Using Timers with Kids – Reader Story - From Our Mailbox

I love hearing how this mama is using what she’s learning to help her daughter:

Hi, Dana:

I love your blog, but who doesn’t? The idea of decluttering one box at a time was just what I needed to attack (and defeat) my closet last month. I’m the one who posted on Facebook that I got my little girl to do “one in one out” by using a paper bag to measure volume. I wanted to tell you how I used ideas from your blog to help my daughter fight messy, overcrowded room syndrome.
Here is what I do. As part of her chores each day, she tidies her room for ten to fifteen minutes, without my oversight. I just set the oven timer, she goes back to listen to kid’s CDs, and clean up. Ten to fifteen minutes is NOT “go clean your room,” like I used to say. It’s “go clean up part of your room,” which is much less intimidating. Afterward, she has free time, and she knows this is not going to take her whole evening, because all I am looking for is some progress. I’ve noticed that she’s willing to do this without drama, because it has a time limit. When the oven timer goes off, I tell her that time is up, and go compliment her on her progress. I generally include the words “fabulous”, “glorious”, or “awesome” in my description of what she’s done.
Your idea of breaking jobs down into manageable pieces is what started this, so thanks a bunch for inspiring me. Your concepts can be handed down to kids to make their lives less stressful, too. BTW, I think I’m going to go down to five minutes soon. I just walked in her room to retrieve her laundry basket, and it’s pretty spiffy in there. (Yeah, I’m bragging on my kid!)
With much admiration,
Stephanie Lowman

Play Room: Play Space or Storage Space?

What Works? A Play Room or a Play Space at

I spoke to a lovely group of mothers last fall. One of the questions that came up really made me think.

It was about playrooms. And storing toys in them. (I can’t remember the question exactly.)

PLAYROOM! was at the top of my list when we were searching for a house.

We had three kids ages four and under, and I thought it was a Must Have.

I got my playroom, but I now realize I didn’t use it correctly in those first years.

I had big dreams. I set up a reading corner with a comfy cushion, blocked off by a bookshelf. I bought a handy-dandy IKEA unit that seemed perfect for keeping (lots and lots of) toys tidy.

I put an art easel and craft papers and all sorts of things in there to encourage creativity.

Day One was great. But at some point between Day Two and Day Umpteen, it turned into a toy storage room.

Or a toy ocean.

Or a toy abyss.

Every stray toy was (literally) thrown in there. Soon, we couldn’t find the reading corner because the whole room was knee-deep (literally) in stuff.


And it was no longer a play room. Because no one played in it.

Because they couldn’t.

I answered the question by saying that since I stopped storing toys in the playroom, it has stayed clean. And play-in-able.

Seriously. Since this post (written over three years ago) when I completely purged the playroom of piddly stuff and only left the big stuff like a play kitchen, table and chairs, and baby bed . . . it has stayed under control.

Because now . . . it is a play space.

A stage for pretending.

We do keep toys in the bedrooms, and we struggle to keep those rooms from becoming an abyss. But I know that the fewer toys we have, the easier it is.

And the more they play.




The Like It Shelf and the Love It Shelf

Organizing a Child's Room Bookshelves at

Do you recognize that bench/bookshelf? The one I “got rid of” almost two years ago.

I did remove it from its chronically-piled spot by the back door. It sat in the garage for a while, in my entryway for a while, and back in the garage.

I had the idea to put it in my daughter’s room. The main reason I don’t love it in other spots is that it’s small in scale.

So a few weeks ago, I decided to finally move it. My daughter was thrilled with the idea, even when I said that we would be removing her current bookshelf.

I explained how we would do this. Just like when the boys decluttered their bookshelf, she would choose her favorite books to put on the shelf first. Anything that didn’t fit couldn’t be kept.

That’s the “contain” er concept in action, people.

If she found another book she loved after the shelf was full, she would have to remove an already-chosen book to make room.

That’s the one-for-one rule in action, folks.

It went well. (Except that the shelves weren’t meant for books and wouldn’t allow most of her books to stand up . . . )

In fact, we went ahead and divided any books into a Like It Shelf and a Love It Shelf. This made the one-for-one rule even easier to follow when we came upon a forgotten favorite.

I believe I might make my own Like It and Love It Shelves somewhere.


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