Picking Up Their Things

Image of an analog clock with a second hand

Where there are kids, there are messes. Fortunately, children can be trained to pick up their possessions and put them away. Here is how some parents have taught their kids to pick up their things:

The Last Thing on the Floor

"Is it clean enough?" This question from our 5- and 7-year-old boys used to bother me. To teach them how to be thorough, we played The Last Thing game.

Once the bedroom was straightened, the boys would inspect it to determine whether it was tidy. When they saw items that still needed to be put away, the game began. The competition was intense, with both boys determined to find one more car, sock or LEGO block to pick up.

The child who put the last item in place was declared the winner. The winner was then allowed to choose a reward from the prize drawer, which held inexpensive goodies and treats. Through this game, our children learned what it meant to call a room "clean."

—Linda VanderWier

Make-Believe Maid

Seven-year-old Gracie is forever playing make-believe. One day as we finished playing house, I decided to engage her imagination to clean her room.

"Briiing, briiiing — Gracie, it's your phone," I said.

"Hello?" she replied through a big grin.

"I am looking to hire a maid today," I said. "Do you have one available?"

"Yes! She'll be right over!" Gracie then cleaned her room.

After doing this a few times, she learned how the right attitude can make some chores fun.

—Christy Pearce

Kids Can Pick Up Their Toys

Children can be trained from a young age to pick up the toys in their bedroom. My kids are responsible for picking up one shoebox-sized container of toys for each year of age. So our 3-year-old can have one box of LEGOs, one box of cars and one box of small blocks in his room. Other items, such as games, large toys and puzzles, are stored in a common area.

Throughout the day, we pick up toys before moving on to the next activity. Before lunch, we clean up toys from that morning. We also put away toys before naps, dinner and bedtime. I start by walking the kids through the process, and then they gradually do it alone.

—Sara Borgstede

Team Up to Clean Up

When I realized my family's cleaning routine was not working, I asked my kids to pair up. I gave each pair responsibility for one area of the house. This taught my younger children how to clean and my older children about leadership and responsibility. I was surprised at how well it worked. I no longer nag my children to clean because they take initiative and ownership for their assigned areas.

—Evie Palmer

Clutter-Free in 15

Prior to a family outing, I set the timer for 15 minutes and call for a "quick clean." Children scramble to straighten up assigned rooms while I gather belongings scattered around the rest of the house. When the timer goes off, they put away my pile, and we head out the door of our clutter-free home! (Fifteen minutes also works well for yard work.)

—Kristen Erickson

The Pick-Up Game

I used a game to teach my kids to pick up their toys, books and personal items. First, they had to collect all the belongings they found scattered throughout the house. I counted the totals. Then they earned a dime for each item once it was put away. To make a contest of it, I timed them or added a bonus for the child who found the most items. This game gave my kids an incentive to clean, and I was able to praise them instead of nagging them to pick up their things.

—Hally Franz

Pick It Up or Pay

Our household had our own lost and found — but with a twist. Instead of just returning the things my kids left lying around the house, I wanted them to learn to be responsible for keeping track of their belongings. Each night after bedtime, I put any toys, clothes, books, papers, food or other items that were not in their proper place into a large box. If the kids wanted their things back, they had to pay 25 cents for each item. It didn't take many quarters for them to learn that keeping track of their stuff was worthwhile!

—Cindi Ferrini

Pick-a-Stick Cleanup

My tweens were old enough to help clean up after meals, but dividing the chores and keeping track overwhelmed me. So I came up with an easy-to-follow system. Now when the last person finishes eating, I call everyone to the kitchen. We all clear the table, then I hold craft sticks, with additional cleanup jobs written on the ends, and let each child choose a stick. (The job names are hidden from view.)

I have four children, so each night I offer four jobs that are needed that evening, such as sweeping the floor, wiping down the table, loading the dishwasher or taking out the trash. I've also added one rule: Everyone stays in the kitchen until the kitchen is clean. That encourages the kids to pitch in as a team to help each other finish quicker.

—Rachel Schmoyer

Pick up toys

Children enjoy blending music and work. While you show them how to do developmentally appropriate chores, use a well-known tune and make up lyrics to fit the melody. For example, if you choose "The Farmer in the Dell," you can sing words similar to the following:

We're picking up the blocks.

We're picking up the blocks.

Hi-ho, the derry-o.

We're picking up the blocks.

You also can add a child's name to the song.
Josh picked up a toy.
He's such a wonderful boy.

Hi-ho, the derry-o.

Cleaning is a joy.

— Sharon Wilkins



"Picking Up Their Things," the compiled article, first appeared on FocusOnTheFamily.com in July 2016. "The Last Thing on the Floor" and "Make-Believe Maid" first appeared in the December 2017/January 2018 issue of Focus on the Family magazine. "Kids Can Pick Up Their Toys" first appeared in the August/September 2017 issue of Focus on the Family magazine. "Team Up to Clean Up" first appeared in the February/March 2017 issue of Focus on the Family magazine. "Clutter-Free in 15" first appeared in the August/September 2016 issue of Focus on the Family magazine. "The Pick-Up Game" first appeared in the June/July 2015 issue of Thriving Family magazine. "Pick It Up or Pay" first appeared in the January/February 2014 issue of Thriving Family magazine. "Pick-a-Stick Cleanup" appeared in the December 2015/January 2016 issue of Thriving Family magazine. "Pick Up Toys" was changed from "Cleaning's a Breeze" in Focus on Your Child in 2003. If you enjoyed this article, read more like it in Focus on the Family's marriage and parenting magazine. Get it delivered to your home by subscribing to it for a gift of any amount.

"Picking Up Their Things" compiled article © 2016 by Focus on the Family. "The Last Thing on the Floor" © 2017 by Linda VanderWier. "Make-Believe Maid" © 2017 by Christy Pearce. "Kids Can Pick Up Their Toys" © 2017 by Sara Borgstede. "Team Up to Clean Up" © 2017 by Evie Palmer. "Clutter-Free in 15" © 2016 by Kristen Erickson. "The Pick-Up Game" © 2015 by Hally Franz. "Pick It Up or Pay" © 2015 by Cindi Ferrini. "Pick-a-Stick Cleanup" © 2015 by Rachel Schmoyer. "Pick Up Toys" © 2003 by Sharon Wilkins. Used by permission.

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