Motherhood, Olive

How to design your home to support self-reliance

I remember reading a great quote many years ago that said you shouldn’t do anything for your children that they were capable of doing for themselves. I loved it, and kept it in mind for when I had my own kids. I’d be the mom whose kids were doing their laundry by age five! Fantastic.

But of course, as is always the case, people without kids make the best parents. When I actually had my own child, things suddenly looked a whole lot different. I found myself dealing with an actual human being, with her own desires and opinions, not the pleasantly compliant child of my imaginings.

I still believe in the message of that quote wholeheartedly (despite the sometimes-problematic nature of parenting “should’s ) but godDAMN is it easier said than done. Beyond lots (and lots) of reminders, there have been a few things I’ve found really help Olive become independent and  self-reliant, and a lot of it has to do with how our home is set up.

I thought I’d take pictures of a few of these things, for future reference and in case any of you are also struggling to get their kids to do things for themselves. In return, can you please tell me how to get her to get dressed and out the door at more than a snail’s pace? K thx byeee.



If you want to stop having to pick your kids coats and boots up from where they’ve been liberally scattered across the front hall floor, it helps to have storage options accessible to them. I attached a little coat rack (given to me by a lovely friend -hi, Kayla!) to the inside of our hall closet. It’s at Olive’s height so she can hang up her own coat, and put her boots away in the bottom of the closet.




One of Olive’s jobs around the house is to put her own laundry away – this is something she’s been doing since she was around 2. When we started doing this, I put these little stickers on her dresser to help her remember where everything went. The pictures really helped her figure everything out, and although she doesn’t really need them anymore, it’s also helpful when babysitters or family members are here and need to know where things are.
(dresser tutorial here and stickers bought here)

The one thing you need to be aware of when having kids put away their own laundry is that it’s not going to be neatly folded. I used to fold Olive’s laundry as I took it off the drying rack, but I don’t bother anymore because by the time she puts it away or rummages for a specific item, her drawers usually look like this:

It used to drive me insane but I’ve long since let that shit go. I mean…who cares? I think having her learn to take responsibility for her things is far more important than a neatly organized dresser drawer.


Similarly, Olive is responsible for putting her own dishes away, setting her place at the table, and clearing her dishes at the end of our meals. I make this possible with lots of reminding and also by having a low shelf in our kitchen just for her dishes.

Olive received two sets of Bunnykins dishes as gifts when she was little, and although many people keep them as collector’s items, I’ve always just used them for her daily meals. She loves them and in four years we’ve only broken one mug (which I glued back together and now use to hold her baby spoons, bamboo utensils etc)



Olive’s toys are her responsibility to clean up, so it’s important that there’s a place for everything, it’s easy to see where things go, and she can easily access everything.

Our living room is set up with a few homes for her toys, puzzles, books and games. She knows where things go and there’s enough room for everything to be put away at the end of the day (this is really important because if you have more stuff than space to store it, it’s virtually impossible to have a tidy home. This goes for us adults, too.)


The basket on the left holds her lego, games go on the left side of the bookshelf, another basket for toys, the white bin holds her Tegu blocks, and the pink/white box holds her stacking cups.

Olive’s kitchen toys, food, and dishes get put away inside the curtained storage area in the kitchen itself  (play kitchen tutorial here ), our books and the week’s library books live in the book basket, and puzzles and tea sets go on the bookshelf.


Cleaning Up 

If Olive makes a mess, she knows that it’s her responsibility to clean it up (within reason, obviously). I keep cleaning suppies under the kitchen sink and if she spills something she can go grab a rag or her little whisk and dustpan to sweep things up.



As a final note, let me be clear that we are far from mission accomplished on this stuff and it’s taken a lot of persistence to get to where we are – although it has gotten far easier in the last few months.

Sometimes it takes a lot of reminding, most of the time asking her once is enough and some things (like clearing her plate, or putting her laundry away) have become second nature to her and she does it without being asked.

As the years go by she’ll take on more and more responsibility around the house and one day my house won’t always look like a bomb went off during daylight hours, and then eventually she’ll move out and I’ll cry every day and find myself wishing mightily for the chaos back, feeling both proud and heartbroken that she’s able to exist so well independently from me.

That’s the way it goes, right?


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  • Reply Saffron January 17, 2017 at 1:50 PM

    This is amazing! I am moving house and I plan to follow your guidelines for our new place, so good. What age did you start this? My little one is two and I’ve already started with the tidy up rule before bath time (which has mixed results usually ending up with me picking most of the thousands of toys littered around he does about two bits but hey it’s a start!). And he can sometimes get his own bowl (again mixed results either said bowl is got, or the WHOLE CUPBOARD is emptied or he gets something totally random out). Toddlers eh….

