If your kids are messmakers, read this!

Do you know any 4-year olds who love to clean up?

Neither do I.

If you’re dealing with kids who don’t believe in putting things away, read on. These tips can help teach your kid to clean up, so you don’t have to!

Read this if your kids are mess makers! How to teach your kid to clean up.

First thing’s first: Most kids aren’t born neat.

Sure, there’s the toddler who, as rare as a four-leaf clover, loves to keep his things neat and orderly. These unusual children should be encouraged and appreciated for their uniqueness.

The other 98% of the population will need help learning how to clean up.

Teach Your Kids to Clean Up

It’s important to have realistic expectations during this process. Every kid is different, so you’ll need to modify these tips according to your/their needs.

Here’s how to nudge your kids toward neatness:

1. Have two clean-up times every day.

Some ideas when to do this:

  • after breakfast
  • before school starts
  • before dinner
  • before bedtime

Pick a time twice a day where your child picks up his or her toys. This time should be short – 5 to 10 minutes. You want to build that into the daily routine.

You can set an alarm on your phone if you like. Just make your announcement in a no-nonsense way. “Okay! It’s time to tidy up!” 

All kids do this at school and they can do it at home, too.

2. Start building good habits.

You can start this as early as 12 months old.

  • Kids can learn to clear their dishes from the table and throw away their own trash. (Why is it that Mom is always the receptacle for dirty tissues? Turn them around and point them toward the wastebasket.)
  • Little ones can learn to put toys back in a basket or on a shelf.
  • They can put their dirty laundry in a hamper.
  • Your 3-year-old can help to empty the dishwasher. Seriously!

There are a million different habits you can start building with your kids. The sooner you work on them, the easier it’s going to be and the less pushback you’re going to get.

Here are 38 age-appropriate chores for kids.

Do you have a child who doesn't believe in putting things away? Most kids aren't born tidy but you can absolutely teach them how to clean up. Kids can pick up toys, clothes, and help in the kitchen. This post shows you how.

3. Cut waaaaaay back on the toys.

Everybody jokes that some kids can keep themselves entertained for hours with an empty box (that is maybe until iPads were invented – sigh).

But still, I think it’s easy to see that kids don’t need an avalanche of toys. The more toys you have the bigger the possibility of a mess!

You can probably easily put away at least half of half the toys in your home without your kids even noticing or caring. They might even thank you that now they have more room to play and less work to clean up.

Here’s how we declutter toys in our home (you can do it!)

Issues & Fixes to the Process

What if your kid resists your efforts?

First off you start slow.

Don’t overwhelm them with 100 new requests. Pick one or two things to do today and work on that for a week. Break it down into manageable chunks if they don’t know how to do what you’re asking. Then pick a new thing.

Also, remember that habits aren’t built overnight.

It’s okay if it takes a while for your child to become comfortable with his new tasks. Just keep directing and encouraging with a smile on your face.

Plenty of kids (mine especially) believe if they ignore you long enough, you’ll give up. Don’t be fooled! They will eventually see that Mom means business.

Do you have a child who doesn't believe in putting things away? Most kids aren't born tidy but you can absolutely teach them how to clean up. Kids can pick up toys, clothes, and help in the kitchen. This post shows you how.

Sometimes parents make the mistake of doing everything themselves.

It takes 10 times longer to require your kid to do a task.

This morning we frosted cupcakes for my son’s preschool birthday party. My son wanted to frost some himself. It took longer and made more of a mess. But he was totally invested and so we took the time. He was so proud of himself!

It’s the same with other jobs.

Kids are going to make messes. They’re going to drop dishes on the way to the dishwasher. They’re not going to clean as thoroughly as you would.

But it’s all training!

Moms, this is a huge investment that you’re making in your OWN future (and theirs)! This investment will pay off in time with less work for you.

So encourage your kids! Don’t let them see you redo their work. Thank them for their help and make a big deal when they make an effort or do something without being asked. Little kids love it when you talk them up.

Some kids love drama.

They’ll make a huge deal over the smallest things. One of my kids (who shall remain nameless) threw a fit when I asked him to stir the jam into his unsweetened yogurt. This was the end of the world for this kid. It was just too hard.

Apparently, I had been stirring his yogurt for too long.

