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Somewhere right now there is a mom cleaning up a mess right after she cleaned up said mess. Sound familiar? Sometimes it feels like we’re trapped in a perpetual cycle of cleaning. Hello twilight zone.

Every time I went to tidy up the mess my kids made, my husband would shoot me “the look.” I just couldn’t help myself. I wanted it done right now and the right waymy way. But when I took a step back to think about it—how was that helping my children or myself? How would they ever learn to clean up by themselves?

Here are 9 things you can do to encourage your kids to clean up after themselves 

1. First things first: Set realistic expectations

Sure we’d love all of our kids to mimic our cleaning styles, but in reality, a three or four-year-old may not put things back the way we would. What’s important is that they put the toys or books back themself. Yes, we may have to go back and reorganize (when they’re not looking), but teaching them this responsibility at a young age is so important because cleaning up will become part of their routine. 

2. Remember to model positive cleaning behavior

You know those days you’re stressed AF and you’re banging up the pots and pans muttering under your breath? The kids are watching. If they believe cleaning will make them behave like that they will not want to do it.

Related: Let your kids make the mess

3. Have designated spots

Want to make clean-up time easier? Make sure there are designated spots for their toys and items. Books go on the shelf, toy cars in the red bin, blocks in the blue container, and so on.

4. Don’t do it for them. Do it with them 

If we constantly request that our kids clean up and then just do it for them anyway, we send mixed signals. Make it a team effort. Guiding them and showing them where things belong will help them get into the habit of doing it themselves. It’s always my prerogative to keep it real, so yes, there will be times you have to do it yourself like you’re on a time crunch and need to be out of the house or a tantrum is in full effect and you need to start the bedtime routine. That’s ok, too—life happens.

5. Sort, donate & rotate!

Do you ever feel like you’re drowning in a sea of toys? You are not alone! Take the time to declutter and donate. Those sad little lonely untouched toys in the back of the closet and bottom of the bin—it’s time for those to go! Store and rotate the most commonly played with toys and things they will use for a long time. You can rotate weekly or every other week. Less toys equal easier clean-up for both mom and child.

Related: Project Declutter: Tips and Products to Organize your Kids Room

6. Make it fun

Who else grew up on Barney’s clean-up song? Clean up clean up everybody do your share. Cocomelon will be our children’s version! Put the song on and encourage them to clean up while listening. Tip: Pull up the song on your phone and put it face down. Don’t put it on the TV or else they may get easily distracted. Other ideas to make it fun include putting a timer on and making cleaning up a race or have a scavenger clean-up hunt.

7. Set rules

Before you know it you can no longer see your living floor as it is now engulfed in toys. One basic rule to set is before you move on to the next toy or activity you must clean up the previous one. This is one I implement with my girls daily and it’s been working. 

Related: Self-described ‘Messy Mama’ goes viral on TikTok

8. Chore chart

Smaller children get excited when they have a “job” in the house. Make it fun visually with their very own chore chart. Chore charts are great for older children as well and will give them a sense of responsibility and accountability. 

Remember we are not asking our children to do a deep cleaning. We are starting with the basics of putting things in place and organizing. Keep your expectations realistic and the rules clear. After all, the main goal here is to teach our children responsibility and independence.

A version of this story was originally published on mom-chat. It has been updated.

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