How To Teach Kids To Clean Up Epic Messes

The kids made an epic mess and you don’t know where to start! Find out how to teach kids to clean up when the mess is overwhelming.

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If you’ve had kids around for any amount of time, you know that kids love to play.

Sometimes they play with a handful of toys, totally absorbed in their cute little imaginations…And other times, they play like complete tornados.

It’s like they’re not satisfied until the floor is transformed and we’re all left wondering what the carpet used to look like.

It doesn’t matter if our families are good at cleaning routines or not. These messes happen to everyone at some time or another. But that doesn’t mean we have to live with it.

When we find ourselves face-to-face with one of those epic messes, it’s time to call in the reinforcements. Because you aren’t going to clean it – the kids are.

Sound impossible? Surprisingly, it’s not!

Kids are capable of cleaning even the biggest messes. They just need a little guidance.

Small messes are always easier to clean than big messes, right? So the trick is to break up the overwhelming task into something more manageable.

And there are 4 ways to do just that. Try one, or try them all until you find the method that works for your kids.

Because when you teach your kids to clean up, you’re doing so much more than getting a cleaner house. You’re making one of the most worthwhile parenting investments – for them and you.

READ NEXT: How To Create The Perfect Daily Routine For Your Kids

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As much as we love our kids, we have to admit they don’t have the best concept of time. They could take all day to do a simple task only to get burnt out or bored and never actually get around to doing it.

So rather than fighting with them about a monumental mess, try using a timer! It’s an excellent way to break up overwhelming jobs into manageable pieces.

Instead of expecting them to clean everything in one shot, let kids clean up in increments of 5 minutes, 10 minutes or whatever they can handle. And then keep it fun by challenging them to beat the timer (rather than making it a countdown to a punishment).

It’s incredible how much they can get done when they’re up against a clock!

A fun alternative to a timer is music. Challenge kids to see how much they can clean up before a song ends. Let them take a quick break, and then repeat until the job’s done.

READ NEXT: 20 Brilliant Uses For A Timer That Will Help Kids Focus


Another way to break up epic messes is to break the room into sections.

Help them visualize different areas of the room as you describe the “zones”. Then they can focus on just one zone at a time (i.e. in front of the couch, the bookcase, the area by the window, etc.).

For younger kids, have them report to you each time they finish a zone. Then they can receive their next zone assignment. For older kids, they can move from one zone to the next on their own, or write down each zone and check them off as they go.

Bonus Tip: Sometimes, the mess makes its way to every corner of the house. (Believe me, I know how that goes!) On those days, try using this concept for the whole house. When it’s time for cleanup, assign each child a “zone” (area or room) to pick up. It makes the process go a lot faster!

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We’ve used each method in this post over and over again with our kids. But the one we usually use most is this one.

Cleaning by categories means cleaning up by toy type or container. (Legos, books, ball box, etc.) And to make this method as easy as possible, encourage them to start with the category taking up the most space on the floor.

Because sometimes, the messes that seem the most overwhelming really aren’t that bad.

For example, my kids often get out the entire dressup box and spread its contents all over the floor. Yes, there are other toys out too. But once the dressup items are put away, they realize there really isn’t that much left to clean.

It quickly changes an overwhelming job into something much more manageable.

Bonus Tip: Writing lists is very effective for this method. When the mess is insane and my kids don’t know where to start, I’ll write the categories on something like this. My kids love checking off each category and have even taken over writing the list themselves.

READ NEXT: How To Get Kids To Clean Up Without A Fight

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This last method combines two of the methods above – cleaning by zones and categories. It might seem like more work, but in the end, it works really well for those crazy huge messes.

Kids work better in small increments.

When kids clean up by piles, they basically just shove everything into piles in different locations, or zones of the room. Not only will this help create a walking path (especially on days when the toys seem to become the “new flooring”), but it will visually break up the task.

Then they can work through one pile at a time. Even several smaller piles will be easier for them to handle than one never-ending one.

To make the job go faster, have kids categorize each pile by creating “mini-piles” based on where they belong. That way, when they put things away, they only have to walk to each box, tote or shelf once.

Then they repeat the process for each pile.

READ NEXT: Winning The Battle: How To Get Kids To Clean Their Rooms


Messes happen!

We try our best to keep on top of it all, but let’s be honest – kids are kids, and they’re not tidy by nature. And sometimes, the mess just gets out of control.

But since, for many of us, a tidy space means more peace and happiness, try these tips to help the big messes happen a little less frequently:

  • Remember, less is more. You don’t have to hold on to every toy. If you can’t find a home for it, it’s time to donate it.
  • Make it easy for kids to clean up. Make sure kids can easily take out and put away all toys. Use baskets and bins whenever possible to keep things organized.
  • Make cleaning up a regular part of your routine. Whenever possible, work in a few quick clean up sessions throughout the day to keep messes from building up. (i.e. before lunch or before bed)

Want even more tips? Head here to find out the 10 secrets to getting kids to clean up – without complaining!

Do you have any tricks for teaching kids to clean up the epic messes? Let me know in the comments!

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