It isn’t easy keeping our house picked up. Some days are tidier than others, and we have a long road ahead of us when it comes to keeping our kids on board with their responsibilities. But in the dozens of messes we find ourselves stepping over, I have found that most of the time my girls (ages 7, 4, and almost 2) are willing and ready to help out—especially when we make it fast, make it fun, and work together.
Here are some of our favorite games, tricks, and tips. To keep them effective, I recommend that you not use them too often or for every little Play-Doh mess. They are most helpful after big play dates or when a specific area of the house is a disaster. For those occasions, these ideas really help get the job done.
Secret Item: I visually pick three things in the most chaotic room. After I shout “go,” it is a race to see who can find the first secret item. When they hear me shout “ding ding ding,” they also hear an official announcement of what the item was, who picked it up, and how it got put away correctly. Then the lucky kid earns a “rest time” on the love sac until the next magic item is found.
Keep it exciting: once in a while I’ll pick three regular secret items and a single bonus magic item (a scrap of paper or a small piece of a toy that might get overlooked). I love it when they are so excited to find the next item, they can’t wait during their hard-earned “rest time” and opt to keep cleaning in hopes of finding another item. Yes, this really happens.
The card game: We shuffle six or seven face cards. Everyone takes a card and shouts the number before scurrying off to pick up that many items. We always include the Joker card which, if chosen, earns them a chance to sit out and read a book or watch while the others pick up. After one round of items is picked up, we put all the cards back and give the stack a quick shuffle. Everyone gets a new card and clean up continues until it’s all put away.
Note: Have Mom shuffle the cards or the same child just might end up with the Joker every time.
Head Maid: Everyone wears an apron and chooses a new maid name (Amelia, Rose, and Star are my girls’ current favorites). One head maid is chosen at a time (roll a die if needed) to dole out responsibilities and tasks as she sees fit in the room we are cleaning. The rest of the maids have to report to her and get the next assignment. We set a timer so everyone gets a turn being head maid. I like that my girls get to decide what needs to be done, rather than me telling them all the time. And they like being in charge. Don’t forget… talking in a British accent is not optional.
Queen and servant: Similar to head maid, the queen gets to sit on a make-believe throne and commands her subjects about what to clean. My girls love the free card to be bossy (especially telling me what to do), and I love that it gets done. Be sure to use a timer (even as short as a minute) on each child’s “reign.” A little royalty goes a long way.
Adventure Baskets: This is helpful when a significant amount of trinkets and paraphernalia have accumulated that need to be returned to many different areas of the house. Quickly scoop stuff into as many bags or baskets as you have children, and give instructions to deliver the “pirate loot,” “fairy tokens,” or “dragon treasure” to their correct places.
You can also ask your kids to deliver baskets of clean laundry to their bedrooms on their backs like camels. It works wonders! There isn’t a guarantee that it will get done perfectly, but at least your helpers will be more willing.
Other Tips and Tricks
“ONLY clean____”: A little reverse psychology never hurts. I get dramatic and say things like “Whatever you do, ONLY clean the bedroom! Don’t even think about going to clean in the bathroom.” Or let kids decide to ONLY pick up soft items, or ONLY pick up things that are red. Once that is done, say the next “ONLY” item. Sneaky? Yes… but it all gets done somehow.
Incentives: Occasionally a little incentive is just the ticket. I don’t do these often, but I will admit they are ultra-efficient when used sparingly. Consider: “Once the toy room is cleaned up, we get to have a night snack!” or “I just found three Hershey Kisses in my pocket. My best three helpers each get one if we can clean up before they get melty.”
“If…Then…”: Often I don’t offer any prize, but just try to make the cleanup more enticing by timing it before the next exciting event of the day: “If we can beat the timer and get this kitchen clean, then we’ll get to have our family movie night!” or “If we can get the dollies picked up off the bedroom floor super fast, then we get extra time at the park!”
Music: I keep a “working music” playlist on the iPod and keep it close for when we need to up the energy (it also works great to drown out the whining when needed). Any favorite upbeat music works. Some on our playlist include: “Spoonful of Sugar” from Mary Poppins, “Happy Working Song” from Enchanted, “Whistle While You Work” from Snow White, “All in This Together” from High School Musical and “When Will My Life Begin” from Tangled.
Building a family brings a lot of messes. It won’t always be fun and games, but with a little creativity, occasionally it can be more enticing and even enjoyable. And don’t forget—make it fast, make it fun, and work together!
QUESTION: What do you do to help your kids be more motivated to clean up?
CHALLENGE: Pick one thing and adapt it, as needed, to fit your family. Try it with your next mess.
Edited by Sarah Monson & Aubrey Degn.
Photos provided by Danielle Porter/Graphics by Julie Finlayson.