Here is a typical conversation most parents have with their kids:
Parent: “Clean your room.”
Child ‘cleans’ their room.
Child: “Mom, I’m done.”
Parent: (goes into the room) “You call this clean??”
If this is a typical conversation you have with your kids, here are some tips to help the situation:
1. Give kids a storage system that makes clean-up easy. We use the TROFAST system from Ikea. It works great for us because it is possible to use bins and shelves together, and the bins slide on grooves, so they don’t need to pull the bins all the way out to get stuff.
2. Help them to minimize their stuff. Every few weeks, we go through the kids’ stuff with them, and help them sort what to keep and what to recycle, donate, or trash.
3.Guide them. Think about how you feel when you have a large mess to clean up. It can be really intimidating! Sometimes you look at it and you don’t even know where to start. It’s the same with kids; they look at all their toys on the floor and they don’t know where to start. Give them some direction: “Please put all your trains in the white bin and all the tracks in the green bin.” When they have completed a few starter tasks, you can give them more guidance. Working together makes the job easier, and sometimes it can be a nice bonding experience with you kids. I don’t mind helping my kids clean up their room, because then I can say: “I helped you clean up your room, will you help me clean the kitchen?” – and this, surprisingly, works!
To help your kids avoid mess in the future, the best thing to do is to have discussions about the things they bring into the house in the first place. Kids don’t have a lot of control over most of their lives, but they can control what they accumulate; it is theirs, even if it is just a collection of rocks, or stickers, or drawings.
Set aside some time to have a sincere conversation with your child about their stuff. Ask the question: “Do you need this?” Even if they answer “Yes”, rest assured that for a brief moment, they considered the possibility that they do not need the item. You have planted a seed in their mind. In all likelihood, you will find that if you keep repeating this conversation with them, eventually they will say “No”, and then you have a victory!
In an age in which we seem to have more disposable income, and things are so available and cheap, it is hard to resist buying something small for our kids once in a while; however, resistance is imperative.
When our children have too much, they will never understand how to be happy with what they have, and then our lives become about material possessions instead of the experience of life. I am in no way minimizing the importance of ‘stuff’, stuff can be useful! But too much stuff never is, as we can see by the clutter strewn all over our kids’ bedroom floor, and their inability to clean it up. Too much stuff is overwhelming.
So my last suggestion – for today, anyway – is this: when one new toy comes into the house, encourage your child to pass an older one along to someone else who will enjoy it. Options for recipients might be the nursery school you child used to attend, a women’s shelter, or the children’s room at your house of worship. Wherever you send it, your child will be excited about the new toy, and happy that someone else can use the old toy; and you can be glad that your trash has avoided the landfill for a while, and that a toy that you spent money on now has a new life.
How do YOU help your kids clean up? Let me know how you give old toys new life, and how you make order out of your kids’ chaos.