Productivity

Ep 99. Managing Kid Clutter with Amy Pottenger

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Toys, shoes, books, blocks! It’s everywhere!

Do you ever just feel overwhelmed and frustrated by all of the kid clutter?

In today’s episode, my guest is Amy Pottenger. An interior designer who loves helping mompreneurs create empowering home environments. She is happily married for 22 years and she’s a mom of two kids, a daughter and son aged 14 and 11 respectively as well as a mom to two pugs, also a boy and a girl. Amy will be giving us some tips today on how to manage kid clutter in our homes and how to build a space that we can feel confident and comfortable to work in. So let’s jump in!

Ashley: So can you share with us just a little bit of this insight into your expertise, how can we help our kids manage this? How can we handle the mess, when we know that we need it to be picked up?

Amy: I like to say I can take you from frustration to inspiration.

First of all, let me just lay it out there that it is never going to be perfection. So my goal with this is to help you really just create good systems that you can rely on. Remember, no matter how beautiful your IKEA Billy bookshelf is, with all your cube storage, one of your kids is going to come through and dump out every single bin when you’re on a Zoom call. I just like to lay it out there in the beginning because..

..we as moms have so much pressure on ourselves.

We’re scrolling Instagram and we’re looking at all the beautiful inspirational home décor and home design things.

No clutter. No mess.

They’re awesome.

They’re beautiful.

But that is not real life.

I want to lead you to a system, so when your child does dump out all the things, you have it labeled and you can tell them to put all the Legos back.

Edit and Purge

This would be my number one tip and is not always where people want to start. If you’re trying to organize too much, you’re going to be frustrated. You might get all the pretty bins, but if you just have too much stuff to begin with, it’s kind of a losing battle. When you are purging things with little children, you know what’s important to them, so do it when they’re not around. Then as they start getting older, you can start putting them into the process with you.

You know your kids and their personality and you can play that by ear as to when to get them involved in the process. But when they’re really little, sometimes it’s just easy to do a clean sweep when they’re not around. So that would be my number one is just start with editing and purging and ask for experience presents.

Experience presents are such wonderful things, especially if you have littles because there’s so much clutter of plastic junk that you get as gifts when your kids are little.

Ashley: I love that. My kids have started to ask me to go through their stuff when they’re not around because they have such a difficult time parting with things. I’ve asked them before, “Hey, would it be okay if I go through some of this stuff and help you get rid of it?” If I can put it away and then they don’t ask for it, then they clearly won’t miss it.

Amy: Absolutely! That’s awesome self-awareness in your kids, first of all, that’s very cool. Yes, I have done that too, where you do a purge of all the clutter and maybe you have a couple boxes that you stick in the basement, maybe even for a month. It takes a little patience, because I was always afraid of throwing away the one thing and then they’ll cry, they’ll be scarred for life because I threw away this pin. So if you are really worried about that, purge the things and then just set them aside for a little bit. If it doesn’t come up after a couple months or even a couple of weeks, it’s probably not something that you have to save. Or it could be something that someone else could enjoy too. You can donate things as well.

Know Where It Lives

I’m totally on that journey of less is more. Then you start thinking of whether it’s a playroom, or really your whole home, your living room. You can start designing in zones, where you keep all like items together in a particular section of your home and these items don’t go to other places.

As you’re zoning things out, your overarching goal is to know where does this item live when I’m done with it.

So whether it’s a doll, or an art project, you know where it goes when you’re done. The problems happen when you don’t know where it lives, and then it ends up in some random toy box of clutter, and then you have a toy box full of like 75 different things and then it gets to be overwhelming.

I love creative toys. I love things that do double duty, like wooden blocks or Legos or Magnet Tiles or building type things that kids can play imaginatively with in like 20 million different ways. They can do so many things with those. Sometimes you’ll see people recommend rotating your toys, just to get a little bit of excitement when you’re bringing out something new.

I like to keep all those creative toys out and accessible all the time.

But then maybe rotate in some of the other things with it. If you don’t want to rotate, I’d say pare it down to those really creative toys that they can do multiple things with.

