This photo is of Aidan and Gresham when they were 4 and 1.  Nothing like playing in some good, wet mud!

I took this photo, and then left for the grocery store.  And Daddy did the clean-up.  Because he’s awesome like that!

There are few things that are less enjoyable with kids than cleaning up.  Well, sibling fighting ranks right up there, I think, but seriously, it is not a lot of fun to clean up messes, clean up mud, and clean up toys.  Unfortunately, messes seem to abound in a house full of boys!

My boys are at a age where they can really start taking responsibility around the house.  Aidan can now vacuum and load the dishwasher!  It’s great!  However, our biggest struggle is still with picking up toys.

Here are a few things we have learned about getting kids to pick up:

  • Doesn’t Work: “You are taking forever on this job!  Stop playing, and just pick up these toys!”
  • A Better Way: “I am setting the timer for 10 minutes.  Please finish picking up the Legos before the timer beeps!  If you do not finish, I will need to add another chore to give you more practice with cleaning up.”

The use of the timer has helped us a lot.  We use it with homeschooling tasks as well.  If too much dawdling is going on, I set a timer.  Aidan loves to try to beat the timer!  It helps him focus.

  • Doesn’t Work: “Please straighten up the house!”
  • A Better Way: “I want each of you to find 5 things that are out of place and put them away.”

Kids do not naturally keep the house neat.  A clean house is not really a priority for them!  With some instruction, they can learn to look for shoes scattered across the floor, books that need to be put away, jackets that need to be hung up, etc.

This next tip is especially for preschoolers…

  • Doesn’t Work: “You have out every toy in your room!  Please put them all away!”
  • A Better Way: “Please put away all the dinosaurs.  Good.  Now put away all the books.  Now put away the vehicles.”

Preschoolers definitely become overwhelmed by large messes.  Gresham is definitely that way.  It’s easy for him to do nothing when the mess is huge, so we have found that picking up one thing at a time helps him focus.

What tips do you have for getting kids to clean up?


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  1. bjk May 23, 2011

    I have no personal experience with this, but I've heard this approach used: any toys still not put away properly when the timer dings go to toy jail for a while.

    1. Sarah May 23, 2011

      Ooooh, that's a good idea...

    2. Allison Mar 14, 2013

      I love the five things rule. A friend of mine does has her boys (she also has four!) do that before they leave my house after a play date. I think it's a great way to get kids to learn to help without getting overwhelmed.


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