How to not get unraveled by the mess

I'm a stay-at-home mom of a 19 month old ACTIVE little one and am also beginning to address my generalized anxiety disorder, and one thing that seems to derail my efforts to be a fun mom and keep him away from the TV (which I don't mind using but just not ALL the time like my son would like) is the prospect of too much mess. I never ever pictured myself as the mommy who would choose not to do an activity (painting, crafts, cooking) due to cleanup, and I'm not a particularly neat person in general....but I find myself cutting our play short when my son acts like, well, a one year old, and tears paper and draws on the floor and smashes chalk (in the house. I got it cuz i thought it'd be easier to clean but he loves pulverizing it😒). It bothers me because so much of my childhood is rooted in the fun messy activities, and my mom was always so GOOD at making it seem easy and natural. I just get so overwhelmed in the thoughts of having to fix/clean/pick up everything that it's almost paralyzing. I don't want to be "high-strung" and I want to give my kid room to be a kid - how do I do that without setting myself up for trouble mentally?

  • Anonymous
    Jan 17

    I’m in the same position as you. I try to do activities where I know I can tolerate the mess. Take it one step at a time. I just keep reminding myself that it’ll be better when he’s a little older and understands the rules a bit better (no paint on walls, etc). And also... things can be washed, cleaned and replaced... but our time with our kids can’t. But at the same time... childhood is a long period of time - until they start giving us teen attitude right? 😂 so give yourself time, take tiny baby steps to the level of mess an activity can produce. I follow this mom on Instagram, @busytoddler, who said to do the activities that we know we would be comfortable with as far as cleanup and know that our kids can do it without eating something bad or what not. She also posts activities that aren’t super messy but fun for kids. She also shows how to set up activities in bins to help contain messes. It’s ok to save the messy activities for a later time. Also I have heard suggestions to lay out tarp or sheet for the area you’re playing in. Be really strict that they need to stay on the tarp. Right now my son is 2... I know he can’t follow that rule quite yet so rather than risk it and turn into a crazy mom, I’m not going to set myself up for failure. Also.. idk if it’s a great thing but my need for cleanliness kind of rubbed off on my son. I was letting him play with a dead marker and he thought he colored on his own face and freaked out 😂 but the benefits is that he loves to help me clean the house. When I ask him to help me clean he will run and wait by the cabinet where our cleaning supplies are. I give him a wipe and he knows not to put it in his mouth and it’s for wiping surfaces. Teach your son to clean with you and make it part of the activity to help you. It’s a process but doable.

  • Destinee
    Jan 17

    What helped me was setting a time limit. So when she goes to bed I give myself one hour to clean and that’s it. It’s kind of great what you can get done in such a short time but still feel like you’ve accomplished something. Also making a list and crossing it off helps. That way, I see what I DID do and not so much what I DIDNT do

  • A
    Jan 17

    As much as I agree it’s best to avoid TV ... it is a sanity saver sometimes. I usually let my kids make the mess. At nap time I clean up ... or I let them watch a show after our “projects” and clean up

  • Cathy
    Jan 17

    I agree with all of the above comments. What about signing him up for a couple of days a week just half days - at a school or church program? He can get super messy there (and you can still do stuff at home too). It also might give you the time you need to clean up after a messy activity at home.

  • Pattie
    Jan 18

    I am a shm and have 3 kids. My son is 3 and I have an 18 month old. All of them are VERY active. I am a type A and stress a lot about cleaning. I have found that all of my kids need a lot of exercise 2 times a day. It is certainly hard in the winter but I bundle us all up and just go for a walk or take them to an indoor gym. If those aren’t an option I create an indoor obstacle course. Once they have spent there energy the other activities are easier and often they will find things to do by themselves. There are also groups at the library that do art, etc.

  • A
    Jan 18

    Also - a good trick for Arts and Crafts type stuff. Pick up a bunch of shower curtains to plastic table cloths from the dollar store. So when you do art project you can literally just pick the entire thing up and chuck it ;)

  • Maria
    Jan 18

    Thanks everyone for all the help - good to know I'm not alone! I'll try some of the quick clean up tricks, and thankfully Grandma and Grandpa just purchased a couple months of gymboree for him so that will DEFINITELY help!

  • molly
    Jan 19

    i read this somewhere and it stuck with me: My kid won’t remember how clean my house was but will remember how much fun he had. i am saving teaching cleaning discipline when my kid is a little older.

  • MsJen
    Jan 19

    So relatable. I have never been a clean freak until I became a stay at home mom. I feel like if I can have control over my environment then I can have more control over my life and emotions. Sadly I too feel like my desire for a clean environment disrupts my ability to relax and have fun with the kids. It’s an ongoing struggle, but I do find that on days where I specifically don’t do any housework and totally dedicate my attention to playing with my kids I have way more fun.

