Young@Heart: 7 Basics for Getting Kids to Clean Their Room

It’s a battle that’s waged in millions of households across America every Saturday morning. When I was a kid, I called it the SRF, Saturday Room Fit!

Mom would stand in the doorway to my very messy bedroom, hands on her hips, eyes blazing like a drill sergeant barking commands to her new recruits and her voice, behind clenched teeth, like a cat in battle for its life, would hit my tender eardrums, “You are NOT leaving this room until it’s clean!”

Most moms feel frustrated with their kids’ messy rooms and they feel they need to impose some sense of order or they’ve failed. If your kids have messy rooms, you are not a failure and neither are your children. Let’s not freak out about this issue. Hey, Stephen Spielberg’s mom was scared to go in his room when he was a boy, because it was such a mess.

My mom was so frustrated with my disorganized sister and me that she researched the problem. One psychologist said, “Just shut the door to their room and out of a natural desire for order, they’ll clean it up eventually.” Those were pre-Google days, and unfortunately that recommendation is still being disseminated to weary moms throughout the Internet. It’s not good advice. My sister and I had no semblance of a natural desire for order and that’s what led to the dreaded SRF.

You Already Intuitively Know This

Establishing regular routines for yourself and your children provides some predictability and stability in your home life. Knowing how to clean and do basic chores will serve your children when they grow up and manage homes of their own.

Having kids put things in order teaches them to be responsible for their things and when we moms can make the process fun, we change the game from the SRF to joy and excitement! So how can you change something that’s been a battle into something that’s suddenly fun?

Enter the House Fairy

The House Fairy is like having your very own in-house coach for your kids. You know how attentive your kids are when the teacher, Grandma, a neighbor or friend asks or tells them to do something? It’s because you as the primary trainer have become like an annoying email that keeps showing up in your inbox and you keep ignoring it because you know it wants you to do something you don’t want to do.

A successful, professional puts together a team to manage the business. We moms are business managers too, but more often than not, we don’t think of ourselves that way. Our business is managing a successful home and it takes teamwork. The House Fairy teaches kids the basics starting with their rooms. With the House Fairy’s help as motivator and teacher there are 7 facets to your kids having neat and tidy rooms which make for happy kids and happier moms.

1. Dare to Dump it!

FlyLady said it best, “You can’t organize clutter.” Well, you can, but take your children’s bedrooms as an example. You could organize the overabundance of books, toys, games, clothes, shoes, crafts etc. and your kids’ rooms would look like the children’s section at a Goodwill or Salvation Army store.

When you keep the stuff-level down, your children’s rooms are easy to clean and keep picked up. I’m assuming your kids have enough of what they need, so it might be helpful to make a rule that for everything that goes in the room, something needs to come out. If a child gets a new shirt, an old one goes in the donation bag. A new toy means an old one needs to leave the building. This not only keeps the kids from being overwhelmed by possessions, it also teaches them to feel good about giving things away.

If the tit-for-tat rule seems too hard to follow, it’s not. Remember kids grow quarterly. Once a new quarter starts it’s time to have a sorting day where the outgrown, the worn out, the neglected, and the broken items get given away or thrown out.

2. Set a good example.

You don’t have to be a Martha Stewart, but kids are far more sensitive and responsive to what we do than what we say. Do you take pride in your home? How does your bedroom look? Do you keep your own things in order? How is your attitude when it comes to the daily tasks of keeping house? When you set a good example, you’ve won half the battle. Kids are like little sponges. They take in what we do with every fiber of their beings. What you do normally is what they come to see as normal and expected.

3. My very own.

Remember getting the keys to your first home? Kids who feel their space is especially their own (whether it’s a whole room or a shared half with a sibling) are more likely to want to keep it nice. Find ways to give them some ownership over how their space looks and where things are kept. It’s not expensive to let them rearrange the furniture or paint a shelf, or pick out new sheets or bedspread. They can decorate boxes to organize their stuff and choose or draw pictures for their walls.

4. The Official House Fairy Rules

On Saturday mornings when my mom told me to clean my room or I couldn’t bust out, I never really knew what she wanted me to do. So I’d just stuff things under the bed and in the closet and it looked clean and I got to go out to play. (Mom was a person born on her due date and she remained punctual and organized her entire life. She didn’t have a “stashing” mentality, so what she saw after the stash, passed inspection.)

In one of the House Fairy’s videos, she explains what it means to have a clean room. She has an official checklist the kids can refer to, along with 3×5 cards with pictures of the jobs for those who can’t read. Make your bed, put laundry in hamper, hang up clothes, put toys, books and games away, vacuum floor, throw away trash.

5. A place for everything and everything in its place.

I’m sure this is not an original tip! It probably should be the first tip on my list, because it’s crucial in maintaining order. It helps a lot if everything has a home. Provide the kids with boxes and bins and work together at labeling and deciding what goes where.

6. Initially, work together.

Armchair supervision doesn’t work. My mom would say, “Go clean your room,” and to my little disorganized mind, she may as well have dropped me off at some messy secondhand store and said, “Clean this up.” In the beginning of the House Fairy program, children get to watch an actual child and her mom organize the child’s room. They get to watch the step-by-step transformation of that child’s room and it has inspired so many children.

Depending on the condition of your children’s rooms, you’ll need to work together. As they master the skills and no longer need step-by-step guidance and encouragement, you can let them take over!

7. Make it fun.

You’ve heard the term, “work smarter, not harder.” As moms, we have at our fingertips a powerful unseen advantage to work with when it comes to our young children. I say unseen because it’s held in our children’s minds. It’s a keen sense of curiosity. In the House Fairy program there are several clever ways to use their curiosity to inspire action. Here’s just one: Put a reward (could be money) in two sealed envelopes with a time written on one and the word AFTER  written on the other and say, “It’s time to clean your room. If you get it all done by 10:00 you get this envelope, if you get it done after 10:00 you get to open this one.” (Make sure the envelope with the designated time on it has a better reward. There must be a difference in the rewards.) Curiosity melts procrastination.

Note: be firm. If the child gets the room cleaned up after the allotted time, give the AFTER envelope and you’ll get to use the envelope with the time on it, next time. I promise you that envelope will be the one they get next Saturday morning.

So there you are, I hope this helps you help your kids.

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