My kids’ rooms were disasters, again. There is some point they reach where the small projects and toys pile up, and it becomes overwhelming to tackle the whole thing anymore. Then their little messes start to creep out into the rest of the house, because when it isn’t enjoyable to play in their rooms, they bring their toys and projects to the dining table or the living room.
I had offered to help here and there, encouraging them and staying positive that even just doing a little bit was better than nothing, but here we were, back in full disaster mode.
It was time to do something drastic.
The internet is full of advice for parents of kids with messy rooms. Perhaps the most common tactic I’ve seen is to grab a giant garbage bag and go in, threatening to give away or throw away everything that is left on the floor if they don’t pick it up immediately.
While I definitely think minimizing the stuff kids own and have to keep organized can be helpful, there are much more respectful ways of accomplishing that.
In our house, in addition to regularly going through toys and clothes to donate, we rotate toys in and out of the attic so there isn’t so much out and available at one time. When my kids want something from the attic, they pack up something else to put up there in exchange. We still have to stay on top of it but it is definitely helpful to have less stuff out at once.
So as I stared into two overly messy rooms, and knew my kids were not feeling motivated to clean them up, I had a new idea. I suggested that we set up a camera to take a picture every second, and we all work together on the room to clean it start to finish. Then we could make a time-lapse video with the pictures.
My daughter took us up on the offer so we did it! Here is what we ended up with:
It ended up being so motivating to know we were working nonstop until it was done, all together. We could hear the *click* of the camera every second, which was like a clock ticking. It really kept us all moving.
Making the mundane tasks of life a little more fun is something we can all benefit from, even as adults.
I certainly enjoy my chores more when I have a podcast to listen to while I’m working. I have also played little games where I set a timer for 15 minutes or even 5 minutes and try to do as much as I can before the timer beeps. It’s motivating and usually I find that if I can just get started, I want to keep going and get even more done.
When our children are little, we know we must model for them, so we show them how to pick up their toys and sing clean-up songs to make it more enjoyable. We sit with them and do it together, showing that teamwork makes the job go faster and that we can help each other.
But for some reason, when they are older, we seem to expect them to just do things on their own, without direction or help. And often parents aren’t even kind about it. “Go clean your room!” “If you can’t take care of your things, maybe you don’t deserve to have them!” This attitude is extremely disconnecting and it’s no wonder they aren’t motivated to get it done.
When I was younger…
I can remember being a teenager with a messy room and really not knowing how to even start. All I knew was that if someone helped me clean it up they’d insist on throwing away things that were important to me, and that it would just be more stressful than living in the mess. I would just make a little pathway from the door to my bed and eventually just internalized that I was a messy person, and I was fine with it.
As I have gotten older, I’ve learned how to manage housework, and usually the two things that have been most helpful are having someone do it with me and making it more fun. My kids help unload the dishwasher each time it’s ready, which is extremely helpful for me. And I have a lovely woman come to do the deeper housecleaning monthly so that I have some extra help, which has made a huge difference in our home life.
I try hard to keep this in mind when talking to my kids about their responsibilities. If they have too many things to manage, I am happy to help them pare down. If they would like to hire someone to help, they can pay each other or they can pay me to do something for them. Hiring help is a valid option, after all.
And if they would just like me to help them do it so they aren’t alone and overwhelmed, then I try to cheerfully give my time and energy so that it’s a pleasant, and maybe even a fun experience. I want to know what things they value and want to keep in their drawer of special things. I want to see which drawings are worthy of being hung up on the walls.
We can make this a time of connecting rather than disconnection.
It’s all about the relationship, after all. And that modeling thing continues as well. If I’m not willing to do something, why would they want to do it? If I want help with tasks, doesn’t it make sense that they would appreciate help too?
How did your parents handle chores and room-cleaning when you were growing up? How has that affected the way you interact with your own children when it comes to those tasks?
What are some strategies you’ve found to be helpful for teaching your kids to keep their spaces organized? Do you all work together or prefer a “divide and conquer” approach? I’d love to hear your ideas!