  • Katelyn
    Jan 23

    You could try minimizing the amount of stuff you have. Keep all toys in one room. Pick a time when you “reset”. For me, it’s usually nap time and after bedtime. Only do the messy things when you’re up for it. When you’re not, don’t feel guilty—it is healthy for children to get bored and to learn how to be creative with what they have. It allows for development with their imagination and creativity. You’re doing great, it is totally normal!!!

  • Dana
    Jan 23

    So the super messy things like painting we do in the bath tub. Things like play dough and slime we do older kid only bc younger one still eats it, on the kitchen table. I try to make cooking participatory :) and also try to keep toys in boxes and on shelves or up high. Not everything is out at once, we have a ‘car box’, book area, soft it box, and I’ve tried to give away toys as we outgrow them. Most recently - putting away our toys is a part of taking care of them. If we don’t put them away, we’re not ready to have them, so I’ll ask if he wants to give them away? Nope, ok then we clean them up! Doesn’t always work but it’s a process!

  • Erin
    Jan 24

    I see that you are addressing your anxiety hurdles. Awesome! I can definitely relate. Idk how you’re going about it, but CBT was life changing for me. Being able to pause, get grounded, and really put “too much mess,” in perspective. Life is unpredictable enough without us allowing totally predictable outcomes to throw us into a tailspin. Children will create messes, in play, until the end of time. When you learn how to remind yourself that it can all be cleaned, and likely in relatively short order, you’ll be able to stop that racing heart and mind before it starts. You got this!

  • Allison
    Jan 24

    I can definitely understand. Now at almost 2.5 my daughter is able to follow instructions and understand consequences so things like painting are a lot easier to do. There are some fun bath tub shaving cream painting ideas on pinterest, and some other sensory bin ideas that are fun and engaging but not super messy. Also, some places around me have art classes for little kids so you can take them and they make the mess there and then you can leave!

  • Jennifer
    Jan 24

    I suggest to take it easy and do activities your comfortable with. My kids are now 8yr old son and 4yr old daughter, when they were 2, I remember their will be toys on the floor and sometimes I step on them and break them. So I've taught them, if you don't want mommy stepping on and breaking your toys, then you need to clean up after playing. I have toy cubbies and taught them to put them in correct bin. By the time they were 3yr old, they wanted to be independent so they always like to help clean up. It has been part of our routine now.

  • RK
    Jan 24

    I feel like I could have written most of this post. Professionally, I'm all about making messes, exploring different sensory experiences, etc., but as soon as I became a mom, I suddenly was so NOT inclined to introduce messy activities to my kids. I'm no neat-freak, that's for sure, but it's one thing with regular toys that you just throw back in a bin, or food that will have to be put away and swept, but to willingly provide something I KNOW will be messy - it's been a real struggle to get to that point. I wouldn't let my kids use markers (until they started getting them from teachers and friends) - I only bought Color Wonder for a while. I do love using Magnadoodles so that they can draw/write/scribble and I don't feel so anxious about them making a mess. I have seen some mom blog posts about this idea, too... The only one I can find right now is: https://leftbraincraftbrain.com/the-control-freaks-guide-to-a-messy-play-date/ I only recently did some "baking" with my kids (sugar cookies) and I'm hoping to soon summon up the courage to do fun things like make cloud dough or something like that... It would be ideal if we had space in our kitchen - I'd block off the entrance and just have that one room to sweep up afterwards, but our space just doesn't allow for it. Maybe I'll do that and just work on the floor? Wish me luck!

  • Jenny
    Jan 24

    We have a strict rule that all messy crafty stuff stays at the dining room table. I bought some cheap drop cloths and tablecloths for the different activities. There is one for coloring/painting, one for playdoh, a plastic one for anything that might potentially stain. I even bought a cheap white fabric tablecloth specifically for coloring on with washable markers. There are some things drawn on with permanent marker, but the kids color, scribble, and doodle away, then I wash it clean and they start all over. I love that it cuts down on the gazillion sheets of paper they otherwise use. Products I love for their low mess/easy clean-up: Color wonder markers Ultra-washable markers Aqua doodle pad Painter’s tape You can do a lot with these items! We also have a low-mess crafts book, with tons of projects that use very few materials. Once my oldest started kindergarten, she got much better at containing and cleaning up her own messes as well as helping to corral her younger sister.

  • Jennie
    Jan 26

    I have an extreme case of OCD what I tend to do is lay an old sheet out (California King sheet I use) and do projects on the big sheet and tell my daughter it’s the magic carpet and nothing is to leave that carpet area. Seems a to work just fine

  • Dee
    Jan 29

    Agreeing with above. Leave the messy activities for when he gets older or maybe one in a while until you see how he could handle them. Avoid play dough. Becomes dried up and a non stop surprise mess everywhere. Drop in play places are good one in a while. Your a good mom, you know your child’s interest- feed off it to encourage it more in different ways.

  • T
    Jan 30

    Only one activity at a time. Clean up right afterwards and involve toddler. Why toddler starts to pulverize chaulk, end activity. Chalk is for drawing. You’re pulverizing it. This tells me you are finished. It’s time to clean up and find xxx to do.