5 Steps to Take the Stress Out of the Mess

If you are like me, the thought of giving your kids some finger paint and letting “express themselves” is terrifying.  I used to strip my toddler to his underwear and force him to finger paint outside, while secretly cringing about him mixing colors or touching anything.  We finished up this creative session by heading straight to the bathtub.  On any given work day I don’t have time to add an art project, I’m just trying to get dinner on the table.  By the time we reach the weekend, my brain is tired, and I don’t want to schedule Instagram-worthy art installations into our day (I want to just consume a hot cup of coffee and maybe trick someone into letting me take a nap).

I promise:

You don’t have to let the guilt consume you for not encouraging your child’s creative expression.  

With just a tiny bit of prep work, you can bring the creative spark back to your home! Read below as I take you through the steps that will take the stress out of the mess. 

Take 15 minutes each day this week and by the weekend we’ll have you set for a month of easy fun!

Here is what we are going to do:

  1. Designate a creative space
  2. Get some protective gear
  3. Create a calendar or schedule
  4. Buy your supplies
  5. Simplify your clean up

This post may contain affiliate links. As an Amazon Affiliate I earn from qualifying purchases. (This does not change the price that you pay at all!) Regardless, all product recommendations are my own opinions.

You can ease yourself into the mess level (just search for not so messy activity ideas), but at some point there will be paint involved.  So find a spot in your home that makes you the least anxious for this to occur.

If you have an old kid’s table, picnic table, or a shaded spot outdoors (bonus if you live in a mild climate where you can use this spot year-round), this is probably your ideal location.  No harm no foul if paint gets on the grass, just cut it or hose it off.  This may be a spot in a playroom or your child’s bedroom.  In my (very small) Southern Californian home, space is at a premium, and our dining room table is the center for all creative projects and activities.

Ideally you want to have 18” – 24” of space for each child who will be working simultaneously.  You also want about a 24” square to place shared supplies.  (If you have a child 2 and under, I highly recommend you double that supply space so that you can keep things out of their reach.)  Sturdy chairs without upholstery or cushions are ideal so that you don’t have to stress about staining fabrics.

Again, this is about taking the time to prepare so that you don’t have to stress while your kids are having fun.

Unless you don’t care about the finish of the table, invest in a waterproof cover.  One with elastic trim that has a vinyl top will protect from most things and you can throw it in the washing machine with your towels.  This product comes in a variety of patterns and sizes and it is what I put on my dining table:

You may already have a what I affectionately refer to as a “splat mat” from toddler eating days.  If you have a rug under your table or if you are doing something particularly messy and fun for your kids, then you want to throw this down on the floor under their chairs.  You can also easily throw this into the washing machine or hose it off outside.  (Bonus: if you do a particularly messy activity outside, you can throw this down right outside the door and make everyone strip their messy clothes and shoes before they come inside!).  You could also use it on the tabletop, but I prefer the covers that fit tightly so they don’t slip around, especially for younger kids.    These are some similar options to the one that I have had for years:

They also make them with non-slip bottoms, but I like something a little more pliable for arts and crafts.

You may want to invest in some smocks or pick out a few old shirts to put aside for messy projects. I have never used either of these (we really don’t wear clothes that are too precious around here), though I have stripped them down to their diaper/ underwear like I mentioned above. If you are worried about messy clothes, I recommend something that ties in the back (so you can remove it without smearing the mess on their little faces), something easy wiped or washed. Here are some long-sleeve or no-sleeve options in a variety of patterns and sizes. This option may be better suited to smaller kids (no tie to struggle with and a more flexible material).

Here is where my Type-A event planner personality starts to shine.  When you are in the moment and overwhelmed with cleaning up breakfast, crazy Netflix cartoons blaring in the background and kids telling you they want a snack, of course you don’t want to think of something for the kids to do.  (You want to crawl back into your bed and pretend you are 22 again and have 3 hours until you need to be at brunch.)

Take 15 minutes and peruse ideas on what to do with your kids.  You’ll find tons of ideas for creative projects and activities.  We tell you exactly what you need, link to where you can get it, and we tell the truth about how messy it is.  

Here is a list of our top projects & activities:

How do you fill an entire month with activities:

  • Pick 6 things that you want to do with your kids. 
  • Open up each tab in your browser (leave up for step #4 below)
  • Pin each activity to your applicable Pinterest board (or bookmark it however it works for you)
  • Write down the name of one project or activity in your calendar/ on the chalkboard/ on a post it (or however you keep track of family life) for the next four weekends

Now you have 4 weekend’s of projects ready to go with 2 extra in case of a rainy (or very ambitious) day.

With the browser tabs that you still have open from Step #3, go to each supply list and click the link to purchase anything that you don’t have.

How do I know what I have or don’t have?  Glad you asked:

Today take 15 minutes to organize yourself.  We aren’t creating a mood board or anything, find shelf space in a linen closet, the garage, a playroom, wherever it works.  Collect all of the random art supplies that you have already and put them all in front of this shelf space.  Group them together and put on the shelf.  Grab an empty bin, basket or cardboard box and throw this in there for upcycling.  Every time you finish a roll of toilet paper, paper towels, empty a parmesan cheese container, etc. (wash it where applicable) and throw it in this box.  Now you can use these items for upcycled projects or to store supplies.

Quick hint: if you get short on activities for your toddler, just give them empty containers with lids that open and close.  Put them in a pile of dirt with a scoop or a shovel.  Congrats, you have just bought yourself at least 10 minutes of time where you can sit still.

If you are inspired by this activity (or the sight of pom poms makes you excited, like me), you may want to take a little extra time on this step.  If you do, take a look at this post to help you enhance your supply shelf game.

Take out your phone and open up whatever notepad program you have.  Create a digital note listing all of the supplies that you have.  (Helpful hint: share this note with your spouse, partner, co-parent, nanny, grandparent, tween next door and/ or whoever else might be crafting with your kids.)  Now whenever you are scrolling through ideas, you don’t have to actually go to your shelf to see what you have (you can just continue to hide in the bathroom for as long as you like).

Now you know what you have, and you can go back to those open browser tabs and order all of the items that you need.  Simply add them to your shelf (and your digital note) when they arrive and you are ready to go!

If you have nothing or have no idea what to get, never fear!  Take a look at this post to help you plan for the basics and also the fun add ons.  (Remember, as you start to do more and more projects, you’ll collect things pretty quickly and just having them organized will help you and your kids think of more fun ideas!)

We said we promise to take the stress out of the mess.  There will be times when things need clean up, but we swear it is easier than it looks.

Take your last 15 minutes and figure out the best sink for project clean up.  If you have a sink in the laundry room or a mudroom this might be the best choice.  (I have neither of these things, so kitchen sink for me all the time.)

Grab a small plastic bucket or wash bin (something like this basic wash bin or this collapsible bin for when space is at a premium ) and place it nearby.  If you are doing a project with paint or glue, fill the bucket with warm soapy water before you get started, then just throw the brushes, etc. in there afterwards and clean them up during nap time or after bedtime.  If you are working with less messy materials, you can simply leave the bucket in or near the sink and throw any tools in when you are done and take care of them later.

You may also want to designate a drying area for artwork.  Especially if you have a small toddler that likes to destroy things (like me), you will want to know exactly where the wet paint, or clay, or glue will dry uninterrupted.  (The top of my washer and dryer next to a sunny window works just fine.)

You did it!

You are ready to let your kids have fun and be creative without all of the stress!

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