Play Advice

6 Out of the Box Clean Up Tricks

Earlier this week I was talking with my sweet sister, you know…the mom of boys, and telling her how I sometimes feel like I am not a great mom when it comes to teaching my children how to clean up. Sometimes it isn’t worth the fight, or other times I need it done NOW and not sloth speed. After hanging up I decided I was selling myself short. My older daughter will sometimes just go into a messy area and organize the whole disaster, and she will have such pride in what she accomplished. My older daughter also rarely whines or complains when she is asked to tidy up. My 2 year old…well there is still time to train that munchkin, right? But seriously if I give her step by step instructions she is a great cleaner, and I think we will call that a success!

So I have a few tricks up my sleeve when it comes helping and encouraging my children to clean. I am not saying these are the perfect method, I’m simply saying for my family, here in the real messy world, they get the job done!

1. Make piles

When the mess is huge just start making piles of similar things. My girls room often becomes a natural disaster zone. It is obvious a giant tornado went through the dress ups, stuffed animals and garbage and spread the items willy nilly across the floor.

When I open the bedroom door on “natural disaster days” I simply walk in and start grouping (or chucking) similar items into piles. Dress ups next to the bed, ponies by the window. Then I call my mini tornadoes up to finish the job.

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This has helped in many ways.

  • I no longer have my girls by me when I start the clean up. That is usually when I am the most frustrated. I used to call them up and start my obnoxious monolog of “No one listens to mommy when I say clean up.” OR “Why the crap is there a banana peel on your teddy bear?”  I now silently do that and I am a bit more calm when I call the girls up.
  • The girls have a starting point after piles have been made. If I simply said, “Get in there and pick up.” They are overwhelmed and hopeless. After I have made some piles I can say, “Genevieve you can put ALL the books away. Evelynn you are in charge of dolls and dress ups.”
  • If there are more than 3 or 4 piles I know my children have too many toys (or junk) in their room. That’s when I quietly open up the closet, where the toys I cycle in and out hide, and put a whole pile away in a drawer to be played with another day.
  • Finally I love how this method doesn’t have me doing the actual CLEAN UP. I am simply organizing.

2. Get payed for your work

Do you have any form of a rewards system? Then let it reward you for a change!

I pay my girls TICKETS. I usually use this rewards system to encourage them to do something like stay in their beds until a semi-decent time or to help with potty training. I also give my girls tickets if I’ve asked them to do a large task or one that is not a chore, like organizing a play room after a friend messed it up. With these tickets the girls can save up and buy fun items from the ‘mama store’.

How do I use these tickets in clean up? Well if I have asked my child to pick up their gel pens and I come back and see they are still out I say, “darling, you can choose to pick up the pens or mom will pick them up for you…and you will have to pay me 2 tickets.” That always gets a snappy response. My girls know that a sucker or a new coloring book is on the line, and they have been saving those tickets all week.

Obviously this trick will only work if your child is VERY motivated by their reward system. If they aren’t you will end up doing their chores for some useless pieces of paper, so beware, and test the waters on this one before you jump all in.

3. Pull out the toy sucker upper (AKA the vacuum)

Now this one may be frowned upon by a better mother than I…but I do not apologize for it. From a young age I told my children that when we have to clean up we need to be careful about not leaving a treasured marble or hair pin on the floor because mommy doesn’t always pay attention while she is vacuuming and I might accidentally vacuum up a toy. This COMPLETELY TRUTHFUL explanation may have blossomed into an AWESOME clean up trick.

Now when the floor is messy (but not a disaster, this trick is too stressful if the mess is overwhelming) I announce, “Oh no our floor is SOOO dirty. I better get out the vacuum.” Then I slowly get the vacuum out. I slowly unravel the cord and try to plug it in. I start on a rug or a clean are of the carpet and say, “I hope I don’t suck up any toys!!”

As soon as my girls hear the word vacuum they turn into crazy cleaning people. The 5 year old starts barking orders and the 2 year old starts shoving things in her shirt. I make sure this is all done in fun. If I notice one of my girls acting too stressed I click off the vacuum and say I am too thirsty and I need a drink, or even offer to help. I do a lot of giggling and fake “Oh No’s”. If my girls really thought I was about to vacuum up all their trolls they would simply sit down on the floor and bawl.


WARNING: This trick usually has my children, in a slight panic, throwing toys on the couch. But for some reason I would prefer the toys on the couch. After I vacuum we work together to put this last few toys away.

TRICKY TRICK: After my girls get their toys up they LOVE to play chicken with the vacuum, they tease me with nananananana’s and then go leaping on the nearest couch when I get too close. I think this is one of their favorite rewards for cleaning.

4. Offer a simple incentive

Keep it simple. Think of something your child loves to do that is toy-free. Think bubbles, jumping, wrestling, running ( maybe these are just my children’s favorites?). Once you have picked an activity tell your munchkin how much you would LOVE to do said activity but the room is too messy. Then tell your munchkin (DO NOT ASK) “lets clean up so quickly so we can have a jumping contest.” Here are my 2 favorites to use.

  • DANCE PARTY: I tell my girls I want to have a crazy dance party to…trolls but if we danced in this room we’d break our toes. Lets pick up quickly so we can dance. Then the 3 of us quickly clean up. I usually even start the music so we have something to get excited about.
  • OBSTICAL COURSE: I always start by saying, “I’d love to set up and obstacle course for you but this room is much too messy.” After the girls quickly tidy up the living room I grab a stool, to climb under, a random toy, to jump over, our play tunnel to climb through and then a couch cushion to flop on. Then I give them our little sand timer and encourage them to beat the sand. I love this because, yes there are a few items out, but the 4 items are easily cleaned up as opposed to their piles of cars and play dishes.

5. Right before bed pick up

This one is pretty new, but so far I have loved the results. Right before books and bed we do a super quick pick up of their bedroom. I know the room won’t end up looking sparkly clean when we are done but it will be cleaner and my children don’t get grumpy and overwhelmed right before bed.

2 options

  • The 5 Toy Pick Up: Choose any number you want, just keep it manageable. I just ask my girls to pick 5 toys they want to put away before bed. Super Simple.
  • 1 Minute Pick Up: Again choose the time that works for you. If you have a little helper you could even count down from 10 or 20. The idea is during said time your child (or even both of you) quickly pick up as much as you can.

I have loved this because it makes the next morning a bit easier. It also works great on those nights you open the door to the room and a wall of mess hits you. Obviously you don’t have time to do it all right then, but you can always make time for a quick clean up.

6. Surprise for dad

My girls adore their daddy and all I have to say is ‘Lets surprise dad’ and they are in. I tell them how impressed and surprised daddy will be if we can clean up our book area. Make sure you text The Dad and tell him how surprised and impressed and down right blown away he is supposed to act when he sees the surprise. This one only works on small messes for my girls…I guess they think tidying up the WHOLE house would give dad a heart attack, and obviously I agree.

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