Sunday, April 18, 2010

Weekly Column: Cleaning Up

You know those houses you walk into and can tell they’ve just been cleaned? Floors swept, shelves dusted, everything in its place?

Yeah, me neither. (Do those places exist?) I’m lucky to complete one single cleaning task per day, which means something’s always messy. And I’ve decided that’s OK, especially where the kids are concerned.

I’m all for teaching children to pick up after themselves, but haven’t yet mastered a successful way to accomplish that with the under-3 crowd. One tip I learned from a fellow mom was to insist that before another toy could be played with, the previous toy had to be put away. It sounded like a great plan at first, but I got so tired of monitoring each toy-change that I couldn’t be consistent with it. Neither could I follow behind my kids, straightening each of their messes all day long.

My solution was simply to stop cleaning up so often – not to let the house fall into total chaos (I might have been fired as household engineer, if I’d done that), but just to not worry if messes were made in the course of normal daytime playing. I knew we’d clean up later because I’d built time into our routine, before naptime and before bedtime, for just that purpose. Messes can build up in their bedrooms and with whatever toys they’ve dragged out and I’m (mostly) fine with it.

When it’s time to clean up, I make sure to point out that if they’d picked up after themselves while playing, cleaning up would be much less of a chore. Hopefully, there’s a lesson being learned in there somewhere. My own lesson? Don’t sacrifice fun in the name of tidiness.

Unless the ‘fun’ involves overturning a potted plant on the carpet. I’ll sacrifice that any day.


  1. Levi loves to clean up as long as I help him and we sing our special clean up song. But, I don't do that between each toy. That would take up way too much of my day. We only pull that one out once or twice a day...and, don't tell, but some days I let it slide. ;)

  2. Right now, I'm just trying to teach Katherine not to leave her toys in the middle of the kitchen floor anymore. The "put each toy away after you've finished playing with it" rule is nothing more than a fantasy at my house!

    Actually though, if I'm being completely honest, I don't know how much of a fantasy that really is for me. I WANT my kids to be able to lose themselves in play, you know? I want them to get swept away, enjoy themselves and IMAGINE. I like your idea of "not sacrificing fun in the name of tidiness" and I think if we all stopped trying to have that perfectly swept, ready-to-be-photographed house it might be easier to be a mom: less stressful, more relaxed, and more FUN.

    (Of course, in the interest of full disclosure, I can't really claim to have a totally relaxed attitude here. I have a housekeeper come to "reset" things for us once a week. Untidiness, I can handle...but, underneath that, I need CLEAN!)

  3. "Don’t sacrifice fun in the name of tidiness. "
    Amen to that :)

  4. i give them to the end of the day to pick up otherwise i have seriously considered throwing away their things...i have tossed quite a bit. i figure if they value it and want it they will pick it up.


Hmm...And how did that make you FEEL?