Organizing Resolutions: Teaching kids to Clean and Organize

I recently received and email from a reader that got me thinking about how important it is to include our kids in the cleaning and organizing process.  Here’s what she said,

“I just came across your blog through a Google search. I am desperately trying to find a “new” cleaning routine. I have 4.5 & 1.5 year old boys. I hate the house looking cluttered during the day with toys, food on the floor, etc. But if I wait until the end of the day to really clean, then I’m so tired and don’t get much done. In your opinion, is it more productive to clean throughout the day (even though with kids the clean doesn’t last long and has to be repeated), or wait and do most cleaning when the kids are in bed?”

After receiving her question I decided that teaching kids to clean and organize would be another great addition to my organizing resolutions!  To answer her questions I’d say “yes”.  Yes I think it’s important to clean throughout the day but I also think it’s important to clean up at night.  Let me explain.

Kids are messy, we all know that.  But the great thing about kids is that they are teachable.  If we don’t teach our kids to pick up after themselves and to be organized, they’ll never learn, so I believe it’s our responsibility as parents to teach them these tools.   So how do we do that?  Let me give you a few ideas.

#1 Teach by example
My mom taught me that when I was done “playing” with something then I needed to put it away before getting something else out.  I try really hard to live by this rule and the more I do, the better example I am for my daughter.  If leave messes all around the house then I’m teaching my daughter that it’s okay for her to leave messes all over the house.  I’m not going to lie and say I always pick up every mess right away, because it’s not true, especially when we’re working on a house project, BUT in my day to day life I try really hard to pick up after myself and encourage my daughter to do the same.

We also have a rule in our house that if my daughter leaves toys out, that I’ve asked her to pick up, then they will go in “timeout” until the next day.  This has been a very effective rule in our house because it devastates my daughter to think she could lose a toy for a day.

So throughout the day encourage your children to pick up their toys.  It’s okay to not want your house to look like a hurricane swept through, and it’s okay to ask your kids to pick up after themselves.  You are the mom but you are not a maid. {wink}

#2 A Place for Everything
It’s very important that if you are asking kids to put away their clutter, that they know where it goes.  Make sure their toys, books, clothes, etc. all have a specific place they go, and make sure your kids know where that is.  This will require organization on your part, but if you take the time to organize their toys, etc. it will make it SO MUCH easier for them to put things away in the right places.  For more ideas on toy organization see this post and this post.

#3 Get them involved
Kids love to feel like they are being included in things and they love it when you give them attention and teach them something.  Kids don’t know that most people don’t like to clean their houses, for all they know cleaning the house can be super fun!  If you give them a task and make it fun for them, they will enjoy helping you keep the house picked up and clean.

For example laundry is one of my least favorite chores, but since my daughter was young, I’ve had her helping me, and she thinks it’s fun.  I used to put her in the laundry basket and “choo-choo” her to the laundry room, along with all the clothes.  Now that she’s older I don’t do that anymore but she still helps me sort the laundry and she’s great at matching the socks!  I don’t do it all the time but I’ve also let her help me put the clothes in the washing machine, and pour the soap into the water.  She thinks it’s fun to see the bubbles and put the clothes in their “bath”.

There are lots of ways to make “boring chores” more fun when you get your kids involved!  My friend Amy, at 20 Minute Mom has some great ideas for Toddler Chores, here are a couple of them:

* Plant Watering: Have your toddler place an ice cube or two into each of your house plants for slow indoor plant watering. Outside is the place for your toddler to use a watering can!
* Fluff Pillows: Give your toddler pillows from the couch to fluff (showing them the proper motion).
* Dusting: Go to the dollar store and grab an extra dusting wand for your toddler. Show them the coffee table and the front of cabinets that are easy for them to dust.

