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A friend stopped over at our house unexpectedly and our family room looked like a bomb went off in it. Toys were everywhere, and I had my usual baskets of unfolded laundry strewn about the room. I apologized for the mess, but at the same time, I wasn’t embarrassed.

While you couldn’t see the carpet underneath the toys and laundry, it was freshly vacuumed. The dusting was done and the house was clean underneath the clutter.

You wouldn’t know it if you had stopped by at that moment, but we have a system to keep our house relatively clean! I’m learning to let go of my micromanaging tendencies, and the kids are happier for it. I fold laundry on the couch while the kids play on the floor. Before nap time, my kids know to pick up their own toys while I finish folding the laundry.

It wasn’t always this way. I used to have to stand on my head to get my son to pick up, and my daughter would walk behind me, getting the toys back out that I had just picked up. We still have days where my son pretends he didn’t hear me give the nap time warning or tries to give me every excuse in the book for leaving out his toys.

The following strategies helped the most in making our “clean up process” a routine.

1. The “Clean Up Monster” likes to eat stray toys

My son went through a phase when he thought monsters were the most fascinating creatures in the world. He had a love/hate relationship with them. He insisted that monsters didn’t scare him, but snuggled extra close to me every time we read a scary book. I may or may not have let him read scary books and watch scary movies just for the extra snuggles.

I have to confess that I used his fascination with monsters to my advantage. His babysitter once told him about a “clean up monster,” and I shamelessly ran with the idea.

The “clean up monster” is a big, friendly monster that loves to eat stray toys. He comes in the night because he’s scared of kids, and he eats the toys that kids leave out for him. He loves kids but doesn’t understand that kids don’t actually want him to eat their toys. If a toy is left out at night, the clean up monster just might eat it.

2. The “Big Bad Mommy” will hide the toys

If the kids don’t pick up their toys, the big bad mommy cleans instead. Unfortunately, when Mommy cleans, she hides the toys. The kids then have to do chores to earn their toys back.

My son once told me to take all his toys away, and he then proceeded to hand me his favorite toys. I think he may have liked using the Swiffer more than his garbage truck. He also enjoys cleaning the bathtub, so I have to periodically change his chores. After all, helping Mommy with her chores to earn his toys back shouldn’t be such a reward.

3. Practice counting until everything is put away

My son loves to show off his counting skills, and he also likes to race. We’ll start counting (I say one number and he says the next) until he’s picked up every toy. The next day, he tries to beat his last time. Not only does this get him to practice counting, but he’s also cleaning at the same time. Winning!

4. Clean up together

This isn’t exactly creative, but when I’m feeling ambitious, I’ll help the kids clean up. In all seriousness, most of the time I crawl around on the floor, helping the kids pick up their toys. It’s at this point that my micromanaging tactics go into overdrive. Nevertheless, I try to reign in my obsessive compulsive tendencies. By micromanaging, I’m undoing all the good that they’ve done. I’ve found that helping the kids pick up is especially important to create a teamwork atmosphere. It also teaches them to look ahead and see what needs to be accomplished. This is necessary for my daughter, who hasn’t grasped the concept of putting away more toys than she takes out. As my son and I pick up their “groceries,” the baby likes to take them back out of the shopping cart and wander off with them.

Crawling around on the floor also helps me to keep abreast of the toys that are broken or unused. My kids are natural hoarders. When we clean together, I can see which toys they use and which ones we can give away or throw away.

Regardless of how you get your kids to clean, make it fun. Teamwork helps, but creativity makes it more interesting. Do you have any creative ways to get your kids to clean? Try something new and let me know what works in your house!

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