This “Magic Basket” Solves Two Small But Common Family Life Problems

published Jul 30, 2021
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Credit: Joe Lingeman

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I have a clutter-busting, kid-resetting secret weapon. It’s called the Magic Basket and it lives in our game closet. 

Family life is messy. Figuratively, but also literally. Having so many people inhabiting one space means that things get left out all over the house. From socks that get taken off right when and where feet get too hot and green army men set out for battle, to abandoned hair ties and scattered LEGO pieces, there’s something from everyone everywhere

We have rules and routines in place that help get the whole family in on trying to prevent messes and pitching in to clean them up. For example, we regularly do a “Power 10,” in which everyone picks up and puts away everything in their designated zone — all within ten minutes. But our systems aren’t perfect, and more often than I like, I find myself overwhelmed by clutter and feeling like I have to clean it up by myself. 

Add to that our second problem: boredom and/or misbehavior in the household. When everyone is in a space for an extended period of time (hello, pandemic!), we tend to get a bit touchy. So then we have a cluttered space AND a serving of bad tempers, especially from the younger set — though the adults are not immune. 

So I employ a kid-mess variation of the laundry basket method to help solve both problems.

Here’s how you do it:

Credit: Joe Lingeman

Step 1: Pack it up, put it away.

I grab a basket I keep for just this purpose and I pick up all the stuff the kids have left out. Unlike when I use the laundry basket method for myself, I don’t have to do the worst part: putting everything away. Instead, the basket goes back in the closet, out of sight. 

Addressing kid clutter quickly and easily is one part of the magic of the Magic Basket. Even if putting them in the basket isn’t part of a big cleanup, having a designated spot for small pieces prevents them from getting lost. Furthermore, I’m happy because I get a clutter-free space without having to invest much time or energy. We all know what a difference a happy mama makes in the atmosphere of the whole household! 

Step 2: Put the kids to work.

The next part of the magic comes from the impact of emptying the Magic Basket. When one of my kids is bored or bouncing off the walls or picking on someone else or otherwise getting themselves into trouble, I’ll tell them to go clean up the Magic Basket. They’re tasked with the chore of putting each item back precisely where it belongs. 

Obviously, I love this because those items get organized, with very minimal effort from me. Actually, this benefits everyone, since it ensures that LEGO, puzzle and game pieces, etc., are at the ready when the kids need them. But I also love it because it’s an excellent way to redirect behavior that’s headed in the wrong direction. By the time a child is done emptying the Magic Basket, they’ve unwittingly reset themselves. Although they inevitably grumble when they’re assigned Magic Basket duty, they finish the task with a sense of accomplishment. 

I hope the kids are internalizing the lesson that creating order in physical spaces does something to calm us on the inside, but if nothing else, interpersonal conflict has been averted, boredom has been squashed, and the soul-sucking clutter has vanished. That’s my kind of magic.