Games Parents Play

I hate messiness. Which is totally unfortunate, because hello - I've got kids, and kids are the single biggest generator of messes.* (And not just run-of-the-mill messes, but the kind that make you just stand there and stare at them in awe for a few minutes like you can't believe you're even seeing this, but you are, and then you realize that you are the one who will most likely be cleaning most of it up and your heart sinks because you don't even know where to begin and you want to just run away screaming shut yourself into a dark room and drink yourself into oblivion be alone.)

*Husbands and puppies rate second and third, respectively, in case you were wondering.

My kids can make some monumental messes, especially when I'm too busy or distracted to follow along after them doing damage control. Cameron, being only 18 months old, is a little too young yet to fully understand the concept of picking up toys. He'll pick them up and put them in the toybox, clap and say, "Yay!" and then get something out and start playing with it. Colin, at four years, is definitely old enough to "get it" ... but, like most kids, flat-out hates cleaning up. And getting him to do it is a chore in itself. There are few things I despise more than arguing and threatening for an hour (especially these days, when I'm nine months pregnant; my patience is the ONLY thing that's thin about me right now).

Usually, I end up just picking up most of the stuff myself after the kids go to bed. But that's not satisfactory either, because 1.) me picking the stuff up doesn't teach my kids that it's their responsibility, and 2.) it's a pain in the ass.

The other day, though, I discovered the secret to a relatively quick, argue-free pick-up!!! Seriously, I swear I heard angels singing a chorus when Colin actually cleaned everything up and then looked for more stuff so we could keep playing. (Or maybe that just happened when I nearly passed out from sheer amazement.)

So here it is: the thing that finally worked for me. I look around and say, "Hmmm, can you put everything with wheels in the toybox?" and he goes and picks up all the cars, trucks, and weird-rolling-things. Then I might say, "Can you find the things that are red?" and stuff like that. He loves it! I have no idea why I didn't think of it sooner (you guys are probably like, "Duh, I've been doing this for years now") but I feel like I've made the discovery of the century. And for four nights in a row since we started it, he's picked up his toys in this manner - all of them, quickly and willingly - and then looks for more things so we can keep playing.

Now if I could just find something that would entice him to put on underwear once in a while ...


  1. That's genius! I'll have to remember that one. I always used to tell my little brother that I would time him...he would race against the clock, trying to beat his previous times. I like your game much better though! It's much more educational!

  2. I have found that money works too. Especially since when they are young they have no clue the value of coins. A handful of pennies over a quarter is so cool!

  3. oooh - I'm going to try that one! I'm lucky that jack likes cleaning up, and is actually really good at it - he will look under the couch and everything. but Izzy is much harder to motivate. We had about a week where she would clean and pretend she was Mary Poppins, but that didn't last long once she figured out it was fun in real life. And I also totally know about cleaning up yourself - I used to do it after bedtime because it was just faster to do it on my own, but bending over to pick everything up around a giant pregnant belly is for sure no fun!

  4. What a brilliant idea! I just found your blog and I love it!! :)

  5. What a creative solution! Why didn't I think of it when you were little?!

  6. I use that too! I too had one of those: HOLY SH*T moments years ago. I was sweeping after every meal. My sister in law said:
    Jen, why don't you just sweep once at the end of the day before my brother gets home?
    W H A T?
    She shaved off like 30 mins. Hay...we take what we can get, don't we?

  7. My kids are either just completely lazy or too smart. I tried this when they were younger. They just looked at me with a look that said, "Yeah, Mom, I know that just means cleaning," and would give me an emphatic "No! I don't waaaaant to!" Now I'm either the one who cleans up the messes or I give them the "I'm on the warpath" look and they scramble to avoid the Wrath of Mom. Neither is a great option, but...

  8. I will remember this.

    I hate cleaning up messes.

  9. I told my husband about this and he tried it tonight. Our basement floor is now completely clear of toys. YEAH!! Thank you, thank you, thank you. I'm sure it will only work for about a week before he catches on to us, but that's one week I don't have to do it.

  10. What a super idea! I will have to pass that on to all the mommies I know with small children with the same struggle.


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