How to Win the Clean-up Battle

kids clean

This post title might suggest that I am some sort of certified organizational guru. Alas, I am not. I am a real, regular, ahem-not-always-so-neat herself mom, who has a hater-of-cleaning-up on her hands. It has forced me to get creative, so… here are some a few tips and tricks I’ve picked-up along the way. (I’m also a sucker for a good pun, mmkay?)

How to have the kids clean up: 

The knife to the heart – Lead by Example

Ugh, I know. I hate this one the most because, well, I hate cleaning up. I guess he got it from his momma. If you are neat then you can skip this one, because you’re already a good example (#winning). If you struggle in the tidy department (like me), read on… 

I’m a big fan of Love and Logic, and one thing they emphasize that has really stuck with me is that it is all about the action. You know, the whole actions speak louder than words thing. It’s seriously convicting when I am fussing at my 4-year-old to clean-up, and my bedroom looks like a t-shirt gun went rogue. Ugh. Did I say I hate this one? They have a valid point though, right? I for one, am trying my darnedest to keep my space neater so I have the ground stand on when I call for a clean playroom. 

Prevention is key

Have you read that minimalism book? (I haven’t. It’s on my list, bahaha… like I have time to read books)… but I think I get the gist. Less is more. There is something to that. When you have less stuff, naturally there is less stuff to put away and keep organized. I was actually just reminiscing about our first little apartment. We managed to live just fine there, and we even fit all of our stuff in it! Now we have a house, 2 kids, and it is amazing how every. single. closet is filled. Cue day dreaming about empty closets… My point is, the same goes for your kid’s stuff. Less toys means smaller messes, and in turn, smaller clean up battles. So in short, purge my friends, purge. (or at least rotate toys.) 

Don’t warn… and warn… and warn one more time

I seriously struggle with the over-warning. I have managed to stop counting, you know the “Do/come/listen/clean ___right now… 1, 2, 3… uh, now what?” strategy. Again, actions speak louder than warnings. I found if I counted, all I was really doing was training him to wait for my counts. Not my goal. So don’t be afraid… jump into action! It may feel harsh at first, but you’ll get better and they’ll get better.

Don’t get too involved

So here’s the nitty gritty… it goes like this around here: “Please go clean up your playroom. I am going to give you 10 minutes (or however long I think is reasonable plus 5 extra minutes) on my timer. I will give you one reminder when 5 minutes remain. Whatever is still on the floor when the timer goes off will be put into my black bag (see next point for black bag explanation).” AND WALK AWAY. For real, no reminders, counting, warnings, comments. PERIOD. 

Get yourself a big black bag 

When your timer goes off, go into the room and kiss your sweet ones for cleaning up every single toy beautifully! 

OR

if your kids are anything like mine… when they have NOT cleaned up one measly thing, calmly and WITHOUT a word (<—hardest part) take action. Pick up any and everything left out and gently place it in your bag. Maybe hum a little tune to show how calm you are. When your darlings ask what you are doing, in a very calm, not sarcastic, accusing, or frustrated voice (<—ok, maybe this is the hardest part) tell them you are cleaning up what they missed, and unfortunately since you are having to do their work for them you will be keeping their stuff for a while. Respond with empathy when they are upset, but stick to your guns. And yes this means, you gotta keep their stuff for a bit (time frame to be determined by you). Hey, it’s a good time to clean out your closet and make room for the black bag that will certainly be full- at least for this first go around. 

Figure out what is speaking to them

So I’ll be honest… we did this method a few times, always giving him the option to earn back his toys after a few weeks of cleaning-up (what he had left) when we asked. He eventually did earn them back, but only to turn around and dig in his heels about cleaning them up again. As Yoda would say, the will is strong with this one (insert rolling eye emoji)… Anyhow… we had to get real harsh to get our point across. The next time he told me with his little arms crossed and that big furrowed brow “I am NOT cleaning up, Mommy,” we gave his toys to Goodwill. YUP. We are those parents. 

Paw Patrol guys – gone. Blaze toy – bye. Five million matchbox cars – See ya! I know, monsters. 

Don’t judge us too much. We actually went through everything that was “black bagged” after bedtime and kept some of the sentimental/favorite things in a box that we put in the attic. This way he has no idea that we kept them, and they are actually not gone forever. 

But we truly did fill 4 grocery bags with toys, drove over to Goodwill, and he watched the man take them. In all seriousness… this was REALLY HARD! We were so sad for him. I teared up when he was waving goodbye to his Chase pillow. I mean, COME ON… but I believe the lesson was WORTH IT. It is about respect- not only respecting our home and our possessions, but being a respectful member of our family. We each have to do our part or it doesn’t work! 

And let me tell you, our playroom is sparse BUT TIDY. 

And the best part is he still finds plenty to play with! His little imagination has to work a little harder, but that is a good thing in my book. He has started working at his art table more and he will even pull out books to look at/read from time to time. I am hoping as he shows us he will start cleaning up when we ask, that we can surprise him with the attic box. We shall see how it goes. I am not expecting perfection. He is 4, and like I said, I totally relate to the hating of cleaning up. However, I believe these lessons and conversations are important, and I hate the battle. I simply refuse to have them, so it is clean it up or it is gone. 

At the end of the day, this parenting issue has forced me to reexamine my habits, think hard about the example I’m setting, practice patience, and empathize with my kids. And wow, I have to love how the best lessons have been taught to me through my children. All I can be is thankful that my struggles are being revealed to me and chipped away while I clumsily navigate this whole motherhood thing. Stay strong mommas! You got this.  

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