Going back to knowing where it lives, if you have really little littles, you can get storage things. IKEA is such a go to where you can get their Billy shelves. But they’re the cube shelves that have the bins. You want to label all of them and label them with pictures especially for a two year old, where they are probably not reading yet. Because you’re not only knowing where the thing lives, but you can also enlist the help of that little one to put it away, so you’re making your job easier and creating less clutter.

Everything gets dumped out.

Find the picture.

What’s this toy?

Put that in there.

Then as they grow and start to read, you can label with words and that can get kind of fun too. You’re empowering your kids to help because you don’t need more to do.

  • Make stations for activities
  • Label everything
  • Start out with pictures if you have littles

Ask Your Future Self

The other thing isn’t even an organizational thing, but it’s teaching your kids to put things away when they are finished with them. People talk all the time about planning and dreaming for your future self. So take the future self into your home..

“What will future Amy say if I leave this giant mess in my sink and go to bed and then have to wake up to it the next morning? I am not going to wake up a better person for that.”

So I tell my son and my daughter too, do it now. If you’re done playing with the thing, put it where it goes and experience that joy of putting it away and not having to do it later or letting it build up to all the clutter. Then translate that into your own space with your own things.

Ashley: Oh my goodness! So you and I are totally on the same wavelength here, because I just did a podcast episode, Episode 95 where I talked about this future self. How we if we just consulted our future self, for all the decisions that we make, it would so change everything for us. How often do we do things or we schedule things that we wish we hadn’t scheduled because we did not consult our future self. So I love that we’re sharing that same wavelength, but I also had another thought.

Set Expectations

Ashley: So you’re talking about having your children clean up when they’re done. This is the biggest issue that we have. Both of my kids love Playmobile, so what they do is they set up this imagination land, and they call it something different each time. Whenever I ask them to clean it up, they freak out because they’re still playing and they’re going to come back to it later.

So what are your thoughts about that? Do you recommend a special area that they can leave out? Let me know what’s your secret, cause I need some help.

Amy: No, that was always an issue in our home too. I talked about my son, he’s the one who would always do that too. He would say, “But mom, I’m going to come back to it.” I let him do it for a little bit and then I started realizing that he almost never did come back to it, it was his way of procrastinating cleanup. Then there’s also the other thing of, if they do want to create an imagination world, I would not do it in the living room. I think it’s just being more strategic with where that play happens or even being upfront with your expectation.

“Okay, if you want to set up your Barbie and Lego world in the living room, it’s going to have to be cleaned up at the end.. I want you to have that expectation up front, and then if you want to leave it out, well we could put it in this room instead.

Where Is the Line?

Ashley: Yes and just to clarify, this is happening in their own bedrooms. My husband and I always have a conflict here, because he’s like, well, it’s their room, you can’t control their room. So maybe this is just an area of control that I just need to let go and let them keep their rooms messy to an extent. Obviously they do need to keep it tidy. But I think that’s always been the biggest area for me is that when I walk in their room, it’s hard for me to want to connect with them and have special time with them, when all I can look at is the disaster in their room.

So where’s the line Amy? Am I just a control freak or is there some truth to this ideology of teaching your children responsibility when they’re young?

Amy: Yes, there’s truth to both. I am all about letting imagination and creativity run wild within limits. When my daughter was younger, she was always the one who wanted to save everything and then I would come in and totally purge her room of all the clutter for her. Then as she grew she got to the point where her room is cleaned all the time now, which I know a lot of teenagers, that’s not the case. But it gets to be a disaster, and then she will clean it up on her own now, where she used to never do.

With my son when he was younger, he was neater, and now he’s gotten more messy. I’ve viewed their rooms as their space and their creative space. So I’ve dealt with it, within reason, because they have to be able to find their sweater for school and they have to be able to function. But I’ve let more things go with it I think, just because it is, in my opinion, their space and I can shut the door.

Lead by Example

Again, a lot of it does come back to expectations. So on Saturdays, we put all our laundry away or whatever. Whatever your routine is with your kids, that’s super helpful to have so that it’s not a free rein of just mess and chaos and clutter. I discovered something interesting during COVID, initially in 2020 when all the home edit shows came out. My son was with me and he started watching it, and got super into it and my daughter watched it too. They were both watching it and as soon as that show was done, they would go organize something. It kind of floored me because I did not think it would have that effect on them. You think so often I’m doing these things and my kids aren’t paying attention. Kids do what you do and inevitably, eventually, they’ll do something.

