With four boys, the mess builds up pretty quickly around our house!  If everyone takes off his shoes and socks and jacket upon entering the house and leaves them on the floor (or the kitchen table or the sofa), that’s a large mess right there.  I am always finding socks in bizarre places and yogurt cups on the table and snack bowls left wherever the eater happened to be when he finished.

If I point out the items left out, the boys are always willing to clean up.  They usually say, “Oh!  I forgot!” and then cooperatively pick up whatever it was.

But at their ages, I don’t feel like I should be reminding them all the time!

This all came to a head recently because my husband has been working two jobs to make ends meet during a job transition.  Two days a week, he is gone from before the boys get up until well after they are in bed, and then he works an extra shift on Saturday.  Without my sweetie at home to help get everyone in bed, the boys sloppy lifestyle suddenly seemed much worse.  It was time for a plan!

One evening, I had a flash of inspiration.  I announced to the boys “Mom’s Clean Up After Yourself Rule.”

Mom’s Clean Up After Yourself Rule:  If you leave something out, you have to clean up that item, plus put away three more things!

Here’s what is included in our rule:  (Things that should not be left out)

  • Shoes
  • Socks
  • Jackets
  • Pajamas
  • Bath towels
  • Dirty clothes
  • Used tissues
  • Snack wrappers, bowls, or even a pile of crumbs on the table or a smear of yogurt not wiped up
  • After meal jobs should also not be neglected (sweeping for Gresham and clearing the table or loading the dishwasher for Aidan)

I’m working on this rule for the older two first (ages 9 and 6) and Owen (3) is exempt at the moment.  But his day is fast approaching!  He can’t reach to hang up his coat, but I’m working on a new system for that, plus he’s definitely old enough to learn to put his shoes and socks away.  For the older boys, it’s working well so far.  They have done a lot of extra picking up, but today we came in from a walk and everyone hung up their jacket right away!

Do you have trouble with kids not cleaning up after themselves?  How do you handle that issue?


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  1. Jill @ A Mom With A Lesson Plan Dec 13, 2012

    What a great idea! I love that this gives them a little extra push to help out the family while Dad and Mom are working extra hard as well!

  2. Heidi Dec 13, 2012

    That is a GREAT idea! We are ALWAYS struggling with the very same thing! I am always finding socks on the counter or in the toy box or on the floor. Jackets are strewn about and shoes randomly taken off and left. All this despite the fact that I constantly remind them to pick up their things. I am going to try your idea! Thank you!

  3. Amanda Dec 13, 2012

    At our house we have ages 13, 12, 11, 9, 8 and 3.5. I have recently started an adventure jar to save for our traveling adventures. Whenever someone leaves a coat or socks or shoes on the floor they have to pay me .50$ per item for the oldest guys and the money goes in the adventure jar. The younger guys who may not have enough money have to do an extra job from our job chart. We also have an " I can't find it" policy if they come to me and say they can't find something they have misplaced the deal is if Mom finds it you pay me $5! They usually are able to find it on their own after that is said!

  4. Jacquie@KCEdventures Dec 14, 2012

    Great rule! We have the same issue at our house too - the drop and go (ugh!) I did put command hooks on the inside of the closet doors at kid-level so that my younger daughter can hang up her jackets by herself - it's worked beautifully! Now to work on the shoes that are everywhere ;-)

  5. jc Dec 14, 2012

    I hung a coat rack at the kids' height so they can hang their own coats. Shoes and socks go in the baskets on the bench. Clothes go in the dirty clothes or back in their drawer at night. I don't make them separate toys or anything just as long as they are put away I am happy!

  6. Julie Jones Dec 20, 2012

    I started doing the "pick up 3" after reading this post. Its working like a charm!!!! Thanks for the idea.


    1. Sarah Dec 20, 2012

      Thanks for the comment! I'm so glad it's working! It's still working for us too. I've had to re-define what "3 things" means. Three nerf darts don't count as three things - picking up the handful of darts on the floor counts as one thing! That has helped tighten things up a little. My oldest son almost never leaves his clothes and shoes laying around anymore, and the younger ones are getting there!

  7. jackie Dec 29, 2012

    Oh, I LOVE the idea of adding 3 additional items to the consequence of leaving a mess! Boy, I think my house would be clean if everyone put their own stuff away. Imagine how spotless it would be with the 3 addtional things!

  8. Dabney Dec 31, 2012

    Love, love, love this!!! Thanks.
    Dabney (mom of 4)

  9. Carol Gordon Ekster Apr 11, 2013

    I love seeing this kind of post. It's wonderful to work on this issue as a family rather than just being a resentful mom. I taught elementary school for 35 years and organization was a big issue...for children and parents. I now am a children's author and I hope my newest book will help with this universal problem. Ruth the Sleuth and the Messy Room, Character Publishing, has not only a fun story but a parent guide to help raise organized kids and a game to play with your children. I'd recommend it for 4-7 year olds. Here's the book trailer for anyone interested, and I hope your efforts work!

  10. Mandy K Nov 7, 2013

    This sounds like a great idea! But what if you have a kid who has a melt down about it, and just refuses. Flat out refuses. No matter what. Screen time taken away - doesn't care. Not being able to attend a birthday party - doesn't care. No meal for him until it's done - nope. Any type of consequence, just seems to cause him to dig his heels farther, he digs in so deep, he finds the underground river!! He's 8. And been this way forever. ever. ever. ever. (sorry about the rant, I'm a smidge frustrated.

    1. Mandy K Nov 7, 2013

      For the record, with everything else, he is fantastic, cooperative, and easy going.

    2. Kym Nov 7, 2013

      I feel your pain. Mine is almost 8 and we too have hit the wall as far as refusing to do something. He will miss out on great things instead of just doing what he was asked to begin with. But ours is a root of character things that he is lying about. So he would rather miss something than admit to what he did wrong.

  11. Kym Nov 7, 2013

    We solved the shoe issue with putting a large bin in the garage at the door so before he comes in the house, he puts his shoes in the bin. That way all his shoes are in one place. It works about 95% of the time. Occasionally he is to excited and will run in the house with shoes on and then they end up wherever. Now I need to tackle the clothes, towel and sock dilemma :-(

  12. Jenny Nov 7, 2013

    great idea - thanks!
    I also have issues with pajamas everywhere. Have certainly enforced the 'shoes off at the back door' rule this winter, but rarely do they make it onto the shoe rack..... this will help, thanks Jen - mum to 5 little boys.

  13. Sabah Husain Nov 7, 2013

    Thanks, Carol will definitely look into your book :0)

  14. Kelly F Nov 21, 2013

    Laundry and clothes are the biggest problem in our house. I wash loads per kid and would like to have each kid, sort, fold, and put away. The oldest is pretty good at this. His drawers are a bit messy, but the effort is definitely there. The little one will go put things away in his labeled drawers. He will match socks and put all unders in a pile and put those away. The middle one....sigh....has a bit more difficulty with this chore. He whines when I ask him to start sorting -- I try to break the whole process into smaller tasks so it's more manageable. Then he can't remember how to fold and I have to show him - every time. I make this is easy as possible, in half the long way, sleeves folded in, then fold in half again. It takes him FOR.EV.ER. It's painful. I think I must have to break out the pennies, to pay for each piece folded.... I just don't know what to do with him sometimes.


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