The jackets, the backpacks, the random wrappers and papers and well, STUFF.   Not to mention the dishes.  And the laundry.

Family messiness.  It is enough to drive a parent a little batty.

So, how to get kids to pull their weight around the house?  To get them to PICK UP THEIR OWN STUFF?

First, you have to require it.  Not ASK.  Require.  

Have a little meeting to set new ground rules.  With… yes, you guessed it, WARMTH, KINDNESS, and EMPATHY.  No sarcasm or martyrdom.  I know.  But, seriously, they decrease your effectiveness.  Don’t sabotage yourself.

“We are a family and families have a lot to keep up with.  So, going forward it will be expected that you pick up your own belongings, clean up your own dishes, and be helpful when asked to pitch in to help keep our space organized.  We need to work together to make this family work well.  The older you all get, the more helpful you can be.  This will leave more time and energy for doing fun things together like playing games, driving you places, having friends over, etc.”

Set expectations for kids of different ages.  Kids age 5 and up are able to FULLY pick up their own stuff, clean up their own dishes, and get them in the dishwasher.  Kids younger than 5 may need some coaching and support to be fully successful.

Then, enforce this.  

“Hey guys, I need all your attention, I am making an announcement.”

In your earlier family meeting, describe that you will be doing this, and it is their job to pay attention.  You will not be giving warnings.

“It is now 9am.  At 10 am I will be going through the house and picking up all things that are cluttering the family space.”

Now, it is your job to wait.  And not remind.  And not cajole.  And not guilt. Just, wait.  And ALLOW FAILURE.  Yes, allow FAILURE.

Deep breaths.  This is where the learning happens.  This is exciting.  Watch… learning is about to happen.

At 10 am, get a laundry basket or other large bin.  Begin silently going around the house collecting items that have not been picked up.  Have a pleasant look on your face.  HAVE A PLEASANT LOOK ON YOUR FACE.  This is important.

If you throw your emotional blanket on top of the situation, you are no longer teaching about the importance of cleaning up after yourself, you are just teaching how to have a power struggle with you.  What do you want to teach here???  Oh, right, that it is important to clean your own stuff up because it is respectful of other people with whom you share space.  So, keep your own emotions in check.

If they begin to scurry around picking things up.  Allow that.  Do not give them things that are already in the basket.

“Yeah, I’ve already picked that up.  You can earn it back later, but not right now.”  Then, stop talking.
“I love you too much to argue about this.”

Allow them to be upset.  Allow them to have discomfort.  Allow them to have a tantrum about this NO MATTER HOW OLD THEY ARE.  Don’t engage in it.

“I can hear and see that you don’t like how this is going. You have some choices about how you are going to handle it.  You probably want to think about that.”

This is a good time to consider the idea of being a problem solver, or a problem creator…. back to this post…

Also, remember, if they are upset… they don’t have access to their calm brain.  So, logic will only make this worse right now…just empathize or say nothing.

Back to the ideas in this post :

Now, after you have cleaned up all the things that are not yours…. put them away somewhere.  Your closet, the garage, somewhere not accessible to the children.

Allow them to earn it back

Yep, they can earn it back.  Through being helpful.

In your earlier family meeting you make a list of chores/services around the house that have points associated with them.  This is how things are earned back.

Decide how many points need to be earned in order to get the items back.

Oh, school is tomorrow and they NEED their backpack?  Well, they better get working.

THIS IS HOW NATURAL CONSEQUENCES WORK.  They are uncomfortable.  Because discomfort is a WONDERFUL teacher.

IF you don’t get in the way.


Rescue them.  — don’t make it easier.  Don’t allow them to get out of the mess they got themselves into by fixing it for them.

Guilt or shame them — don’t muddy the waters of learning by adding your emotional blanket


Empathize — “Yeah, this is not how you wanted this to go.  You wish I would just fix it for you.  You feel like this is unfair.”

Empathy is NOT agreement.  Empathy is NOT agreement.  Really, it is just acknowledgment of feelings.  That’s it.  And THAT is important.

Then, the things that do not get retrieved in a reasonable (you decide what that means) period of time, well, those get sent to Goodwill.  They clearly were not that important.

Also, Freedoms come with Responsibilities, so nothing fun happens until they get the points they need.  No screen time, no friends, no games, etc.  They need to pay you back in service for the time you spent taking care of their responsibilities.

So, if they are not motivated to get the stuff back, then you motivate them by leaving them uncomfortable with lack of freedoms.

This works.  It also teaches so many life skills.  But, only, if you do it with humor and warmth and kindness and empathy.  Otherwise, it will just be another power struggle that you will feel frustrated about and stop enforcing.

A little thought about kids rooms….

They don’t have many spaces that are their own.  So, I believe in letting their rooms be relatively messy.  Once a week (or so), require that they take any trash out, bring the laundry down and do it (yes, have them do their own laundry pretty early on — 3rd grade-ish), change sheets, get it clean enough to vacuum.  Just for health and safety reasons.

Otherwise, I say, let their rooms be pretty much how they want them.  It is not worth the power struggle on a daily basis.

Overall daily clean up of stuff…

Use the same point system to rack up fines for when you clean up their dishes or other things on a daily basis.  No warnings, no reminders, just do it and then fine them.  Keep a tally somewhere posted that they can see…. then, on the weekend, or some convenient time, enforce that they need to pay you back for the work you did this week that was actually theirs to do.

This could interfere with other plans they have…. it will get in the way of their free time, time with friends, screen time, etc.  THAT is exactly the point.

Discomfort is a great teacher.  Allow them to feel discomfort so they will adapt.  Yes, they need the discomfort to create the desire to adapt.

Children and teens are SUPPOSED to be self centered the majority of the time.  It is where their brain development is.  So, if we want different behavior, we have to set them up to be motivated to change.

Natural consequences and the discomfort they create are WONDERFUL teachers.  It is our job as parents to set up the framework and then allow our children to experiment within it…. and allow them to have the discomfort that comes with learning.

It really is one of the best gifts we can give them.