So leading by example, whether it’s putting your stuff away or watching the Home Edit.

It’s definitely a journey and that’s why, as a designer, I could go crazy. Because my environment is super important to me. I’ve had to learn give and take. There are certain areas, like my kids can’t play at my desk, and there’s problems if that happens in my home, that’s the expectation. I have to have my sacred spaces, where I know this is going to be my space that no one is going to touch, which is why I kind of love the home office concept. Because for me, that’s one room that I can have as my own.

Five Minute Tidy

Ashley: I do want to transition our conversation into that a little bit. But I wanted to share one thing too, when I did the clearing clutter episode (Episode 88), I think I talked about the five minute tidy in there.

Just having that short time where everybody spends five minutes tidying up in their rooms, or wherever I feel like needs a little bit of help.

Sometimes it’s downstairs where I’m like, “Oh, I see a lot of your stuff out, we’re going to do a quick five minute tidy and reset.” I think just giving kids that time limit, so it’s not open ended, is just a really empowering tip that has really helped us to not let the kid clutter go too far.

Amy: Yes and I love that. I still do that with my older kids. So the timer I do it myself, the timer is a beautiful tool. You can also prioritize it by what is bothering you the most, which is the other reason I love that. Yes, absolutely that’s a great tip.

Ashley: I think I also mentioned the 15 Minute cleanup. I think my dad taught me this, I remember him saying if everyone just did a 15 minute cleanup or a 15 minute focus on something in the house, imagine how much cleaner our home would be. We never did it, but my dad always said that, “let’s just spend 15 minutes.” So I’ve adopted that.

I have this junk room upstairs that has been like a storage room for the past four years since we’ve lived here. It’s always this big project, and I never want to look in there because it’s just going to take me forever.

But if I just chip away at it 15 minutes a day, imagine how much faster it will get done.

Amy: Yes, absolutely. I think that’s great, because that’s a small way to get a big win. I know you had talked about before about how just cleaning out the drawer, or whatever, doesn’t do it for you. If I’m going to spend time, I always spend time first on the biggest return for my area. So cleaning the floor, big win. If not, you can take that same 15 minutes and you can clean a drawer you’ll never see or you can clean your floor.

I think that’s a really good way to look at it because, like all moms, our time is so precious. Getting to a point where you prioritize, and these things become a habit, especially with littles and lots of kid clutter. If you are blessed with littles right now, you can start that now and then the kids kind of know, “oh, it’s our 10 minute clean up time,” and they’ll grow up doing it. Then you’re creating this habit for them that’s going to kind of build in this natural tidiness. I love that idea.

Find Your Sacred Space

Ashley: Yes, okay I know our time is coming to an end soon. But I have to ask this question, because I think it’s so important for the people that are listening. All of our listeners have kiddos, and most of them or a lot of them are photographers. We do have some listeners that own other types of businesses as well.

What tips and suggestions to do you have for us when we do have kids around and we’re also working?

  • Some listeners have their own separate workspaces like I do.
  • Maybe they don’t.
  • Maybe they’re working in the little pockets of their homes, wherever their kids are.

Can you kind of speak to that? Do you recommend that people have their own safe space that they go work in? Or what are your thoughts on that?

Amy: Well, a lot of people don’t start that way and that’s okay. Google the word Cloffice. These are people that have come up with this idea of putting an office in a closet. I’ve seen some of the most brilliant ideas of these closet offices or cloffices. You can create space anywhere, even if it’s a small space.

So yes, I am a fan of moms having their own workspace.

  • Even if it’s a closet office
  • Maybe just a piece of furniture that stores all your things that you need for work
  • A corner of the living room
  • Or a chair that you go to that feels good to you

Even if it starts out as you clearing off a corner of your living room, put a plant there, put a candle there, have a lamp. That way, if your kids are playing on the living room floor, you have that little corner that feels good to you. That’s really what it’s about to start, is just having that space.

I know photographers, you’re editing probably into all hours of the night. So having a space that lighting wise works for you is huge.

It might not be a home office in the beginning, but you can work your way up.

