Keeping the House Clean with Toddlers

First of all, let me clarify that I’m not talking about a spotless house. I like our house to have a “lived in” atmosphere. After all, it’s our home, not a display. That being said, I like having a neat house. Before the little ones arrived, no problem… After the little ones arrived we had to find ways to keep the house clean with toddlers around, without overwhelming the toddlers.

I know plenty of families that don’t focus so much on picking up toys, etc. When having things lying around doesn’t bother you or your spouse, and you have enough space that having some toys out on the floor doesn’t get away, that’s not a problem. But if you relax more when you have a clear space, or if you wouldn’t be able to walk through your living room if the kids left their toys out, it’s a different story. Both of those apply to us.

So, based on both personality and circumstance, we have our kids clean up each day, but we’ve put systems in place that make it something our kids want to be a part of, rather than fighting against it.

Our eldest seems to naturally like things in their place. He actually gets distracted if there’s too much in his space and moves to a place that’s clear, or pushes things away to clear the space he’s in. This works in our favor, because he doesn’t make a big mess to begin with. Our littlest one doesn’t seem particularly focused on it, but he loves doing what the rest of us do, so when it’s clean-up time, he’s right there with us picking up toys!

We have a few simple rules:

  • If the kids pull out a set of toys (legos, play dough, crayons and markers, etc.), they need to put it away before they move on to something else. This prevents the mess from getting too big and helps keep all pieces to a set together.
  • All toys are away before bedtime (toddler bedtime). Our 2 ½ year old is now fully capable of helping put his toys away. Even our 1 ½ year old has the idea of picking up a toy and putting it back in the container. We’ve deliberately found or made containers, buckets, bags, etc. that our toddlers are able to open and close on their own – this enables them to do more of the cleaning up. My husband and I help; with the 4 of us, it just takes 5 or 10 minutes and isn’t a big deal – just part of what we do when getting ready for bed.
  • Food stays in designated areas (kitchen, tables, high chairs…), and hands must be washed after eating.

We work through motivation:

  • Singing “clean-up” songs turns picking up the toys into a game. The kids don’t realize that what they’re doing is a “chore”, and I’d like to keep it that way. If something can be fun and productive, why teach the kids to dislike it by classifying it as “work they have to get done”
  • Stickers! At 2 ½, stickers are part of life’s awesomeness. Charbel knows that he gets a sticker as soon as he finishes cleaning up his toys. In a week or so, I’m going to start printing a little chart that has categories (cleaning up, washing hands, brushing teeth, etc.), and Charbel will start putting a sticker next to everything he does each day.
  • Let’s learn. Kids love learning and being allowed to do things when they’re toddlers. There’s nothing Charbel likes better than being allowed to use a broom or wash his own hands, etc. For the moment, this also helps us with the clean-up process (note: I am well aware that this motivation will disappear soon when there is nothing “new” in what he is expected to do…).

With that, our home is always clean, and the kids are already developing good habits. My husband and I can’t wait until they’re a little taller and can help out with a little more than putting their toys in the bucket!

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