By Robin Shawver
In the first post for this series “Spatial Awareness Leads to Spatial Parenting” I talked about how being mindful of the home environment you create affects yourself and your family. Spatial awareness isn’t just a matter of figuring out what you don’t need or what you have too much of.
It’s a practice. It is a skill learned over time where you can truly see the space you call home and how you and your family use that space.
In practicing this skill, this kind of awareness will lead you to a state of attention and presence with the space but also with the people you share it with.
Many of us have reached the point where we’ve attempted numerous times to make sense of our space and our things only to be thwarted by the overwhelming scope of it.
Spatial Parenting is not just about creating a well-organized home, it’s about creating a home where the children, the parents, and anyone else who is part of your household can together create a balanced, copacetic, and fulfilling environment.
The kind of home environment we create and perpetuate has a direct relationship with how we interact with our children. By being mindful in how you organize your home and how you elicit their (your children’s) participation in the process can only lead to more sustainable and longer lasting shifts.
People tend to think that by reducing clutter and purging their belongings their home be a well-organized and tidy place.
While getting rid of excess belongings is a great place to start and where most of us NEED to begin, there are a few things that if done alongside this purge or before, can lead to longer lasting changes and a sustainable home shift for the entire family.
And if you’re a parent each week seems to bring in more toys, shoes, random socks, and favorite can’t be parted with rocks or half chewed on twigs.
So you ask yourself, How can I actually make a change this time that will last?
Step 1: Be an Observer
I can get pretty grumpy if I wake up and walk down the hall to see toys strewn about everywhere; the kitchen piled with dishes and old food on the table; playdoh drying and left out in the art area, and so on.
In an attempt to figure out the best ways to remedy these daily frustrations, I became an observer. When were we using these areas the most and how did we move in and out of them? Was it obvious where things should go after being played with? Were those places accessible to everyone, including the kids?
As an observer, take a week, or two, have a notebook or a pad of paper handy in your back pocket. Take a few moments here, a few seconds there, and watch your family. Watch yourself. Try not to let frustration, anger, judgment, and other emotions get in your way. I know this can be hard! But try. Rewrite - this needs to flow better
Other ways to observe are to get down on the floor and play with your kids in their spaces (I recommend this for a lot more reasons than just home organizing!). You will be able to more readily see what they see. You will be able to observe what gets played with and what doesn’t. You will notice what frustrates them about their spaces and what could be missing.
For instance, I noticed that my son wasn’t spending time with our play kitchen anymore when in our last home he used it almost daily. And then I realized that in the old house we had our playdoh along with the play kitchen and in this home, they were separated. Once I put them back together, he and his sister use the play kitchen all the time. My son just preferred to actually ‘make’ the food with play-doh rather than play with the food toys.
Sometimes I can be an over purger, and in the past, I would have thought about getting rid of the play kitchen altogether since it wasn’t seeing much use and I hate having things taking up space and gathering dust. But by observing and connecting the dots, and by simply moving an item to a different spot in the house, we get a whole lot of play time out of something that almost got donated
I have made a lot of small and large changes in reaction to my observations about how I and my family use our space. And since my kids are at the age where a few months can drastically alter their abilities and interest, I am continuously checking in with my observations. This is the first step to a more sustainable home shift.
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Step 2: Make a Plan
After you’ve jotted down your observations you need to spend some time with your notes. If you’re doing this on your own without a paid professional I would at this point suggest that you invite a trusted friend over. It’s one thing to attempt a step back and be an observer in your home for a week or two, it’s another thing to try and parse through those observations and make a plan. Having someone to talk it over with and share ideas and frustrations (especially over a glass of wine or two) can really change your whole outlook.
It’s not essential to have a friend over for this step, you could also sit down with your partner or take a deep breath and have a conversation with yourself.
However you do it, try to be as impartial as possible. It’s easy to fall into the blame game (of yourself, your partner, or your kids). So as much as you can, stay focused on simply looking over your notes and trying to find patterns.
Where are the most problematic spaces in your home? The entryway? The kitchen table? The family bathroom? The car? There are lots of potential places for clutter to build up and/or spaces to not function at their best.Make a separate list of the rooms/spaces in your house. Under each heading write what does not work for you and your family in those spaces. Then, try to brainstorm possible fixes for the problems. You might not actually implement all of the ideas, but instead, find that one fix can really transform the whole space. Either way, the whole goal at this point is just brainstorming.
Here’s an example:
You could do all of the above fixes but that could get expensive. Instead, focus on the more insightful problem and fix (the last one). Set up a sitting area just inside the living room from the entryway.
Some Important Tips to Remember:
Remember don’t try to fix all the problems in all your rooms in one weekend. After you make your plan/list and have singled out prime areas for fixes, and what those possible fixes are, delineate a time period for yourself.
Every weekend or every other weekend do one area. Put on your shopping list for that preceding week, bins, containers or whatever else you’ve decided will help in that area. Play some music, have good snacks ready and get to work! But don’t do it for too long. I would say three hours max. You don’t want to get tunnel vision or get so worn out by organizing one area of your house that you give up on doing the rest.
Once you have a new set up it’s a good idea to give your family a tour. Show them the new system and where things are supposed to go when they are done using them. Without a system in place it can seem fairly impossible to expect anyone to help tidy up (including partners) but once you have a system figured out it becomes much easier to ask your four-year-old to put their toys away once they’re done playing.
And, surprisingly enough, if you’ve decluttered (minimized your belongings to what you really need on a daily basis) and created systems for those items you’ve decided to keep, a clean and organized home will become the norm instead of the anomaly.
The next post in the Spatial Parenting series will discuss Step 3: Getting Buy-In from the Whole Family.
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Robin Shawver’s poetry has been published in RPD Society, effing, Venus Envy, Open Letters Monthly, and Taos Journal of International Poetry and Art. She has an MFA from California College of the Arts and teaches writing at the University of New Mexico. When she is not writing or teaching she is helping people organize and beautify their homes. You can check out her services at thislittlebirdhouse.com.