Children Toys: To Clean Up or Not Clean Up

At the very time I am writing this, my living room is a total mess. Just to illustrate it better, I am shamelessly putting a photo of it:

And at this very moment too, there is a little boy sitting in front of me having his breakfast, which means I can expect more mess soon.

There are days when I am a bit more productive than usual that before I go to bed I’d clear up my living room, and spare myself from the headache when I wake up in the morning. But it was not yesterday (most days, to be honest), when I was more keen on finishing the chapter I was reading.

Now that my little girl has started being mobile, and active I must add, she also contributes to this. Yes, my 5-month-old baby is now officially a proficient mess-making machine. Just the other day upon coming out of the kitchen I saw her pulling a small basket of toys of the toy shelf. In addition to that she now also pays much interest to what his brother is playing – which leads to his brother being annoyed and leaves whatever he’s playing just like that. In short, she contributes both directly and indirectly to the mess 😀

I am torn when it comes to messy play.

Sure, this is not even messy if you follow the ‘definition’ of messy play (which involves paints, sand, and perhaps all things gooey), which I know has enormous benefits to the children. Nevertheless, it still gives me some sort of headache though I am never an OCD person. Just the other day I could only stare at my wall helplessly; one blotted with a patch of pink homemade play-dough, and found myself making a silent promise that I would never make a new batch of play-dough.

I am torn because as much as I’d like to encourage creative play, how much responsibility should I give to my children when it comes to putting the toys away?

I could bark on Isa to put away the toys and blocks as soon as he finishes with them, but what if that stops him from, you know, developing further what he’s playing by leaving them overnight for instance? I remember the kind of play I was engaged in when I was smaller, and it didn’t happen only for one evening. Sometimes I’d take a break, but would like to come back to the scene without having to rebuild it, so there’s really no point of putting the toys away.


When Isa was younger, the rule ‘take one out, put one away’ worked well. But his play is getting more intricate and elaborate, that to not mix up his train set with his Mega Blocks and wooden blocks, or his countless toy cars is just impossible. But allowing all of those to be taken out means it will be harder to get him to clean up. And would really like to NOT yell.

Not pushing him to tidy clean up however, I fear, would bring about the false sense of entitlement, that there’s always someone else (often be me) to sort up all the mess. But to keep on reciting the rule ‘Put them away’  may discourage him from playing at all, and I have seen it first hand with the Lego set we bought him. We got him a 1000-piece Lego set a few months back, and suddenly his mom (that’s me) became obsessed with the cute little bricks that she kept dictating how and where the bricks should be kept and organized over and over again. The outcome? Isa did not touch the set for more than two weeks. Well, it could be the fact that he was a bit frustrated after having some difficulties (after all the set is meant for 4+), but I suspect it was due to my irritating, over-controlling behaviour: ‘Too many rules I’d rather not play with it,’ I guess.  Since I changed my approach, apparently Isa has warmed up and found some pleasure in playing with the little bricks.

I have long came to yield to the belief that a house with kids could never be spotless, but anyone, seriously, how do you deal with this? Where’s the fine line between being too restrictive and too liberal as a parent?

Maybe I think a tad too much.



  1. Well, everyone has a different approach that works best for them. I find that obsessing over toys spread out over the place is not a good idea. Kids will play all day, after all. But I make it a point that whenever it’s time to clean up, I ask Hasan-my soon to be three year old- to help me with the tidying. He now picks up his toys and books and put them all in the shelf before bedtime. Sometimes when I am in a hurry and do it all myself, he complains about why I didn’t let him do it. I also ask him to help me with other chores like clearing the dinner table etc. The thing is that your kids must learn to clean up their mess. Other than that, don’t obsess over it. If there’s something so creative that it needs to be left overnight, let it stay. But that must not become the norm!

  2. Masha Allah, Hassan must be a real sweetheart! Isa is great at coming up with excuses not to, but I make an effort to notice and praise him even if he could only bring himself to pick up half of his toys =D It is always easier to do it ourselves, isn’t it? But we mothers need to do the right thing, not settle with the easy ones…*sigh*

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