Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Clean vs. Creativity Conundrum

I was recently commiserating with another mom about the perils of keeping the house clean with little ones.  It seems like an endless struggle.  Getting our kids to clean up after themselves seems impossible!  My cousin who has her own interior design business posted an article from house beautiful about “9 habits of people who never have to clean their house”.  (Obviously no children live in the house pictured here!)
How to Never Clean Your House  click to read full list of tips
from House Beautiful Magazine
They seem common sense enough and complaining that I can’t handle one of these seems ridiculous.  Put clothes in clothes hamper, cut down on clutter, file paperwork immediately upon opening the mail.  But in the midst of day to day survival the hours seem to slip by without much success on training my family to accomplish these tips and everything else on our plate.  

I know some parents institute rules that only one toy can be taken out at a time and that everything must be cleaned up before moving onto the next thing.  I find it to be more complex than that.  Certainly holding a child responsible for the care of their belongings is an important life skill.  And having a clutter-free, clean house is good for my family’s well-being.  But there are times that my child is so engrossed in something that he spent time building and is playing out a complex pretend scenario that is also important for his emotional and creative development.   

So my challenge: how can I balance the cultivation of creativity and extended uninterrupted playtime while also nurturing healthy cleaning habits?

One evening I got so fed up with cleaning up after my kids at every night (and the younger one had dumped an obscene number of toys on the playroom floor) that I simply locked the door and put a sign up that said “Danger” I told the boys that the room had so much on the floor that it was dangerous to walk in there and it wouldn’t be opened until they were ready to clean it up.

 Another day I tried handing my son, then in first grade, his digital camera and asking him to take a picture of the kitchen, entryway, trash can, bathroom, beds in his room shared by his little brother and the toy room.  Then we went room my room cleaning up each space and taking “after” pictures.  I then created a lift the flap poster that is still on our fridge.  This wasn’t a magical fix to our cleaning habits, but it did start the conversation and I notice my sons flip the pictures when they walk passed the fridge where it’s hanging. 

Flash cards allow kids to choose a task to keep their focus
and let them feel like they have control over cleaning up.
I’ve found that flash cards and a timer work pretty well.  Each card has a task like “pick up all the trash” or “put all the Legos in the box” and a picture that illustrates it so my preschooler who doesn’t read yet can understand it.  The cards are laid face down and my kids choose one task at a time, this gives them the feeling of control over what job they get.  Then we turn on a timer for three minutes or so and try to see who can finish their task first.  This method has worked quite well. 

I’ve also found that if I choose our clean up sessions wisely they are met with less resistance.  If I try to get my 4 year old to clean up in the middle of an elaborate pretend scenario it’s not going to be as successful than if I wait until a natural break in his playtime or a natural change in our routine for example before a meal time or when we move from outdoor play to indoor.   I give my kids the option to get special permission to keep toys out for extended times, like if they’ve built an elaborate fort or set up a play restaurant for example.  But it’s up to me to discern when it’s truly worth extended time and when it’s just a mess that they don’t want to clean up.

The latest thing that I’m continuing to work on with my kids and myself is to have everything cleaned up at least once a week.  This way I can make one sweep through the whole house to dust and vacuum without first having to put everyone’s belongings away.  This cuts down my cleaning time tremendously and keeps my basic housecleaning possible!  I also learned that I could wipe down the bathroom fixtures while the kids played in the tub.  That gets the bathroom cleaned at least on bath nights which is, no joke, a huge accomplishment for a family with two little boys!

How do you train your little creative hearts to clean up after themselves while also allowing them to engage in extended creative playtime?  Share your tried and true methods, because every care giver could use another trick up their sleeve!  And perhaps someday we can actually instill in ourselves and our kiddos the “nine habits of people who never have to clean their house”!

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