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The simpler things are, the more accomplished you'll feel. They'll remember the time you spent with them, not how tidy everything was.

A Helping Hand: Three Kids Under Three – Help!

How can I stay organized with three children under three years of age? They all have different personalities and make messes. I feel like all I do is clean, only to see it messed up five minutes later. I'm a stay at home mom. My husband thinks I stick to schedules too much, but his advice doesn't help. Do you have any ideas about keeping everything tidy?

Three under three is certainly going to put you in the position of cleaning all the time. While organization is a good goal, applying it will be very different at home than in an office — or a home without children. Keeping everything tidy is not a reasonable goal and you'd do well not to put that kind of pressure on yourself. With three toddlers, you'll maintain more of your sanity if your goal is to keep up with them.

I had two under two. Now I have three in college. The "mess" doesn't go away, it just changes shape and geographical location.

Keeping a schedule (this happens at this time, that happens at that time) can be daunting with three little ones. A routine (this happens after this — regardless of the time — and then we do that) might be more accommodating for everyone, especially you.

Mornings can start when everyone wakes, not necessarily at 8AM. We eat, we clean up, we watch a program, we play outside, we snack, we play outside some more, we eat lunch. This doesn't have to happen by the clock to go smoothly and successfully.

Do remember, "Stay at Home Mom" doesn't mean you have to stay at home. Check into your local resources for playgroups and parks. Network with other moms about scheduling playgroups and exchanging babysitting.

Children cannot mess up what they can't reach, see, or know is there. Keep breakables and other valuables up and away. If necessary, put them out of sight completely. While it may seem like you'll never see your things again, the reality is that the days are long and the years are short. This means you'll be bringing your things down and back into view before you know it.

Safety devices work in theory. In practice, small children are geniuses. Block outlets, unused radiators, and cords with furniture. All lower kitchen cabinets should be childproofed with one exception. Here you would keep plastics the children can play with.

Cooking around kids is dangerous. To get around this, cook in advance (when they're sleeping) and reheat later, tell your husband to keep the kids occupied while you cook, and/or create meals out of raw fruit and raw vegetables or make sandwiches.

Keep a minimum of toys available. A child with too many choices (more than five toys) can be become an overwhelmed child. A child with a toy that contains more than five pieces can also become overwhelmed. Simple blocks go a lot further than a box of action figures.

My rule of thumb was that if a toy couldn't go in the dishwasher or clothes washer, it wasn't a toy for my kids. This helped immensely on many levels, the least of which was cleanup. If your kids have more than five toys each, leave them with five each and stick the rest in storage. When you bring out all those "new" toys, put the other toys in storage. Change them out about every three months.

Messes will be made no matter what. To consolidate messes, never dismiss the wonders of the bathroom. If you have a hand-held shower nozzle, explore the possibilities.

During colder months and/or rainy days, I fed my baby by putting her in her high chair and the high chair in the bathroom while the two older enjoyed their lunch on the tray that fit between the sides of the empty tub. When my baby was done eating, I washed the older two and let them dress themselves. I then put the baby (still in the high chair) in the tub and washed her up along with the high chair. I'd then take her out and let the high chair dry.

On warm days I used an empty inflatable kids' pool in the yard for meal times. After eating, I'd fill the pool with water and bath bubble mixture. If you have a sprayer on the end of the hose, you can get some rockin' bubble mountains going.

The beauty of inflatable pools and pool toys is that they are outdoor and indoor toys. They can go inside in a bedroom (without water, of course) or in the living room during the day. They’re lightweight and move easily.

The inflatable toys that have slides and palm trees are great, but if all you can afford is a moderately-sized inflatable pool, this can double as a napping place (with pillows, blankets, stuffed animals) and as a place to play or look at books. Very small pools can hold books or toys and make it easier for small children to learn organizational skills (books go in the pink pool and toys go in the blue pool).

The important thing is your peace of mind. Three small children are exhausting no matter what you do. Don't put extra (and unnecessary) pressure on yourself to do more, more, more. Keep it simple. The simpler things are for all of you, the more fondly you'll remember them at the end of the day, the more accomplished you'll feel, and trust me — they'll remember the time you spent with them, not how tidy everything was.

About Diana Hartman

Diana is a USMC (ret.) spouse, mother of three and a Wichita, Kansas native. She is back in the United States after 10 years in Germany. She is a contributing author to Holiday Writes. She hates liver & motivational speakers. She loves science & naps.

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