I think “neat freak” is a quality best exhibited in a single person. It doesn’t matter, then, if you like to have your bookshelves alphabetical by author within genre or that every utility company sending you bills has their own folder within your filing system. Since opposites attract, however, neat freaks are likely to marry those who have greater concerns than whether their desktop is completely bare or the cans in the cupboard are arranged into sections according to whether they are fruits, beans, or tomatoes.
And then comes the baby. Before she can walk, you can keep her toys in the cradle that she outgrew at three months of age. Stuffed animals sit in a photo-worthy arrangement in a spare chair in the room or on top of the dresser. Clothes stay perfectly folded and sorted in the drawers—short-sleeve onesies here, pants there, socks and leggings here.
Then the baby begins to crawl and walk and to play with those toys. To throw them around the room, where they create booby traps for the unsuspecting adult, especially the one tiptoing downstairs in the middle of the night to find the stuffie that got forgotten earlier but now might soothe the baby back to sleep—if Mommy doesn’t incur life-threatening injuries by stepping on baby’s block.
You attempt to give each toy its own corner. Strollers line up by the bookcase, blocks sit beside the couch, small toys go in a basket. Birthdays and Christmases arrive with more toys. A sibling comes along to help throw the toys around. Mommy alternates between despair and cleaning binges. And then a solution comes along. The perfect toy bin, which would surely solve all problems of toy organization:
You pull all the toys out of the drawer where they have been hiding. Even you are amazed at the toys discovered at the back of the drawer. You arrange them neatly within the bins—one for puzzles, another for purses, a small one for blocks, a large one for dress-up clothes. Voila! Your children can now see all their toys to play with them and can easily take them out—or put them away. And those teddy bears and dolls which are overrunning the bed (and often the floor) can find a new home too:
You relax, smiling, as your inner neat freak takes a break. For a few hours. Until the children strew the toys around again. Until you are the one left trying to remember which bin you had designated for each toy. Until the toy bin sits there, proudly displaying its unused toys, while the children pull books off the shelves to read or build forts in the living room with chairs and blankets.
You smile. Encourage them to pick up their toys. Help them so all of the toys are as perfectly put away as a neat freak could desire. And pray that one of them will inherit your neat-freak tendencies so you will soon have an ally in the toy organizing department.
Do you consider yourself a neat freak? How do you encourage your children to clean up their toys?