If you’ve got little ones, you understand that messes are inevitable. Fortunately, you don’t have to tackle them all by yourself! Your kids can start pitching in at a young age to keep the mayhem to a minimum. Use these helpful ideas to get them involved in the cleaning process, plus check out a few other handy tips and tricks for restoring order and keeping the house clean with kids.
Strategize a Workflow
Managing a home with multiple family members means you can delegate tasks—yay! And getting kids more involved at an early age develops their work ethic, in addition to fostering their sense of responsibility and self-esteem. Children thrive when they’re given responsibilities, and you can get creative with how you decide to assign these out. Below are suggestions for how to clean your house with help from your kids.
This is probably the most common form of organizing roles. Basic versions have a list of tasks your kid checks off to keep them accountable, but if you’ve got smaller kiddos, make sure you use graphics like pictures or icons that represent the chore to help them understand. Tennessee-based designer Mallory Nikolaus says, “If cleaning their rooms feels like too big of a task, they aren’t as likely to take it on themselves. What I found helps for our family is to create checklists for each space within their room. This one simple piece of paper reminds my kids how to properly care for each area. It took just a few minutes to create and saved me a million questions along the way.” She offers a template on her website that breaks down exactly what tasks need to be done in each room.
Allowances are certainly a great motivator for children to clean the house, especially when they’re on the older side. Yet, for some families, paying children to do something they should be doing in the first place, is controversial practice. There are alternatives to doling out cash—consider simpler, more budget-friendly ideas like stickers, their favorite desserts, or extra screen time.
To really inject some excitement into chores, you can turn them into cleaning games for kids. If the play area looks like a tornado has gone through it, make it an escape room challenge. Have your kids race against a timer to tidy things up before they can leave. Consider a scavenger hunt for little kids, having them complete tasks before they can learn the next clue. Another idea? Play a game of chore darts! Write down responsibilities on post-its and stick one onto each section so kids can aim to score their desired tasks.
Like games, music can just make things more fun. YouTube has a trove of clean up songs for kids, especially for preschoolers, so they can follow along and stay motivated. Sometimes all you need are some pop hits to really pump up the mood—search Spotify for energetic clean up song playlists, like ‘Cleaning Kit’, that preteens can bop to while they fold clothes.
Kid-size Cleaning Supplies:
There really isn’t anything cuter than pint-sized tools and supplies. Knowing they have their own special set of gear, kids are much more likely to roll up their sleeves. Melissa & Doug’s Let's Play House Dust! Sweep! Mop! 6 Piece Pretend Play Set is the perfect starter kit for toddlers. Sure, it’s mostly for pretend, but getting them in the habit of holding a broom (albeit a miniature one) will make cleaning second nature for them. Dyson even has a toy version of their vacuums!
Of course, asking a child to help with complicated chores won’t always result in a job well done, and how you approach this situation can affect how they view housework in the future. Scolding them may give them a negative perception of cleaning. However, keeping comments positive and your tone upbeat lets them know they’re doing just fine and to keep up the good work. Throw in a hug or light applause to emphasize you appreciate their effort! (Then you can fix the room up the right way when they’re safely ensconced in front of the latest episode of Paw Patrol.)
Now for Strategy Implementation:
Realistic Tasks for Little Kids and for Big Kids
Considering what your child is capable of at any given age is a good starting point. You can’t ask a four-year-old to wash dishes, for example, but your ten-year-old is fair game. Below are some general household responsibilities and suggestions for how different age groups can tackle them. (You know your child’s abilities best but generally, little kids are roughly age 6 and under. Big kids go up to preteen years.)
Large bins and baskets are the easiest toy storage system for corralling things like Legos, action figures, and stuffed animals. Stashing items in something wide and with a lid is ideal to mask the chaos, like this adorable Crate Kids Bear Hamper, or pick double-duty furniture like a storage ottoman such as the Maribo from Article. If you’ve got an open basket, you can easily cover up the mishmash of toys with a folded throw blanket.
- If you’ve got little kids… They can round up toys fairly easily as long as you direct them. Place their toy basket (or even a laundry basket) in the center of the room and have them drop toys into the bin. Make it fun by asking them to find blue toys first, then dolls, round toys, and so on. The chore of “kids toy storage” doesn’t have to be a drag!
- If you’ve got big kids… Ask them to pick up gizmos and gadgets from the floor every evening before they begin to wind down at night. Make it a part of their evening ritual.