Once I realized this I handed him his bowl and let him deal with it. I told him, “I’m sure you can do it!” and then I walked away. He figured it out. He’s now a very competent yogurt stir-er.

Do you have a child who doesn't believe in putting things away? Most kids aren't born tidy but you can absolutely teach them how to clean up. Kids can pick up toys, clothes, and help in the kitchen. This post shows you how.

So don’t be surprised when the drama comes. 

Go about your business. The kids will adapt. They may actually start to feel pretty good about being trusted with new responsibilities.

So remember kids aren’t born with these skills. You’ve got to help them develop good habits and teach them how to clean up.

Your house and your sanity will benefit as a result.

What extra tools can be used for teaching kids the art of cleaning up?

We’re big fans of checklists and printables here at Decluttering School. These take away a lot of the thinking involved in the cleaning up process because the child simply needs to tick all the list items before moving on.

Check out these printable cleaning checklists for older kids:

For younger kids, checklists with pictures might be a good option.

But you don’t even need checklists!

A really simple way to do it is just to have them work alongside you. Give them jobs as you go. They will become an active participant. Make it light, make it fun, and make it quick. Don’t give in!

This is part of your job as a parent and don’t let your kid tell you otherwise.

This approach needs some modification for older kids and teens.

For older kids, you’re going to need a different strategy. Check out how to get your teens to clean their rooms (and keep them that way)!

Is your child naturally neat and organized? Or are you reforming a mess-maker (like the rest of us)?


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5 thoughts on “If your kids are messmakers, read this!”

  1. So true! My husband would just rather quickly pick things up for the kids, but will still fuss about them not picking their messes up themselves. I tell him that even though it is more work at first, guiding them and making them pick up will be better in the long run. But, I have to admit, it takes a lot of mental energy to get them to pick up. I usually try to break it down into small steps, but it drags out over such a long period of time. 🙂

  2. Let me just offer some encouragement: my mother consistently made us pick up (and not just twice a day; we were only allowed to play with one thing at a time, and had to pick it up before moving on to another toy or game) and in spite of years of complaining, my siblings and I are all very neat and tidy. In fact, I was considered “the messy one” and now I help other people with decluttering and organization. It’s hard, but it’s worth it!

  3. HI Sarah,

    I have been reading your email daily for about a year now.

    I want to THANK YOU for all your very helpful tips.

    This is my STORY.
    I was very sick for a few years, and the house got to be a TOTAL MESS. I did only WHAT HAD TO BE DONE, DAILY.and NOTHING MORE.Like cleaning the kitchen and bath and keeping up with laundry.

    When I started to feel better, I didn’t know where to start. I had piles after piles, EVERYWHERE.

    You were an inspiration, my saving grace.
    I just did like you suggested. START SMALL. One shelf or draw at a time. There were days, I got so into, I turn off the phone, and turn on the music and go to town. I would be at it ALL DAY. TOSSING LIKE CRAZY. I donated so much and feel so good about it.


    My Daughter is a minimalist. She believes in EXPERIENCES, rather then THINGS.

    I had become a hoarder, because I was unable to make decisions, or had the energy to deal with the mess. THOSE DAYS ARE GONE.

    Now, my house isn’t prefect.

    I also have the donation truck come to my house every month, and take away items we no longer uses, and I know they are going to a great time. I have cleaned not only house, but ATTIC, BASEMENT and GARAGE.

    You have no idea how, very great full, I am that you send out your daily emails.

    This is probably not the place to post this, but I didn’t know where else to do it, and didn’t want
    another day to go by, with out expressing my gratitude to you.

  4. Thanks, Sarah! This is fantastic advice, and we are going to incorporate it into what we do with our kids! I look forward to more helpful tips and advice on your site. The only constructive comment I wanted to make is that you keep referring to “moms.” I would suggest using “parents” instead. By only addressing your advice to moms (even if they do make up the bulk of the people who read this), you are effectively erasing half the parents out there and telling them that they are not seen. I know it’s pervasive, but I think we all need to make the effort. Thanks again for the great posts!


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Welcome. I’m Sarah!


I’m the creator of Decluttering School (formerly known as Early Bird Mom), lover of organized spaces, encourager to women and mom to four boys. Click here to read more!

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