Parenting and the Inevitability of Chaos – plus three tips that might help.

street-chalk-73583_1280Remember the days before kids? All your time was your own, your home was your own; you were the boss of you. I can’t imagine going back to those days before our children arrived, but there is one thing that I constantly struggle with. Disorder.

When we brought our first daughter home from hospital I followed all the advice that said ‘forget the housework, it will keep’. I also thought that the chaos this brought with it was temporary and once we got in to a ‘routine’ our house would go back to normal. In a way it did go back to normal – but the meaning of normal changed in a monumental way!

Normal became toys on the floor, a basket of washing that never ends, bibs, bunny rugs and rattles strewn around randomly. Nearly ten years on, and two more children, ‘normal’ is still toys on the floor, a basket of washing that never ends, but add to it dolls and their clothes strewn randomly, crayons, pencils, colouring books, lego, broken biscuits, abandoned apples, jigsaw puzzles, random runners, a football boot (or two or three), tutus (in various sizes)…anyway, you get the picture.

We have a happy home and the mess is coupled with lots of play, squeals, giggles and general household noise, but every now and then, there is the sound of a long, low sigh. That’s me, when I look around the room.

I catch myself gazing longingly at the Ikea catalogue, wishing for the same order in the catalogue to appear in my lounge room. Who knew that you could covet the inside of an Ikea catalogue? I have three children, my reality is that life is never going to look like the inside of an Ikea catalogue – not for a very long time.


Look familiar?

I was lamenting this permanent state of disarray to some friends, when one explained that her husband was a ‘neat-freak’ and constantly paced the house putting things away as their sons moved on to the next activity. I sighed and said that I wished I could be like that.

He interjected and said ‘No you don’t. It’s like you’re a prisoner in your own mind, because it never ends; it’s constant and recurring and I feel like I can never rest.’ My friend continued, she said she can’t put down her cup of tea and go to the bathroom lest it be picked up, poured out and put in the dishwasher. She said it drove her mad.

Reflecting on this conversation, I weighed up which reality I’d prefer and concluded that my own reality of disorder (or organised chaos – depending on your perspective) was probably preferable.

Having said that, society dictates that we present an ordered face to the world; and indeed personal pride and good manners dictate the same. We do not advertise the regular mad scramble to get out the door, leaving breakfast dishes in the sink and beds unmade.

Nor do we advertise the fact that our home is really only perfectly coiffed when we are having guests.

Michelle Obama once explained that she was like a swan gliding serenely along the water, but below the surface she was paddling madly. I’m certain many women who are juggling a young family and a career would identify with this. Maintaining order requires discipline and constant vigilance, but disorder can be overwhelming. So what is the solution?

For the average person who would just like to reclaim a little calm amongst the calamity, there are things that you can do. Given that most of us are ‘time-poor’ these suggestions take between two and ten minutes to complete, and the calming effect is instant.

  1. Make the bed. This will always help you feel more in control. It is probably the quickest job for the most calming effect, which is why I recommend it first.
  2. Clear and wipe the kitchen benches or do a ten minute vacuum.
  3. If these suggestions fail, shut the door on it. Pile the baby in to the pram, the kids on to their bikes, trikes or scooters and go for a walk. It will clear your head and you will be able to better manage whatever mess confronts you on your return.

For me, what has brought me the most calmness is to accept that this is life; kids make mess, we make mess. I do the best I can, without punishing myself.

Find a level you can live with, without becoming a prisoner in your own mind. Pacing the floor like a leopard, waiting to pounce to put toys away, or poised with the dust-pan and broom means that you’re less likely to enjoy your children and your family life. Yes, the mess drives me mad; but missing out on that everyday fun sounds more like madness to me.

What’s your approach?


  1. says

    I love this post. I learned to lower my domestic standards the moment I brought home my first baby from the hospital. I too have three children and my house will never look like a display home. Personally I find homes that do look like display homes devoid of warmth and personality. I am not saying I like the chaos, but I have learnt to live with the clutter and craft and chaos. I tidy up and make the beds and clean when I must 🙂

    • collette says

      It’s always so nice to hear that ‘I’m not the only one’. I’ve never been a neat freak but throw kids in the mix and it’s a whole other level of disorder. The other day, none of us could find our shoes – turns out that Miss Three had put her shoes, my shoes and her sisters shoes in the paper bin in brother’s room. Trying to keep a tidy is a swim against the tide for sure. And honestly, I’d rather sit and have a wine!

  2. says

    Our kids are older, Collette, and the toys have morphed into laptops, homework folders and textbooks strewn around the house. Our daughter’s desk looked like an art installation of piled clothing arrangement and no matter how many storage solutions we buy from IKEA the floor is still apparently the best place to keep things! But then I think to myself that they are (for the most part) happy, polite, involved, conscientious young adults so that’s more important than hassling them to tidy up. But, yes, I do like some order and I completely agree – make the bed and keep the kitchen bench surfaces cleaned and cleared (put things away straight away!).

    • collette says

      I figured that things would not improve with age! But like you say, the important thing is that they are happy and polite people (still working on this with the three year old – but remain optimistic!). I like your perspective of the mess being an art installation!

  3. says

    I am not a natural house keeper and I feel like all my friends have spotless houses. But it’s just not that important to me – it’s not like our house is going to appear on hoarders, but it’s not going to feature in homes and gardens either. I like having one space that is always tidy to retreat to when it gets a bit much.

    • collette says

      Nor am I Robyna. My best friend has the most immaculate house and after reading this said that she likes a house that is a bit lived in, but can’t help herself. I offered for her and I to swap houses for a day – in the hope that she’d get moving on my place!! But, really acceptance is the key for me. Sometimes the clutter does drive me bonkers, but mostly I just accept that it’s how our house runs.

What are you thoughts?