of my childhood, and it’s the place in our home where people most often gather. There are piles of stuffed animals left mid-action, homemade artwork on the walls, a huge chalkboard that we use to share cheesy inspirational quotes, photos of family on every available surface, shelves of board games, baskets upon baskets of kids’ books, dog toys and, yes, piles of clean laundry.
But four kids means a lot of stuff, and sometimes it does get too chaotic—like when I’m tripping over shoes or searching for an elusive hairbrush in the morning rush. And so we do an overhaul, setting aside some time to go through the house and pare things down.
We donate to charities and give hand-me-downs to family members regularly (and gladly accept them, too). We keep our clothing purchases to a minimum and we don’t buy many toys, but gratefully receive them as gifts on special occasions. And after age 10, we suggest our kids accept donations instead of stuff at their birthday parties. Keeping the house clean matters, too. Bathrooms and kitchen counters are wiped down, floors are swept and mopped, and the vacuum comes out a lot—we do have four kids, after all.
I don’t worry that I’m not setting a good example or that I’m raising kids who won’t know how to care for a home. They are expected to help out with the day-to-day operations like washing the dishes and getting their clothes into hampers. We also do our best to keep organized areas for schoolwork to be completed. We’ll do a deep clean when we have to, like on special occasions when we’re having company. And not because we’re worried about what people think, but so there’s plenty of space for our guests to hang out and stay awhile.
We believe our home should be somewhere we are free to be who we really are: a busy, creative, fun family with a lot of different personalities (and shoes!). An organized, clutter-free home is definitely something my husband and I look forward to in the distant future. But for now, we’re in no hurry to get there.
This article was originally published online in June 2018.