Friday 7 October 2011

Messy Girl or Fussy Mama?

Little Lady and I have been deadlocked over one issue for the last two or three years: her messiness. I seem to spend all day telling her to pick her things up, to tidy her toys and clothes away, to put things back where they come from. Regardless of my repeated reminders, she seems to leave a trail of her things around the house giving us a clear idea of where she has been.

I’m convinced she is the messiest child in the whole world. Her pyjamas’, uniform and daytime clothing get left in both her bedroom and mine, leaving three sets of clothing to be cleared away every day. Every evening, I have to get her to clear piles of toys, books and clothes off of the boy’s bed so that they can get into the bed.

In have been trying to get her to clear up her own mess rather than letting her gran trail around behind her and pick things up. I ask her to clear up, then I ask her to put away specific items, then I tell her where to put them. In the end I have to stand over her and tell her what to do with each item she has left out. This is a bad use of our time and aggravates both of us.

We have tried reward charts, promises and agreements. I have even tried threatening to confiscate her things, giving some of her things to charity and refusing to buy her anymore things. Nothing works; the trail of hurricane Little Lady is left all over the house.

In the end I had to take a longer look at what I was trying to achieve. I want my children to have good habits, to be clean and neat some of the time (within reason, I know this is real life) and to take care of their things themselves. I am not willing to follow around like a maid and pick up after people all day long.

I realised that perhaps part of the problem was in my thinking and approach. Little Lady is not trying to be wilful or wind me up; she just doesn’t see the mess. I am reminded of a story a lady once told me. After having her third child, she asked her husband to put the house in order before she got home from the hospital as she needed rest and would not be able to rest if there was mess everywhere. He reassured her that the house would be immaculate. She came home to find piles and piles of dirty clothing, dirty dishes and toys and the following exchange ensued:

“But you said you would tidy up?”
“I did tidy up”
“But what’s all this mess?”
“That’s not mess, they are clothes”
“What about all this?”
"That’s not mess either, those are dishes.
“What’s this then?”
“That’s not mess, those are toys”

Her husband just could not see what she could see. I think part of the reason is the different way we interact with the world. I am extremely visual and I cannot function if I see clutter, this means I am probably fussing about mess and seeing dirt where there probably isn’t very much. Little Lady strongest sense for perceiving the world is her hearing. She cannot stand too much noise, so when her brothers are noisy or I keep calling her or nagging her she is unable to concentrate and gets irritated and upset (whereas I usually phase out everyone’s noise easily).

Realising this has made me try and nag her less and let her have some messy space around her bed if she wants. Another thing I find helps is to join in. I might spend 10 or 15 minutes talking to them and trying to get them to put their things away, or get up and start putting things away and telling them to join in and they will all get up and the room will be clear in 2-3 minutes.

In the end though, I am having to realise that with kids I can’t expect things to be perfect and neat and tidy, messy and fun is a valid choice also, but I think I will keep working on hurricane Little Lady for now.


  1. I love this post. Reading it brought back lots of memories. I grew up with a mother who had a vengence agains mess and untidyness. My dad on the other hand has always been the opposite, he loved having his things around him all the time, there were always piles of books, papers, toiletries etc right next to his armchair and bed. And my poor mum used to get severe headaches looking at the mess and if she cleaned it she'd get told off by my father for misplacing his stuff. She tried hard with her kids to turn out like her, to be tidy and clean, but for most part we've gone after our dad. I really believe this to be an innate quality, you're either tidy or your not. now that im a mother i try hard for my daughter to be tidy but i know that in the end its a personality trait.
    by the way your little lady, reminds me of my youngest sister.

    I love your blog sis, its a brilliant read.

  2. Salam,

    This is my experience before. Like you said, kids do need to mess things to have some fun around. When my kids are small, all their toys, drawing, clothes or whatever their needs and things only confine into their bedroom. They can mess their bedroom , but of course they will still have to learn to tidy up everyday, but not to our perfect. To left it not tidy at all, will not help them to learn to be tidy. But, to nag to them to keep it tidy, but not to expect high standard. They will learn along the way. Insya Allah. But, I am always make sure all other place around the house is clean and tidy. My daughter when she was 9, used to tidy up the whole kitchen when came back from school, as I was also tired after work and need to start cooking. She will clean up everything , wipe the tops and mop the floor, alhamdulillah. still she mess things in her bedroom, clothes and toys and books. They need to be told off and we cannot give up. They do listen and understand although they seems not. They will gradually pick up to our standard. It will take some times.

    I used to do spring clean every 2-3 weeks in my daughter room. I do almost everything and she will help in between. it will be sort of lesson. But, we have to do it first in order for them to see how it been done. They might pick up one thing out of ten things we told them at one time. Patient and not giving up is a key.

    As she age 11, her room not just tidy, but spotless. She do spring clean every week. She become very fussy just like I used to be when I teach her. Now she whine and nag her sister as they share bedroom. She told her off just like I used to tell her off.

    Insya Allah, a good habit need to be teach and will take time to reach certain level. But, as a mother, don't give up.