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A while back I wrote about my frustration with keeping our games neat and organized while still allowing my children to use them. I'm happy to report that recently life with the games has been much better... and it's not because they haven't been used. So what changed? First, I took the suggestion made by one of the commenters and used Ziploc bags to store games which didn't have boxes. These were mostly card games. The cards had never been loose, but I was using rubber bands to hold everything together and it was an unreliable system. My mistake was thinking that 7 year old's small muscle abilities were the same as mine, and they aren't. Even with good intentions, the cards just could not be neatly fastened with a rubber band by young children. Plus it was too difficult to add in a missing card, so the card was flung into the drawer instead of being correctly put away. The bags have made a much bigger difference than I had expected.
Next, I spent some time studying how the games were being used, who was using them, and what was the likely cause of them not being put away. This gave me some more insights into our storage problems. First I discovered that my storage method was the biggest part of the difficulties. We have three different places we keep games: a drawer which contains small games which is easy to get to, the top of the armoire where we have games stacked into several piles, and a smaller cabinet with shelves that is also easy to get to. Once again I realized that what was easy for me was not easy for the 7 year old boys. I had put some of the games they enjoy playing in the top of the armoire. It was hard for them to reach and the stacks became increasingly precarious as they tried to return them. They would eventually give up and leave them out. The older children could reach the top, but the chaos created by not-quite-tall-enough children meant that they couldn't put anything away either. (Well, they could have, but it would have meant taking out all the games and restacking them.) So one afternoon, A. (my organizing buddy) and I went through and sorted games by who played them. (Before I had been sorting them by size of box... they looked so pretty lined-up neatly on the shelves. For about 5 minutes, that is.) Games for younger children were put into the smaller cabinet or the drawer. Games for older children were put in the top of the armoire, but in two simple stacks that didn't involve solving a logic puzzle to put them away. Younger children are welcome to play with the other games, but they need to ask someone to help them get the game down. There has been very little of this since the games on the high shelf really are too advanced for them and are not much fun to try to play if you are younger.
The second thing I realized was that I don't wander around my house very much I tend to stay in the same few rooms most of the day and the room with the games is not one of the few. (It's not really surprising since it contains neither stove, sink, washing machine, nor changing table.) If I don't go into a room, I don't notice things that are out of place. If I don't notice things are our of place, they don't get picked up. (Sometimes I think my children have vision problems. I really don't think they see mess, garbage, and clutter.) If this goes on for several days, then when I do walk into the room, well, let's just say life isn't very good around here for a while. I have been trying to be more conscious about walking around the house a couple of times a day to keep things under control. One game left out is easy to pick-up. Five open games left out are not.
Things seemed to be going swimmingly when I one day I walked by the room to discover game pieces strewn about. Again. After quietly screaming inside my head, I called everyone together to pick-up and to try to figure out what had happened. That is when I made my third discovery: Friends. Evidently, having friends over to play causes my children to believe that normal, everyday, household rules do not apply anymore. Actually, I'm sure it has more to do with the fact they are having so much fun playing together that they just don't think. So, we had a little chat about what I expect (from them... my own children) when friends come over. I also have tried to make a point to do a bit more policing to help remind everyone what the rules are. And so far it seems to be working. (I need to add that these friends are all nice, well-behaved children whom I enjoy having in my home. And I have no problem nicely informing guests what is and isn't allowed in our home.)
I'm not sure my solutions will work for someone else, but maybe they can be helpful. The biggest thing I realized (again) is that like it or not, I am the one who is ultimately responsible for the level of chaos. If I am actively on top of things... checking the house a couple of times a day, calling a child back to do a job correctly, supervising play dates, etc. then life is seems more under control. If I am tired or feel that doing all that is too much work, I pay for it in the end. Life feels messy and I am grumpy at the children. And if I'm perfectly honest, even more grumpy at myself for letting it happen.