How to Get Kids to Clean Up

By , January 22, 2013 2:55 pm

I spent the better part of the Christmas holidays overhauling the playroom. I moved all the toddler and preschooler toys closer to the bottom of the staircase leading from the kitchen so I could keep an eye on Mary from there. I moved an old couch and armchair into the basement and set up a craft table and shelves for Lego and sports cards and board games. I sorted and sifted. I even purged a little.

We kept it up fairly well for a little while. Until last week. 


My kids most favourite way to play is to pull out ALL OF THE TOYS and spend hours setting them up just so. All of the play food in the play kitchen is okay, but you know what’s even better? Making a salad out of Monopoly money and broken crayons and Lego heads and game pieces! So this right here was just them getting set up. “We can’t clean up! We haven’t even played yet! Tomorrow! We promise!” they sang out in unison. Or something like that.

Before I knew it an entire week had passed and the playroom had been left for dead because even the kids can’t handle the filth and they’ve settled in to take over the main floor as well.

Parents, don’t let them.

1. Tell them to clean up the playroom. Hahaha. This is obviously just a preliminary step. Obviously they won’t listen, won’t care, will get distracted or otherwise not pick up a damn thing.

2. Get angry. Raise your voice a little. Speak sternly. Use their middle names. Do whatever it takes to let them know that you really mean it this time. They will still protest. “It’s too messy. I can’t do it by myself. I’m tired. Whaaaaa.” That’s okay.

3. Hold up a black plastic garbage bag and threaten to throw out all their stuff. Be specific and give them a reasonable task, though. Like, I said anything left on the carpet after fifteen minutes would be thrown out. It’s not fair if you don’t think they can actually finish the job. Then, every five minutes, I prodded them to keep at it. After fifteen minutes, I saw they were working in earnest, so I let them take some extra time to finish the task.

Ta da!


Okay, it’s not an organizational wonder and the carpet badly needs vacuuming. But still. I can walk through the room!

While this was going down many people on Twitter were pretty insistent that I would actually have to throw out their toys. Luckily, it didn’t come to that. I was maybe going to hide them away for a time or throw out a couple junked up things I wanted to get rid of anyway and let them earn back the rest.

What do you think? Do you have to put your money where your mouth is? Would you actually throw out your kids’ toys?


“How to Get Kids to Clean Up”

  1. Hannah says:

    I put my son’s toys in ‘time-out’ once for this very reason – I gathered them all up in a bin and said they were staying with me until he could show me that he’d learned his lesson about picking up after himself. After a week of his laundry magically landing in the hamper, dishes being carried to the sink, and coats being hung up, I returned his toys.

  2. I wouldn’t throw toys out, but I have indeed given things to Goodwill. I wouldn’t do it with a treasured toy that I know actually gets played with, but the things that don’t come out until they’ve got every last thing on the floor? Sure. Some other kid might actually play with whatever it is, and my kids really don’t need the wall of toys that they’ve got.

    If they don’t respect their things enough to take care of them, or if there is just so much that it’s overwhelming, it’s time to talk about giving some things away.

    • rebecca says:

      That’s a good distinction, throwing away vs donating. I try to get my kids to choose things to donate from time to time too, so they learn we can’t just hold onto everything we ever liked.

  3. I never ever make a threat that I’m not going to follow through on. It’s the hardest thing… and once the words are out of your mouth… crap!! Now I gotta do that!! I have a friend who did – she only needed to once – take all of the toys out of the house in response to a situation like you outline above. And then, very slowly, over several weeks, the kids “earned back” their toys. Highly effective, if you have somewhere to store them all.

    Anyway! Glad that your hand was not forced!

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