“This house would stay so much cleaner if you kids would just remember to pick up your JUNK!!!”
(sorry, not junk. stuff. Artwork; beloved buddies; books; cars; shoes, shoes shoes! Just pick your stuff UP!)
Shoes in a row.
They posed for this picture.
They have never been found this arrangement before or since.
Some days, all I do is pick up their stuff after them, only for them to run off and make more messes. Does it really have to be this way? I’m convinced not. Children are actually capable of picking up their stuff.
They just need direction, and a little (ahem,) motivation.
Introducing: Clutter Jail
This was not my idea. I found it on Pinterest. Check out this Clutter Jail Printable!
This is how we do it in this house:
Stage 1: Begin to teach the habit of clean up
“This week we are going to work on picking up our stuff. This box is my clutter jail box. What does not get cleaned up goes in here. You will then have to buy it back from me.”
During the first week or so of clutter jail, I graciously give them a warning before I go around the house with my box.
“Clutter jail in the living room in five minutes!”
“Clutter jail outside after I do the dishes!”
During this stage, we try to form the habit of picking up before dinner, bedtime, etc. I also focus on problem items like clothes, shoes, and backpacks. Those things have a specific home, and they should always be in that home when the child is not using them.
Stage 2: Surprise Sweeps
After the children are accustomed to clutter jail, I will tell them that I will no longer be giving them a warning every time. (I will still do this for major cleaning, but everyday jobs should become habit.)
I tell them what I expect, making sure they know what areas/items they are responsible for.
Right now, we are working on these particular things:
I expect them to clean up the living room before dinner every day. I will then quietly inspect it before dinner. (This is the hard part- If I start to forget, they are no longer motivated to do this! Consistency is key!)
If I find shoes, backpacks, or dirty laundry out of place at any time during the day, it goes in my box.
Clutter Jail Tips
They should want to avoid clutter jail! If you do not “charge” your child to release toys from jail, you could always make him do an extra job to earn their freedom. Or, put the toys in time-out for a set amount of time. (Warning: they will not care if their dirty laundry is in time-out.)
True confession: I sometimes miss a thing or two, on purpose, if I think it was just overlooked.
If they follow me while I inspect, and I do find something, I say “Uh, oh, there’s a _____” If a child runs for it and runs to put it away, that’s just fine by me! (Once or twice, not fifty times!)
Give them a few minutes to clean, but only a few.
I usually give them five, no more than ten. When four of them are cleaning together quickly, they rarely need more than this. You want them to feel pressed for time and move quickly. They should feel like they do not have enough time to argue.
If you do this every day for a week, you will be amazed at the results. If you do this once a week or once a month, you will probably just be frustrated.
Make it fun
I tend to make a big show of inspection time. I might stomp through the room, cheer if I find something, and gloat about how much money I think I am going to make from them that day. Typically, they have cleaned fast and hard, and they watch me with satisfied smirks, expecting me to find nothing at all.
Encourage them to work together
I tend to give them areas of the house that they are responsible for, rather than their own toys or messes. I do this to encourage them to see the clean house as the goal, not the “fairness” of who cleaned up what and who didn’t. (I tried the other way, but it seemed like they spent their cleaning time ordering each other around.)
When an inspection yields not a single item in my box, we hoot and holler and celebrate.
Yesterday, I was overwhelmed at the horrible state of our house. I had been gone all day, and things were out of control. I was very tired, and cranky. The big kids came home from school and wanted do to something fun, but I could hardly think for the mess we were standing in. I told them we needed to clean up a little bit before I could think about doing anything. (I was too overwhelmed to even remember to threaten them with clutter jail this time.)
I took the baby into the kitchen and let him watch me load the dishwasher. The others ran around the rooms, and worked on their usual areas. When I was done in the kitchen, I went to help them with the other rooms.
It was all done.
Every bit of it.
Not a toy on the floor.
My daughter was wiping down the kitchen table.
My son asked me if he could clean the windows.
It was the strangest thing.
I wasn’t even dreaming. I know this because after we went outside to celebrate on the trampoline, we came back in and the house was STILL clean!
I tell you this to encourage you: It does pay off! These little people really can learn to be helpful and responsible!
How do you deal with the clutter in your home?
Share with other mothers in the comments!
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