Empower Your Kids Through Creative Cleaning

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I’ve recently become an addict of that TV show called “Hoarders.” It’s a series that documents people (supposedly, there’s over 2 million hoarders!) who collect trash in their homes and basically get lost in it—mentally and physically. The problem: an unhealthy attachment to ‘stuff.’ I won’t even mention the two several episodes showing people who collect animals—cats or rats. And, not all of them are living. I’ll leave it at that.

Maybe it’s mere coincidence that I’m suddenly inspired to clean my son’s room, as his floor has become more of an oversized cluttered shelf. But, good parenting is about teaching your kids to clean their own room, and although we may think they know exactly how to do this—they don’t. It’s why so many adults need professional organizers; they never learned it as a kid. They never learned that a messy room can often hold the dirty hand of a messy life. Of course, many children simply don’t care that there’s stuff on their floor; in fact, that stuff suddenly takes on immediate importance the moment you try to throw it away. “Nooo,” your 6-year-old says. “I NEED that straw.” “Um, nooo, you don’t,” you answer. And that’s when you learn that the straw is needed because someday he plans to combine a whole bunch of them (which are all under his bed, but you don’t know that yet) and use it as a pretend sword. Stuffed animals—dusty and torn—are valued objects, even if they haven’t been touched in three years. A random party favor he received at friend’s birthday two years ago is something he’s saving because, well, he hasn’t really figured out why yet, but don’t worry, he assures you, he will.

So, you face a dilemma: traumatize the kid by throwing out or ‘giving away’ the stuff while ignoring his protests, or keep it there and let it collect until one day you see a camera crew knocking on your door. What some parents don’t know, however, is that it can be a win-win situation, and here’s how. I call it ‘The Less is More Technique.’ It’s based off the premise that most children don’t see the ‘value’ in giving their stuff away. All they see is you taking away their possessions. Concepts like good hygiene, organization, order, cleanliness, etc. don’t mean a thing. Remember, a lot of kids embrace playing in the dirt—why should they care if a toy is on the floor or if they have way too much stuff they don’t use? They need to see the value in getting rid of their old toys, clothes and stuffed animals; hence, the beauty of the ‘Less is More’ technique.

Approach their room like it’s a consignment store. Your kid has the power to decide what he wants to ‘sell.’ The key concept here is that HE has the say-so; he’ll feel empowered. Here’s a dialogue to emphasize how this technique plays out.

Mom: Johnny, I see a lot of old stuff in your room…stuff you don’t use anymore.
Johnny: So.
Mom: How would you feel about receiving a new toy or stuffed animal. Heck, how would you like to pick out your desired toy at the store? Johnny: YES!
Mom: Well, seems like your room won’t hold any more stuff.
Johnny: Huh?
Mom: And, you need money to buy yourself a new toy, right?
Johnny: Oh. Yeah.
Mom: I have an idea. How about you look around your room and figure out what you can ‘sell’ back to me. Put stuff in a pile in front of me and then I’ll determine its value. You can then use that dollar value to buy one new toy.

At first, they’ll test it out. They’ll throw some random object in front of you to see what it’s worth. If that happens, give them a value like a $1. They’ll start to see how the system works. Pretty soon, they’ll start adding stuff to the pile, thereby increasing the value. Conversation continues…

Johnny: Mom, should I give up this stuffed animal?
Mom: It’s up to you. Johnny: Yeah, but how much will it be?
Mom: I can’t say. You’ll have to finish your pile and then I’ll give it a dollar value.

I’ve used this technique many times. My son used to be the one who would, dare I say it, hoard some of his toys and such. After he realized that he could add to the pile a bunch of stuff he didn’t use and see that he made $30 to buy one new cool toy, he got the point. “Mom, can we do that again?” he always asks me. “That was fun, and there’s a new thing I want to buy at the store.”

The beauty of creative approach is that children see firsthand the benefit of cleaning. Maybe they don’t see it the way we do, but they realize the value of it. And best of all, they feel empowered.

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