Friday, December 14, 2007

Room Cleaning For Littles

Here's a question following up from the comments of this post:
I've been enjoying the dialogue on your blog about training children with managing their rooms. Once again, I'm amazed at the things I'm just now learning (b/c I was never taught), but now thankfully, I'm finding those "Titus 2" women out there like you and others who are teaching other mommies like me.

Well, my question, is what age do you do this at? Do you never have stuff in their room until they can manage it by themselves? I have a 7 yo (girl) and 3 yo (boy) who share a room right now. Just trying to figure how to implement this. And do you box everything up and put away (except a couple items)?

I know your time is very limited, but I'd appreciate a little more insight.

My thinking is you can do it at whatever age they begin having a room to keep orderly. I would be perfectly comfortable expecting a 7 and 3 (yes, even a boy...grin) to keep their room in order. Mine always seem to like having 'jobs' that are just a wee bit above what they are easily able to do ~ they seem to feel 'bigger' about doing 'bigger kid' jobs.

That said, know this... this method of taking everything out of their rooms is not about punishment. It is training. Any potential weeping and wailing from them can be dealt with by a shrewd Momma marketing the thing well.
"Kids, I have a great idea! You know how messy your room always is, and how you always have to keep picking everything up all day? Well, I have an idea that will make your room waaaayyy bigger, and give you tons of space to play, AND be really easy to clean up... so you have more time for playing."

Then, we would literally box up all but ____ and take it out of their room. (You'll need to decide for yourself how much is the right amount to box.) If you really want this to be a positive experience, then think cold turkey... the more stuff you box up, the easier it will be for them. I know it sounds drastic... I do. Trust me when I tell you that it will help them so much! We have for a season taken the boys down to just beds and their clothes were moved into the laundry room to live...we just put their dresser in there. Once they were used to just getting up and making their beds and putting their clothes in hampers, we reintroduced an item at a time per child. We allowed them to choose the reintroduced items, to motivate them to prioritize  what they have and why. We have for a season also taken our big girls down to beds and one under-the-bed sized box of whatever they chose (they are older, and weren't having quite as much trouble).

Each time we did it, my kids were relieved. They were no longer spending all their free time sitting in a wrecked room looking around wondering where to start. Their attitudes about how much stuff was necessary in their lives was altered so that even when they worked back up to getting their stuff back, much of it they didn't even want. I have found that it was mostly the idea of it that they liked (i.e. "Hey...that's my stuff!"), and they weren't particularly attached to the stuff itself.

So, to answer your question, yes... My children can't ever have stuff in their room that they cannot manage. Life is too short for me to watch them spend unnecessary time and energy taking care of "stuff'. It is easier for them, because they watch Mom and Dad do this all the time with physical stuff and other areas like time and responsibilities. We cut what we cannot manage well. We ditch stuff, we cut out activities and we excuse ourselves from anything that is too demanding of us.

On another note, what they *do* have, has to be easy for them to care for. One comfortor or quilt  (something chunky, so wrinkles won't show) and a bottom sheet is all I would expect them to be able to manage on their own just yet. All their clothes need to be easy to put away ~ down low where they can reach. Toys should also be as easy to clean up as they are to pull out. I had to learn that Littles can't do bookshelves ~ they need buckets for books, low hooks for clothes, etc. Toy boxes are evil inventions (grin). They were made to frustrate little children, I think. The only way to get to your favorite toy (which is always on the BOTTOM) is to dump out everything on the top. It makes keeping their room clean burdensome.

For a few days before you do this, I would study your children to see what their absolute favorite toys are, then plan to keep out those (if you keep out any at first). Then, after the boxing up party, plan a tea party to celebrate. Also, to head off discontent in the beginning, I always plan a few extra special activities to do with the children. When doing the activity, be sure to drop the, "Wow, I'm so glad we took care of all that extra stuff for you or we wouldn't have had time to do this. Isn't this fun?" line several times. Their reception is dependent on the spin you add.

One more thing... depending on the space you have, you may have to be creative about where to put the boxed stuff while it is waiting to be reintroduced (or purged). We always use the attic, but you may need to think garage or even trunk of the car... but it is best that it be out of sight. Ask me how I know.


  1. ok...I will be the first to say OUCH have certainly written this directly to me. The Lord has been pressing this very thought on my heart lately. Change. That's what we are working at around here. This is the season of change in our household, starting where it should, with Momma, and trickling through every corner of life. It's our revival season on the homestead!
    I stole this entry -- just part of it -- and am leading everyone back here to finish their encouragement and inspiration!!

    The Bible study is going so well....I follow as I have time (we lost all of last month with everything around here...) but we have printed off the sections to do ourselves and I have so found blessings in them. Thank you so much for sharing them!

  2. Such wonderful advice. When my oldest was little a Loooonnnnng time ago, I packed everything into 3 milk crates and everything else went. He got one box at a time. The others were out of sight. When that box appeared to quit holding his interest, I switched night. He awoke to all "new" toys. It always guaranteed me an easy day on a "new" day. Littles don't need near the amount of things that WE think they do.
    Love ya!

  3. I actually just did this a few weeks ago! I have a 4 year-old daughter in a room by herself and my 2 year-old son and 1 year-old daughter sharing another room. We have a room over our garage that is a guest room / play room / tv room, so I boxed up everything in their bedrooms, took some to Goodwill, sold some on Craigslist, put a little of the rest in the attic, and kept out about 2 medium sized baskets of Little People toys, puzzles, and cars. Now my daughter has a couple of baby dolls and a crib in her room, and the babies have some books and a basket of Legos - that's it.

    I hate clutter and LOVE this! Everytime I go into their rooms now (or the living room downstairs, for that matter), there aren't any toys all over the place. It's true. They do play so much better. They have had more fun in the last two weeks in our bonus room than the entire last year probably.

    Getting pregnant with a fourth child works wonders for de-cluttering!! haha! :)

    Thanks for the tips. Have a great Christmas!

  4. Now that's a sneaky way to make such an announcement! I'm so excited for you!!!!


    And welcome to You, Little One...whoever you are!

  5. Due to my hubbies complaints about toy mess I too have learned to tidy things up a bit. Haven't gotten rid of much, but have reorganized what we do have. One dresser filled with toys. One train table (and a garage) on the main floor and then toys that I randomly change around in the basement. Works just a wonder! ;)

  6. hmm. Over the years we have gotten rid of many, many things. It all began with reading CLUTTER'S LAST STAND by Don Aslett. The first read through, I was so offended. He wanted me to get rid of my precious STUFF?!

    A few months later I went through it again, and this time, I did it. And have been on a decluttering mission ever since. The problem we have now, is that we are mostly down to that which we do use, and still don't have enough space for.
    I'll go to get rid of a space gobbler but then I say, I USE this and back it goes. So, maybe I use too many things? I think I must because I know that compared to many of our ancestors, my home would be considered large.
    So around here, Mom's the clutter problem.
    Blessings and organized homes to all.

  7. These are great ideas. And, no, they do not seem too drastic to me. Two of my little ladies love to change clothes...but in the past did *not* like to *hang* clothes. So, we ended up with an awful mess of not-really-dirty clothes in the bottom of their closet. So, I confiscated all their clothing and allowed them to choose one outfit per day. Yes, they fussed at first, then they liked it. Finally after several months, they wanted to take a stab at keeping their closet clean again. They've had their clothes back a few weeks now, and their closet still looks great. Yay! I think if you are calm and really help them understand that you are doing it for *their good*, they accept the new arrangements pretty well.


Before writing your comment, be sure to read the Fine Print!