Decluttering Papers and Art
It’s important to comb through piles of art and old homework sheets at least once a week to prevent clutter. Joy Cho, L.A. resident and founder of lifestyle brand Oh Joy, recommends setting up a wall with kids’ artwork and says, “Once that allotted space is filled, old pieces need to come down to make room for new ones.”
- If you’ve got little kids… You may need to hold their hand a bit for this (metaphorically, but also maybe literally!), but you can sit down with them and ask them what they want to keep. Since everything they do is special, they may want to keep everything, and this is when you limit their choices. Ask them, “Which two of these eight drawings can we keep?” Fortunately, you don’t have to permanently get rid of any beloved masterpieces. Memorialize them (and declutter at the same time!) by shipping them to Plum Print, which will photograph everything including 3-D crafts and turn them into a beautiful art book, framed prints, or even wrapped canvas pieces. Plum Print will send a shipping kit straight to your door with a $49.99 deposit, and it comes with a prepaid shipping label. You can use that as a temporary storage box to collect pieces of art that you want to feature in an art book. Once it’s full, ship it off!
- If you’ve got big kids… Have them sort through their paperwork for you! But help them stay organized with something like a portable file box that has a folder for each school year (or whatever categories make sense like school subjects or artwork styles).
Floor Cleaning and Care
Sweeping, vacuuming, and mopping should be a part of the maintenance routine and thankfully, they’re fairly simple for most kids. Remember, if you’ve got hardwood floors, don’t use a traditional mop. A microfiber pad mop that’s slightly damp is ideal.
- If you’ve got small kids… They may have a hard time with their coordination so asking them to sweep or lug a heavy vacuum isn’t realistic. Instead, give them a microfiber cloth to dry off any small wet patches on your hardwood floors after it’s been wet mopped. You can also have them suction up crumbs and dust balls from room corners with a hand-held vacuum—fun!
- If you’ve got big kids… They should be able to knock this out without issue, but if you really want to amp it up, you can gamify sweeping. Mark Xs on the floor in different areas of the house with painter’s tape, then have everyone sweep as much as they can towards their assigned X. Whoever gets the most dirt and debris after a set amount of time wins!
Tackling that mountain of laundry is so much easier when you have little helpers! A pre-sorted hamper (like the Zen Divided Bamboo Hamper) can help cut back on the amount of time spent categorizing colors—and it’ll prevent clothes from getting dingy.
- If you’ve got small kids…Sure, they probably can’t do the whole job by themselves from beginning to end, but each step of the process is easy for them to grasp. They can drop clothes in the hamper, sort clothes into whites and colors, help load the washer and/or dryer, and even match socks together (another game!) when it’s folding time.
- If you’ve got big kids… depending on how much you’re willing to pass off to them, they can probably get away with doing loads by themselves. If you’ve got the laundry routine on lock, they can at least change the bed sheets or fold clothing.
Washing the Dishes
Some kids will scatter from the table once dessert is over, but you can ask them to help clear off the table as soon as they’re old enough that you don’t have to worry about dropped plates.
- If you’ve got small kids… Pulling out light dishes and placing them on the counters or handing them to you is a great start. If you’ve got a bundle of silverware that needs sorting, assign this task to them!
- If you’ve got big kids… They can load dishes in the dishwasher and hand wash bigger or more delicate items. If you run the dishwasher at night, have kids unload it in the morning or when they’re back from school.
Taking Out the Trash
A straightforward task like this one is so easy for kids to take on. Because trash can get stinky, you can line the bottom of the can with paper towels, then sprinkle some baking soda over it to absorb funky odors.
- If you’ve got small kids… Have them unroll fresh trash bags while you’re out dragging the trash to the curb, and if they’re tall enough, they can line the cans by themselves.
- If you’ve got big kids… They’re more than ready to lug the trash out without assistance. Remind them when it’s trash night so they get into the rhythm and hopefully won’t need the reminders after a while!
Making the Bed
A freshly-made bed makes all the difference in a room—stress this to your children so they can appreciate how a small task can have such a huge impact in a space.
- If you’ve got small kids… After you’ve helped them make the bed, ask them to gather the stuffies and lovies with which they adorn their bed and neatly arrange them on top.
- If you’ve got big kids… If you’re finding that they sloppily throw the comforter over the top sheet without folding it, you can probably just skip the top sheet, as long as you’re game to wash the duvet cover regularly. Your kid will probably be pleased they don’t need to tuck anything in each morning.
Try out one or more of these creative ideas and we’ll bet that keeping your house clean, even with kids at home, will be at least somewhat easier, and a lot more fun! Not to mention, you’re teaching them life lessons about why a clean, organized home is a calmer, happier place to be.