How a vacuum lowered my stress level

I have been paying closer attention to my own triggers, and realized that messes rank really high on my list. Unfortunately, they surround me. My kids bring the entire sand box home in their shoes after a trip to the playground. They have a remarkable ability to have crumbs fall from their plate, just out of reach of our dog, Hank. And their ability to track mud into the house is nothing short of amazing.

Before I identified this as one of my triggers, or something that puts me on the edge of losing it, I tried to convince myself this wasn’t a big deal. It’s OK. This time of life is just messy. But that wasn’t working. If messes aren’t a trigger for you, embrace the mess! Unfortunately, I am not one of those people — which makes life with a 2 and 3 year old and 80 pound yellow lab with dark wood floors a little bit tricky.

While a vacuum doesn’t clean up spilled milk or get shampoo out of a humidifier (thanks Keener), it has helped tremendously with keeping my mess trigger in check. One of the books I was reading says when we, ourselves, have an accident — say spill our coffee — we quickly accept it was just an innocent accident. But when our kids make a mess, we often assume the worst. Clearly, they were trying to ruin our morning! This reminder has also helped me take a deep breath to give myself that brief pause to *try* and respond over react.

Teaching Responsibility

As Daniel Tiger says, “Everybody makes mistakes. Try to fix them and learn from them too.” The control freak in me sometimes deprives my kids of the opportunity to let them fix and learn from their own mistakes. Having a vacuum handy has helped. If Keener dumps sand out of his shoes, he vacuums it up. We keep the vacuum right by the door/shoes which has been a great, central place. It’s helped all of us develop a more “No big deal! Just clean it up!” mentality when the inevitable mess does happen.

Modeling Responsibility

When I make messes, my kids are able to see me clean up after myself. As much as I would like to think my speeches about right and wrong are really impacting my kids, what we do as parents speaks so much louder. Kids learn best through observation — having a vacuum handy and actually using it is a perfect way to model what I expect them to do as well. And lugging the bigger vacuum out of the closet down the hall for a smaller mess just wasn’t happening. There is something about the convenience of having it right there that makes it much more accessible and therefore feasible.

Encouraging Family Values

While I want to instill the “fix your own mistake” mentality, I also want to teach empathy and the idea of togetherness. Therefore, sometimes I may ask Keener to clean up a mess that Grace made or vice versa. Clearly, this is an area we ware still working on! Just as I encourage them to pick up toys they may not have played with, I want them to understand that helping your sibling is a good thing. Helping your family is important and keeping our house clean and safe is everyone’s responsibility.

For a situation like this, I may present it as a choice: Keener, it would be really kind of you to vacuum up the sand from Grace’s shoes. I know it wasn’t your sand but I know she would really appreciate your help. It’s your choice and if you don’t choose to help this time, consider it next time. That way, the ball is in his court. He is deciding for himself and I am giving him time and space to think about his actions.

A word of warning

If you have hard wood floors, make sure you get a handheld vacuum that either has a brush on the end or some other soft kind of material. With this release of responsibility to the kids, I also have to let go of hovering over them while they are cleaning. One of the vacuums we tried first worked great but scratched the floor — trading one mess for another — not helpful! I tried putting Washi tape around the opening which definitely helped but in the end, I ended up getting a hand held vacuum that has a soft brush on the end.

There isn’t a quick fix for all of our triggers. But taking the time to identify 1. What they are and 2. Ways to plan/deal with them has been a positive step in the right direction.

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