02 January 2007

Simplifying kid's room cleaning

"Clean your room" can be an overwhelming request when the mess is big and the kid is little. It's so easy to get distracted by a rediscovered toy...it's so hard to figure out where everything goes...I'm hungry...

Here's a hack I use myself when housecleaning (when I remember it, and am not distracted by the pile of magazines I just uncovered): start in one corner of the the room, pick up and put away what's there, and when that corner is clean, begin to work your way around the rest of the room. Modify slightly if the room is big or shared, but, in general, teaching kids to focus on a particular spot in the room helps break a big, scary task into something more manageable.

What are your "clean your room" hacks?

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I do two things: 1) Give them specific chores (pick up your books, throw away the trash, pick up the clothes - its easier than clean your room); 2) I give them a time limit. As long as they are totally working, they only have to work 10-20 minutes, depending on the age. And if they finish sooner, they are done.

The preschool and early elementary aged kids like me to count slowly while they do a quick chore. "I bet you can't pick up your toys in the library before I can count to 20." Hint: Count slowly to let them win. :-)

Growing up my sister and I played robot. This meant that she laid on her bed chatting on the phone and pushed buttons on my back and told me what to do until her room was clean. Funny how she always got busy when it was time to switch and do my room. That's the beauty of big sisters I guess.

I agree with Robin: be specific with little ones: Legos, stuffies, and make your bed. And of course praise and recognition that they've done well.

We also try to straighten the room up for 5 minutes before bedtime.

For slightly olders - The daughter who finishes picking up her room first gets the fully charged Roomba vac and remote first. She can then sit on the bed and vacuum the room by driving the thing around like a remote controlled car. Since the first person gets the lion's share of the charge, the two girls race to finish and have first crack at the thing. And I get two clean(er) rooms usually before lunch on Saturday morning.

With preschoolers you can take it a step further. Instead of one picking up lego and one cars, have the younger one pick up red toys or toys with steering wheels or other classifications that encourage thinking at the same time.

I also send mine around the house with a toy grocery cart/doll stroller and put all the misplaced items into it. The second time around we put everything into the right room. This almost works better for tidying that doesn't involve just toys.

We take a page from FlyLady and divide the bedroom into zones -- clothes, books, toys, bed, etc. -- and use a timer. My six-year-old loves to try and beat the clock while putting her books up or collecting loose Barbie dolls and their clothes to put in their wall organizer.

When she was younger, I labeled all of her plastic toy bins and we would put toys up one bin at a time after a giving a verbal direction like "Let's pick up all the train parts and put them in the train set bin".

Here's a sample bin label sheet, which I printed on a full-page sticker sheet and cut apart to fit: http://castle.geek.net/albums/portfolio_graphics/toybinlabels.gif

I throw everything into one big box, then take it OUT of that room and into another room where it's sorted into piles. Then, I return those piles to their proper place in the room where they belong. Several of the piles end up in the garbage, or the garage, or wherever.

For the kids rooms, I totally agree with oddharmonic, bins do the trick for us. It's much easier to toss toys into the bins than to put them on shelves, and most of our toys are hurricane-proof, so nothing breaks. We don't label the bins, and their use evolves as the toys change. We also do a toy purge every once in a while, which my almost 4-year-old refers to as "making hard choices".

If you start by clearing and making the bed, you get a nice boost from the relatively-large, clean space already finished. Makes the rest of the job seem smaller.

We play the "Pick up 10 things" game. As all 4 of our children share a room with a sibling, the girls in one and the boys in the other, I find making it a friendly competition goes a LONG way.

I offer a reward to both children and a little something extra for the one showing the most effort. To keep it fair I also allow the older two to give up to 30 points (One point for each thing they've picked up.) to the younger sibling should they fall behind and believe it or not, they do.

I too am a flybaby! I have my older spend 5 minutes cleaning at a time. I'll send him on missions. First is usually anything with wheels, next is usually legos, then books, etc. For the younger I send to put things away, soon well graduate to missions of finding. Right now she still gets a little distracted.

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