Oh, messes: supposedly they come in every shape and size, but at my house gigantic, mega and mega-gigantic seem most frequent. And the battles over picking them up? Those can be even bigger!

As parents, we remind, threaten, help and sometimes (only sometimes!) go ahead and clean it up ourselves. Then we go on to live another…mess.  But maybe all we need to inspire the kids to clean up their own mess is a new strategy.

Take a picture first.

Sometimes that “mess” is really a super-amazing-alien-zoo-campground-for-Wonder-Woman-and-guinea-pig-playground and the kids can’t possibly imagine DESTROYING it (aka cleaning it up). This is the perfect time to whip out your phone and take a picture! Once that creation has been documented for all posterity, they can safely disassemble it and put it away for later adventures.

Pick one thing to focus on at a time.

Kids are easily overwhelmed. Sure, they can make a mess that would scare a hazmat team in less than five minutes, but when they look back at the mess they’ve so lovingly created, it looks like it will take hours to clean. Turn the mess into an I Spy situation, where each child oversees collecting and putting away one type of item—say dollhouse toys or stuffed animals—at a time.

Baskets, boxes and bins, oh my!

Putting away a monumental mess is much easier if there are clear, designated spots for toys to begin with. While it might seem baskets or boxes of separated toys, like cars or critters, would only last five minutes in your house, you might find yourself pleasantly surprised. Messes may become smaller, as only the desired toys will be taken out. Toys that were forgotten and hidden under a pile will get more play. And, when you have a designated basket for all your superheroes or blocks, cleaning up by focusing on one toy type at a time (see above) is a breeze!

Store toys in “zones.”

Similarly to using baskets and bins, keep toys stored in zones. Don’t keep doll furniture on the opposite side of the room from the actual dollhouse, or play food away from the play kitchen. When you are looking for toy storage, invest in storage solutions that can be easily moved for play in another room or area, rolled to the side if it is in the way or wall mounted to keep the toys stored right where they are needed. When playtime is over, simply move the basket or cart back to its home.

Let a dresser work harder.

If you have a dresser anyway, why use the closet for clothes? You can add shelves, hanging bins and floor buckets to a closet for storing oodles of toys, neatly tucked away, while t-shirts, pants, shorts – even dresses and skirts – can be folded and stored in the dresser. (Always make sure your dresser is safely secured to a wall!)

Make it a game.

Play basketball with Fingerlings and princesses (whoever gets the most toys in the basket wins) and musical toys with Hatchimals (whoever is left holding the toy when the music stops has to put it away)! You can even make Alexa the musical timer. Or throw a clean-up dance party to see who has the best mess-busting moves. Blur the line between playtime and clean-up time and everyone wins.

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