Other ideas, that I have my daughter do, are:

* Feeding the animals
* Wiping off door handles and light switches with a Clorox wipe
* Setting the dinner table
* Wiping crumbs off the floor if she makes a mess while she’s eating
* Helping to put away the groceries
* Pick out school clothes each day
* Sort the laundry
* Fold socks and wash cloths

If you start them doing chores, and picking up after themselves, at a young age, then they’ll never know any different!  If you’re just starting out, and your child is a little older, it might be a struggle to get them started, however if you can show them how much fun it can be (the whole “teaching by example” thing), then they will start enjoying it too.

#4 Reward them
It’s important to reward children for helping out around the house.  Since you are teaching them a lifelong skill I think rewarding them is a good way to get them motivated to learn.   The rewards don’t have to be grand, it could be just an ice cream date with mom and dad, or an extra 30 minutes of watching TV.  Whatever it is make sure to tell them you are giving them this extra privilege because you really appreciate how hard they’ve been working around the house.  If you affirm them and tell them how proud you are, that they are being such good helpers, it will make them eager to help you out even more!  Sometimes my daughter will, out of the blue, tell me she’s going to clean the house for me.  She will pick up all her toys, dust for me, etc. and when I get down and look her in the eyes to tell her how much I appreciate her hard work, her whole face lights up and I can see she feels so affirmed and validated.  It’s moments like this that will motivate your children to help you out because they love seeing how much pleasure you get from them helping you out.

#5 Chore Charts & Job Lists
Chore charts and job lists are another great way to motivate your kids to pick up around the house! In our house we don’t have “chores” we have “jobs” because a few years ago my husband and I took Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace class and in one of the sessions he talked about “hiring” your kids for “jobs” rather than just giving them an allowance.  You can read my full post on it here. Here is what Malea’s Job Chart look like.

At the end of each day we check off the jobs she complete for the day and then at the end of each week she gets paid.

Here are some other ideas I found on Pinterest for children’s chore charts.

Source: A Spotted Pony

Source: Loving our Chaos

Source: Pinterest

#6 End of the day pick up
Make sure before your kids go to bed they do one last glance around the house to see if they have any toys, etc. laying round.  In our house the rule is, “whatever is left out for mom to pick up goes in timeout for a day.” Sometimes Malea will complain and say it’s too hard to pick up her toys but my response is simply, “If you can take all your toys out, you should be able to put them away.  If you feel like it’s too hard because you have too many toys, I’d be happy to take some of them and give them to a kid that doesn’t have very many toys.”  She hates it when I say that, but it’s true, if they can take the toys out they can put them away too.  Trust me, they will learn very quickly that it isn’t really that hard to pick up all their clutter at the end of each day.

Remember the “teach by example” rule?  Yep, same thing applies here.  At the end of each day walk around the house and pick up your clutter.  I find that I am in such a better mood in the mornings if I wake up to a tidy house.  If I wake up to a cluttered and messy house, I start my day off feeling overwhelmed and stressed by all the messes that need to be picked up before the day has even gotten started!

If you follow these simple steps you will notice a huge difference in your home!  Taking a little extra effort to teach your kids how to clean and organize from a young age will HUGELY pay off when they are older and don’t have to be asked constantly to pick up after themselves!  And don’t worry, you don’t have to be perfect at it, I’m not either.  There are lots of days I forget to have Malea check off the jobs she completed that day, and there are also days I forget to ask her to pick up her toys in the evening.  But the overall concept is still in place and she knows the rules.  There are days when she picks up all her stuff without even being asked and those are the days that motivate me to keep reminding her, to keep teaching her, and to keep setting a good example!

 If you’d like to check out my other Organizing Resolutions click on the links below.

How to Organize Paper Clutter
How to Organize Kids’ School Work

About the Author

"Hi I'm Anna! Welcome to Ask Anna where I love to answer your household questions! I have always loved to clean, organize and decorate and this blog is a fun way for me to help you love it too! I am a busy mom of a beautiful little girl and I'm married to the love of my life. Together we fill our days with projects , laughter and love. I serve an incredible God and overall I'd say I'm truly blessed!"

