Well, it’s the last week of my plan to improve our chore routines. It’s been helping a lot, even though summer things like swimming lessons and camping trips interrupt the routine. It’s still good to get that introduction phase over before the school routines are added back in. This week we’ll talk about the real challenge: how to get the kids to keep their rooms clean!
Cheerful Chore Challenge
- Morning Chores
- Lunch Chores
- Afternoon EHAP Routine
- Evening Clean
- Saturday Morning Extra Jobs
- Beastly Bedrooms
Beastly Bedrooms: The Problem
So, I think most parents with average kids know this problem – at least, most people I know do. Kids’ rooms can be disaster sites! Even if they pick it up, it can go from tidy to disaster in about 1 minute flat. I grew up as a kid with a disaster room, and though I’ve gotten better, still even my own bedroom seems to attract disorder and disarray. Bedrooms are an out-of-the-way, non-public spot. The natural tendency is the let one’s guard down, to have bedrooms be the spot one unwinds and allows carelessness.
So, one short-cut solution is to keep bedroom doors closed.
I’m not joking. It totally worked for me as a kid. My mom knew it was bad, but if she didn’t have to see it and be reminded, we could both just ignore it and not start a fight.
Bedrooms are last in my 6 week series because though I think a clean bedroom is a critical aspect of an identity-forming atmosphere, it’s the best corner to cut of the six areas I’ve mentioned when life is crazy and there is no energy for consistency. Been there, done that, periodically revisit it, we’re all still alive and functioning.
Bedroom-maintenance takes a lot of work and energy on both Mom’s and kids’ parts for the first couple months of learning the habits, and it’s going to be an exercise in frustration if there’s no reserves left to make it consistent. So, wait for a different season if that’s where you are. It’ll be ok. There’ll come a time to get to it, if you keep it on your radar but let go of the stress that it all has to happen now.
We are at a point where I think we need to conquer the bedroom-as-disaster-zone habit. We’ve had bouts of consistency, enough where I know what works for us and what doesn’t, but I’ve let my vigilance go too soon and it all slides downhill faster than anything.
As I’ve learned as I’ve acquired the habit of making my bed, the state of your bedroom communicates to you what sort of a person you are. Are you a person who likes things neat or a person who is a slob when given the choice? If you don’t give yourself or your kids the choice for long enough, then you all acquire the habit and the taste for order (in an -ish sort of way, nothing meticulous here). So it can be a very strategic place to work on habits of neatness – more so, I think, than with schoolwork. As orderliness in one area becomes a habit and a part of our identity, it will become easier and more natural to learn neatness is other areas.
That’s my theory, anyway, and I’m going to try to put it into practice and see if it holds.
Beastly Bedrooms: Minimize the Problem
There are several strategies we can implement before we get to habits that will make working and learning the habits easier and more effective. Mostly, they all boil down to declutter. The fewer things the kids have to manage and the easier it is to put the away, the more likely they will feel success when doing the work, and the feeling of success is a vital component of intrinsic motivation.
- Reduce as much as possible the number of toys in their bedroom. It was easiest to keep kids’ rooms clean when we had a no-toys-in-bedrooms policy. That’s ideal if you have an arrangement where that works. Because of our mix of boys, girls, ages, and rooms available in the house, this is no longer viable for us. However, now the boys’ room only has Legos and books – no other toys. The girls’ room is a little more problematic, because my daughter has her own Legos, dressup clothes, and her dolls, and then random other items she ends up collecting. To minimize her mess, I got her a Lego container that fits under her bed for storage, I moved the dolls to live with the kitchen stuff downstairs so they can be a part of playing house, and I let her use a small jewelry set of drawers my grandpa gave me to keep little things she wants to keep – but that’s her storage limit. One of the drawers under Geneva’s crib holds her dressup.
- Reduce the number of clothes. Whatever drawer or basket or shelf system you are using, the clothes have to fit in the space with room to spare for children to be able to manage putting their clothes away. If the drawers are overfull, it is difficult to put things away at all, much less well. We want to find as many ways to make it easy for them as possible.
- Label drawers and shelves. This falls under another way to “make it easy” for the kids. Where things go might make sense to you and to me, but apparently it isn’t as obvious to the kids. Don’t fight that, work with it and make it crystal clear.
- Use open containers. This is another way to make it easier – by removing the barrier of opening a lid, putting something away, and closing it again. You can reduce that three-step job into one step by just giving them containers without lids. I like shallow Sterilite bins that slide under beds, and I just store the lids in the basement.
A few other ideas I’ve seen around that I haven’t put into practice but am considering are giving your children a shelf or peg for them to hang their clothes they’ve worn but want to wear again tomorrow. Then it’s easy to just plop that outfit on the shelf or peg rather than dump it on the floor or toss it in the dirty hamper. You can also teach them to put their pajamas they can still wear another night under their pillow when they make their bed. I think that would help reduce my laundry load considerably! Right now, the easiest thing to do with clothes they have to deal with is toss them into the open hamper in their room — so that’s where they go most of the time. Giving them another easy option for clothes that can be worn again is a great idea.
Beastly Bedrooms: Maximize the Solution
Have you ever had the experience where someone’s offhanded comment is, to you, brilliant insight? This happened to me last year while chatting with my mom and youngest sister when my mom was giving my sister a hard time about the state of her room. She then admitted that said youngest sister was still much better than I had been. She then said, “Kirsten’s room gets just as messy, but she picks it up more often.”
What if it were that easy? Maybe it is that easy.
Bedrooms will get messy. What if, instead of fighting it and feeling frustrated by it, we all just pick it up more often. Does everyone else already know that and I’m just obtuse?
So much of my head-banging frustration over not only the children’s rooms but also my own has been relieved with this simple change in perspective:
Don’t stress about the mess happening; just EHAP often.
After all, the more often you pick up, the less likely it is to get completely out of hand and impossible to deal with. Also, the more often you pick up, the more practice you get at cleaning up — it becomes normal, rather than a big deal.
Make sure room-cleaning is on the once-or-twice-a-day loop, not the once-or-twice-a-week loop.
In the kids’ bedrooms, for us this looks like these guidelines posted for the kids to see:
- picking up clothes & making beds is a morning chore
- no computer or playing with friends unless bedrooms are clean (it has to be clean before asking or the answer is no)
- bedrooms have to be picked up after EHAP jobs (this means the time between EHAP & dinner is used to clean up their bedrooms instead of to play if they haven’t been keeping it tidy or putting things away when they’re done)
if when they grumble about one of these, I point out that if they put things away when they are done with them, their room would never need tidying. I’m hopeful that after 10,000 such reminders, they might get it someday and try it out.
Of course, maybe sometime I should try it out myself.
For my own bedroom, this just-pick-up-more-often approach means that when I make my bed, I also tidy up any clothes out of place or otherwise spend 2 minutes EHAPing in my bedroom. It means I am working on hanging my clothes back up or setting them aside on a shelf at the end of a day rather than making a heap at the bottom of my closet.
My room does collect the clothing piles when seasons or sizes change, and that does mean some piles will stick around for awhile. But that needs to be a temporary issue and not one that drags on because I’ve stopped seeing the piles. I think dealing with those times would make a good part of an interval plan, so that the goal would be to have the piles all gone by the end of the interval.
As we all grow more accustomed to putting things away and to living in clear spaces, it will become easier.