We’ve been working on cleaning up the child’s room for about a week now. Her room doubles as our guest room and my parents are coming to visit, so it really needed to be done. Grandma said not to worry about it, but really…it needed to be done. There is a pattern developing where we work really hard to clean it up, she maintains it for a while, then “something” (usually sibling related) happens and it starts to get a little messy. If I don’t jump on it then it slowly builds up again until…we have to work really hard to clean it up, and so it goes.
Currently we are in the work really hard to clean it up phase. Having done this so many times I have some good ideas on how to make this work…
• So as not to overwhelm either of us we break the work into several phases. First we pick everything up off the floor, the next day we clean off the desk, the next we clean under the bed, and so on. There is a feeling of accomplishment with each phase, and as the room starts to shape up the satisfaction grows.
• I help her get started and depending on how hard the work is going to be I either stay and support her efforts or go do something else for a while. Cleaning off the floor is pretty straightforward, and she can make her bed herself. Sorting through the piles of beads, rocks, feathers, seeds, sequins, etc. that she has collected and scattered among books, papers, markers, school projects and puzzles pieces on top of her “desk” well…that requires mommy time.
• We bring a garbage can, a recycle bin and a “this goes somewhere else in the house” box into her room. I encourage as much as possible to go into one of these boxes. For what is left (which is a lot)…
• We sort things into piles, and find good containers for all of her little collections. This is the hardest part for me. Most of the things she likes to collect she doesn’t really DO anything with, she just collects them. So it is hard for me to just let them all sit around. Surely she wouldn’t miss this red sequin that was randomly sitting on the corner of her dresser. I’ve learned the hard way, though, that she has a pretty impressive inventory in her head of all of this stuff. She wants to know where it is, and if it gets lost we’re headed to meltdown territory. This is happening less often, I think because I have learned to “respect” her stuff. I try very hard not to toss any of it unless she says she doesn’t want it.
Next up is maintaining, and I’m trying to come up with strategies to extend this phase. I want this to happen not just so I have one less disaster area in the house, but also because these are skills that she will need down the road. I put it out to my facebook friends to ask for ideas of what to try. We came up with four main tools:
• Labels – During the clean up phase this time around I’ve been labeling everything. Each drawer and each shelf has a label. This is for the child’s benefit, but also Daddy’s. There are times when he supervises clean up and if he doesn’t know where things go they end up in some “interesting” places. Hopefully the labels will help.
• Break it down – Some tasks like making the bed and picking up dirty clothes need to happen every day, others like tidying up the desk could be a weekly chore to keep it from becoming too overwhelming. I think a couple of daily tasks and one weekly job each day will be a reasonable starting point.
• Visual aid – Now that it’s clean, I’m going to take some photos of each potential trouble spot in her room and make some kind of chart that shows her what it looks like when it’s clean. This is taking a lesson from social stories in which we emphasize the desired outcome.
• Incentives – Sad but true the child lives for prizes and rewards. I like to use them until the tasks have become a habit and then phase them out. For now she’s working to collect loose change for a little Sunday School fundraiser. I’ve been giving her small coins for chores around the house toward that project. Perhaps for a while if she can complete her daily room clean up there will be a monetary reward.
I’ll also be trying to prevent those “trigger” events that make it all too overwhelming and/or responding to them earlier to keep the clean it up phase shorter. I would love to hear your thoughts on this age old challenge. How do you keep your child’s room clean? Do you involve them in the process? How do you maintain it? What helps keep it all in perspective? Just click on comments below to share your ideas.