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  1. I absolutely agree with your suggestions. Kids need boundaries and rules that include cleaning. I think it’s great to reward them to get the habit going and then slowly make it an expectation without reward/pay for regular chores (still have “extra” chores for pay/reward). This will help teach them what they need to do and then to look around at what else needs to be done.

  2. One thing that worked when my five were young: when playing, they weren’t allowed to get another batch of toys out without putting away what they were just playing with. So if they decided to play Barbies, then the Legos had to be put away. Storage was easy, just scoop everything back into its bin. Power Rangers out? Then hockey stuff away. That limited the mess and increased floor space for the new toys.

  3. Great ideas. I wish I had these suggestions years ago. There was one area I felt my son “got it”. When he was 3 he asked if he could organize his books himself. I said yes and left him to it. After all he had a cute shiney red bookcase in his room. A while later, he called me to see his work. All of his books were lined up, facing front, on the floor along the wall all around the room. It looked like a bookstore. But it was all on the floor! Part of me wanted to correct him and tell him the shelf was where they belonged, but he was so proud it melted my heart. I turned and looked at the bookshelf and he had lined up all of his stuffed animals there. As tears filled my eyes, I bent down and told him what a FABULOUS job he had done. The room was a colorful masterpiece. The final joy was after he read a book, he placed it exactly back where he had determined it belonged. It still brings a tear of sweetness to my mind.

  4. Fabulous tips!! Mine are now 10 and 13 and we still have to work on it from time to time but it is a lifeskill!! 🙂

  5. Love all the great ideas! My 3 children are teens, and as I have problems with many of these things myself, I have not taught them to my children! But it is never too late! First, we need to decide on places for things, but since they are teens, we can decide this together! When they leave our house, I would like them to know how to be clean and organized. They do their own laundry, so that is a huge plus. Now to get started on the rest. Thanks, Anna!

  6. fyi your 20 minute mom link does not work, goes just to your listing again and again.

    • Thank you so much! I just fixed it. 🙂


      • She lost her domain name so now the link just goes to a bunch of p*rn links, you may want to remove that link or just link to her FB page instead.

      • Are you referring to 20 Min Mom? I was afraid to click on it to double check. I went ahead and changed it to her FB page though. Thanks for the heads up!!

  7. I love ur post. I remember being young and ‘helping’ my mom clean. She said she’d usually have to clean up behind us, but it kept us busy and did help at times. Now I dont mind cleaing. I am one of the weird ones that like it most of the time, but after kids I have started to change my tune. I’ve just started making my 4 and 2 yr old kids pick up at bed time bc I was constantlly cleaning. I like waking up to a clean house also so I was cleaning my stuff, my husbands stuff, and the kids. Now everyone cleans up before bed, but I like the cleaning up through out the day.

  8. Megan Schiller says:

    This is such a great post! I’m on a clutter clearing binge and am trying desperately to have the house clean and clutter free at the end of each day. . I find myself cleaning up after my 4 yr old every night because she is too tired to clean. Your idea to have toys go on time out is great- I’m going to try it!

  9. Caroly Gant says:

    Great ideas! I am definitely going to share these ideas with my daughters, as they both have children. Thank you!

  10. Hi I’d like to ask how do you keep the kitchen clean and tidy all the time?

  11. First let me say I love reading your blog. You have such great ideas for cleaning and organizing your home and I use many of them often. I also like how you’re concise. Many blogs are long-winded and take too long to get to the point.
    The only issue I have is reading the blog itself. I don’t know if anyone else has commented on this, but the font color is so light I really struggle to read it. It appears on my screen as a faint gray with very light pink links on a white background. The only way I can read it is if I highlight all the text first. I don’t seem to have this issue with your emails or other blog sites so I’m not sure what it is. Anyway, just thought I’d point that out. Thanks for all of your great tips!! Have a great day!

    • Thank you for your comment. I’ve had people mention that in the past but then we darkened it a little and I haven’t had any complaints since. I will talk to my IT lady and see what she can do. 🙂