This post contains affiliate links. By purchasing through these links you are helping me keep The Homemaker's Cottage running with no added cost to you!
It’s the beginning of another long day. Last night didn’t end so well; you didn’t get everything you wanted done. There were still dishes in the sink, clothes in the washer and toys everywhere.
This morning you’re frazzled, overtired and trying to figure out what everyone is wearing, what they’re going to eat, and you’re trying to get your independent three year old out the door with the wrong shoes on. It’s hard.
You are constantly feeling the need to catch up, and once you do, you know it will only last for a minute. The stress weighs on you, the depression is real. You feel as though you will never escape this madness let alone be organized.
I get it. I’ve been there. When I was a live-in nanny I had 3 kids in three different age groups who I was solo caring for. There was constant chaos and my every hour when they were at school was spent on cleaning the mess from the previous day. I never understood how we fit so much stuff in one tiny little house and how the kids managed to pull every single item out everyday.
We lived like this for a few months before I finally snapped. I couldn’t do it anymore. There had to be order to this chaos. And while it took a while, one day there finally was. There finally came a day where I was no longer holding the baby while shooing the other two kids out the door while one only had one shoe on and the other had forgotten their backpack.
And the wave effect that that created on the household was immediate. The baby was going to bed on time without fuss. The five year old’s anxiety was calming as they were able to make small choices for themselves and have predictability in their life. And the tweenager was able to have stability and routine that helped their grades get better.
And the house itself got better. There was less fighting and more kindness. The home felt more balanced and at peace.
Was the house completely organized? By far no. Were there still toys lying out at the end of the day? Sometimes. And that was okay.
So, without simplifying your home like a minimalist, or having your home completely organized, how can having systems in your home save your sanity?
Here are four systems that I implemented with three kids at home that saved my sanity (and maybe theirs too!)
1 | Pick out clothes the night before
A big problem for the middle child in the home was generalized anxiety, which led to acting out and trouble in school. This child is to this day probably the sweetest child I have met in my 15 years as a nanny, but they were always so stressed and full of big feelings.
One day we started implementing a strategy of letting them pick out their clothes for the next day the night before. Now I would like to note a few things:
- The child’s clothes were not gone through, gotten rid of or simplified. This child had many options. (My recommendation would be that if possible, at least get rid of the out of season clothes before letting your child choose. Because I often had to argue that bathing suits were not good for winter storms!)
- This was not a quick thing that every night, this lasted from anywhere between a half hour to an hour depending on the child’s need for attention and control.
But, after a few days I started seeing change. Once the child had spent one on one time with me picking out appropriate clothes for the next day (that looked super cool of course), laid them out, prepared their backpack and even got their underwear and a pair of socks out you could see their shoulders and jaw loosen and un-clench.
After a week or so the child stopped fighting at bed time. They were happier to go to bed and happier to wake up. They became excited to go to school and excited to pick out what to wear the next day. I saw less behavior problems at school and at home when I gave them some decision in their life.
With the oldest child (my tweenager), I didn’t need to be over their shoulder while they picked out clothes, but they did need to be approved ahead of time because that is the age of pushing the boundaries of appropriate. This gave us a bit of a challenge at first while we negotiated what “appropriate” was, but after a while we were able to recognize the importance of self-care and respect and that made a huge difference in how they carried themselves and their confidence.
Whether you have your children pick out their own clothes in an unhurried manner, or you give them other small choices throughout the day, you will notice your children’s defiance lessen. Giving children, even very young children a choice in their own life is gratifying for everyone. Your children will learn more independence and responsibility and will feel less need to act out all the time.
2 | Playing with only one toy at a time
All the hours I spent picking up toys was too much for anybody. After we implemented the children picking out their own clothes, we then took time to learn that we could only have one toy out at a time and we couldn’t take out another until we had finished putting away the first one.
Did this always work? No. But there were a lot less toys laid out on the floor and instead of taking hours to clean up, it usually just took a few minutes.
This resulted in less tears when they couldn’t find the toy they wanted, and more playtime because often there wasn’t much to clean up.
3 | Time Warnings
One of the things that really helped my kids have less meltdowns during transitions was what I call “time warnings”. Time warnings were different for each kid, but basically looked like this:
For the oldest I would say, hey we’re leaving at 4:30 p.m., I need you dressed, ready and in the living room at 4:15 p.m. okay? I would wait for them to look at me and say “Yes ma’am” before leaving the room. It was really important to make sure they were paying attention to me and the clock and that if they had any questions, comments, or concerns they could voice them ahead of time.
For the middle child it was a little more intense. I would come in and say “Hey we’re gonna leave in 30 minutes, okay? That means you have one episode of this show before we need to go.” I would make sure they were paying attention and responded with a “Yes ma’am” before I left. For them, due to their short attention span because of their age I would come in at 5 to 10 minute intervals.
For the baby I would give a five minute warning because they didn’t quite understand time so we would make a game about cleaning up before we left.
For all three children this gave them an expectation, a knowledge of what was to come and control over what they did with their time before we left.
4 | One on One Time
The last system I implemented with each child was making sure that everyday they each had a time set aside that was predictable and expected where they would get my undivided attention.
In the early mornings, sometimes before the sun had risen, the baby would get up and we would spend time on the couch just cuddling and playing with their favorite toys. This would last anywhere from a half hour to an hour and it gave the baby security and gave me the ability to be able to put them down throughout the day without them crying.
For the middle child, who had the most behavioral issues, we took the time right after school to bake something together. This gave them time to decompress and get rid of the days worries. We would sometimes bake for ourselves and sometimes for other peoples. We learned lessons in math, compassion, kindness and good food. Their attitude was immediately calmer upon entering the home and they were able to regulate their mood instead of take their feelings from a hard day at school and bring them home. The child was also more compliant to do their homework once we were done and talk to me while I made dinner.
For my “tweenager” we spent the time together after the littles went to bed and before they did just talking about everything and anything. Most times it was happy talk, but sometimes there would be tears involved. This built a relationship of trust and security that lasts to this day. (They are in college now, and they still come to me with joys and concerns.)
By spending this time with each child everyday, the children felt less jealous and helped the sibling rivalries tamper down. They all felt more secure in themselves and cut down on the anxiety that they had. They all felt more confident to do things on their own. The consistency of the time, and the non-judgement that was there was helpful for them.
I always made sure these times were not ones where punishments were doled out of they told me something they did. I would tell them that I appreciated them being honest, and there would be a consequence for that later on after I had thought about it some more.
These are some things that worked when I had three kids under one roof. But I would like to point out a few things:
- All of these systems took time each day
- I don’t think I ever had the dishes fully done, or the kitchen fully cleaned
- I never had Pinterest-worthy lunches packed. Heck, most days the kids ate a school lunch and sometimes the baby ate the dirt under the swing…happens.
But, I had happier children. I had peace in a home that was once filled with anxiety and chaos; and you can too. Sometimes it takes a shift of our focus and energy in order to get a home that we want to live in. Maybe we’re too focused on what things we own, and not always as focused on who there is to love at home.