Most of the moms I talked to, they do, depending on what level they’re at in their business. You can steal space from your home that you might not have looked at before. So walk through your home with fresh eyes and see what works for you and your family at the stage that you’re in.

You also want furniture pieces that do double duty for you. Where you can store some kids things, and you still have your storage. Meaning they could store toys down low, but maybe up high, you can store things that you don’t want your kids to get. Then as your kids grow, you can still use that storage piece. I love things that do double duty and things that will grow with your home. So another tip with clearing the kid clutter and putting toys away is to make sure that your kids can put them away that they’re accessible for them to be put away. So if they’re down low, that gives you that opportunity for them to help clean up.

I find businesses grow over time though, and that’s exactly what’s happened to me, I actually now have a separate studio space in addition to my home office..

..but I started out in the corner of my kid’s playroom.

You had mentioned too in your episode about organizing, which is a number one tip:

To look at what you want that space to do for you.

If you know you’re going to have your littles in there playing while you’re editing, then put toys in there that they will maybe play with longer and keep them in there.

Think of those little things and how you can set up a space to have it win for you and for your kids.

Set Boundaries

Ashley: I love that so much. Thanks for that reminder. I have another like follow up question. So you alluded to this earlier, that you have a boundary where you don’t allow your kids to play in your office space.

How do you set that expectation and then how do you enforce that boundary?

Amy: Yes. So for me, it was always my computer. I’m sure it would be the same with your mom photographers too. But yes, I had to start small, it was my computer. Having an office with the door is huge too, because they can know, “okay, mom’s door is shut.” But just like anything with kids, it’s just about repeated enforcement.

Yes, this is my computer, you don’t touch my computer please.

Set those boundaries upfront. You pick your battles. If they got in my drawers, in my file or whatever, it wasn’t as big of a deal when they’re little and it kind of grows with you. But if you have something in there for them to do too, like this is yours. This is your space, I have my desk and you get your desk or whatever it is. 

Kids like to do what you do.

I used to have a little play table in my office where the kids could sit, and color or read or whatever. I used to have a little play table in my office where the kids could sit, and color or read or whatever. Make it enticing for them and make it special, so that they won’t even necessarily want to mess with your stuff.

Ashley: Yes, I love that. I just thought of another tip too. This is super practical, but put a password on your computer, so they can’t just get on it. The other thing that I was thinking of as you were talking, my kids come into my office all the time, and they’re always getting one of three things. I keep the computer paper in there, so they come in there when they want to get blank paper. They also come in there when they want to use tape and then scissors. So those three things they come in and then while they’re in there, they get into other things.

So my tip is to control the environment.

Move all that stuff into their space, so that when they’re looking for it, they’re no longer in my office and tempted to mess with everything else that’s in there. This is like Kid Organization 101, I should have already known all of that.

Amy: But you don’t. You don’t know until you take the pause and really look at it. A lot of times we’re just kind of blind to that stuff, until you just take a second, you realize, “I could give them their own art station that has printer paper and scissors and this and that.” You know they’re still going to come in your office sometimes when they lose their scissors. But yes, having that space that’s totally theirs, that goes back to the stations and the zones for sure.

This is your art space.

Here’s where you go when you look for that.

You don’t come in mom’s office.

ACTION STEPS

Ashley: Amy, thank you so much! This has been such a fun conversation. Before we part ways, I would love for you to share with our readers where they can find you and any other information that you have for them.

Amy: Absolutely, you can find me at refreshdesign.net and my Instagram is linked on my website as well. I have several different ways if you want to work together. I do two hour design consultations called Design Power Sessions, which are super fun. We can take a space in your home and really work through it. It’s kind of like having a designer bestie who can help you get some direction in your space. I do full service interior design as well and I’ve created a course that is mom entrepreneur specific for your home office.

Otherwise, follow me on social, come say hi, send me a DM. Tell me what you learned or if you had a question about today, it would be great. I’d love to hear from you.

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My mission is to help fellow momtogs (mama photographers!) experience success in business and in motherhood. As an Arizona brand photographer for mompreneurs, I’m passionate about capturing authentic images that show off my clients’ unique personalities so they can connect with their ideal clients. And as an online business coach for momtogs, I LIVE for helping mamas experience incredible transformations that help them build a business they love, without sacrificing their precious time with their littles.

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