    • Reply sweetmadeleine January 17, 2017 at 2:00 PM

      Yeah, this is basically how it goes for a long, LONG time. It ends up being MORE work than just doing it yourself (and still is, when she helps with dishes or cooking, 😉 )

      But I think this age (two or two and a half) is a perfect time to start! I think aiming for consistency is better than trying for perfection. I often help Olive with her toys (we’ll divide and conquer, or make a game out of it) but the goal is just to reinforcing that habit.

      Let me know how it goes!

  • Reply Valerie January 17, 2017 at 1:51 PM

    Bunnykins! Love it! My mom still has my bunnykins dishes and I used them all the time as a kid.

    • Reply sweetmadeleine January 17, 2017 at 2:01 PM

      I had no idea they were such a thing until we received our sets and people started coming over and commenting on them! So cute:)

  • Reply Spring January 17, 2017 at 2:09 PM

    So, all of this a thousand times over. Expanding on the point about the dresser drawers, it’s important to let go of perfection and not necessarily clean behind them. For example, my girls do a pretty rubbish job making there beds – it’s not something they are really old enough to do well – but they do it and I don’t come behind them and redo it. I straighten things as I tuck them in at night if necessary, but we definitely need to focus on their self-sufficiency more than on things being perfect.

    • Reply Spring January 17, 2017 at 2:10 PM

      ACK! THEIR. Their beds!

      • Reply Page January 18, 2017 at 7:45 AM

        Their is no reason to get so worked up. Relax a bit and have a good day!

    • Reply Page January 18, 2017 at 7:51 AM

      That’s a great point, but SO much easier said than done. It takes effort to not go after the kids and fix everything they do.

      • Reply sweetmadeleine January 24, 2017 at 3:28 PM

        So true. I have to sit on my hands sometimes.

  • Reply Jade Elford January 17, 2017 at 3:26 PM

    Thanks so much, this was really helpful! Now to implement!

  • Reply Bridie January 17, 2017 at 5:27 PM

    Love the bunnykins too! (Just wanted to cheekily add that five isn’t too young for laundry! You can do it!!) A never-ending stretch of wet beds motivated me to teach my older two to do their own laundry last summer (aged 5 and 7 then, and yes the 5 year old does it on his own without his brothers help!)

    • Reply sweetmadeleine January 24, 2017 at 3:29 PM

      So good to know! Thanks, Bridie,

  • Reply Trisha January 17, 2017 at 8:15 PM

    Love this idea and it’s how I raised my kids. Don’t lose hope, my baby is now 30 and a very accomplished, independent woman. I was at her home last week and silently giggled to see her nicely made bed, and even her drawers were neat! But I do have to warn you, even after all these years, the minute she walks into our house the purse is dropped and 1 shoe kicked over here and who knows where the other is…you get the idea, When the kids come home, they immediately revert back to being about 8 and 10. You are so very right tho, sure do miss them.

  • Reply Kate January 17, 2017 at 9:15 PM

    We keep water cups and a pitcher easily accessible so our kids can reach and not always rely on a parent for water at the sink. And band aids and healing salve are kept low in the bathroom so if someone gets hurt they can always be a helper and offer to get the first aid items for the hurt person. The rest of the things we do, you do already! I can’t begin to tell you how awesome it is for your children to be raised to be independent and self sufficient. I know a teenager who asks their mom for a glass of water and can’t make their bed or do their laundry or put on their own sunscreen. It’s not pretty. It truly shapes them as people to be able to care for themselves and others in the future.

    • Reply sweetmadeleine January 24, 2017 at 3:29 PM

      The water jug is a great idea! Olive can reach the bathroom sink to get water but this is a way better idea!

  • Reply Michelle January 18, 2017 at 11:16 AM

    This is very timely as we’ll be moving our daughter to her big girl room/bed soon now that a little sister is on the way. So I’m hoping to get her more and more self-reliant! I am placing an order right now for those drawer labels! This is my first time commenting, but I love your blog Madeleine!

    • Reply sweetmadeleine January 24, 2017 at 3:28 PM

      I’m so glad it was useful for you!

    • Reply sweetmadeleine January 24, 2017 at 3:28 PM

      And thank you so much

  • Reply How to Parent From Bed - Sweet Madeleine February 20, 2017 at 5:15 PM

    […] How to Design Your Home to Support Self-Reliance […]

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