Why Won’t My Kids Clean Up After Themselves?

Why won’t my kids clean up after themselves? I’ll tell you why. I think it is because I am making a horrible mommy mistake.  One that I am going to admit to you now. One that you might be making. Maybe it isn’t too late for you to turn things around.  I’m still holding on to hope that I can change my ways.  The fact that my children are downright slobs probably has a lot more to do with me than it does with them…and here’s why:

I don’t like noise, I don’t enjoy fighting. And my kids know this. So when they don’t want to do something–like clean up–they put up quite a fuss and fight me every step of the way.  And I give up. To stop the noise, to stop the fighting–I just do it myself.  Oh, they have got my number and I don’t like it!

I have tried to make it fun. I have tried to bribe them. I have promised the moon. I have threatened. I have taken away their prized possessions. I have given in to their whims as reward. I have bundled up everything on the floor and thrown it in the trash–prized possessions included.  Nothing works consistently. I still end up doing most, if not all of the work.  It is beyond frustrating. I can either live in a pig sty, fight tooth and nail to get them to clean up, or do it myself.

I’m tired of fighting and I prefer not to live in a pig sty– HELP!

Please leave your comments and suggestions below before I suffocate under a pile of stuffed animals and other debris of childhood. Have you found the answer? I am obligating you to spill it–and thanking you in advance!


  1. says

    i clean up most of the time too. but i do because i like everything to be in the right place. when my husband cleans up, he just throws everything in the toy box and it drives me crazy! we have a toy box in the living room and the kids have one in each of their bedrooms. now, i do make my kids help sometimes and they know where everything goes because i always put it in the same place! i am kind of an organization freak! i use ziplock bags for things with lots of pieces and any plastic container with a lid for things that need to stay together but might have bigger pieces. i’m a stay at home mom and all day i just pick up. it’s become a habit. if i don’t, toys will be everywhere! i know i’ve created monsters because i rarely make them do it. it’s just easier and faster if i do it! lol!

  2. says

    I am a big advocate of discipline. I am shocked now to say, that when I ask my 3 year old to clean his room he does!

    But for a good few months he didn’t. I would make it fun too, but he didn’t want to “help” mommy, no matter how fun. For a time I would say help mommy clean up your room. 
    He got to the point of just sitting there and saying “No mommy, you do it” This was not going to happen. So I grabbed my spoon (yes I spank, when necessary) and told him to clean the mess up or he would be spanked.

    It didn’t fix the problem right away, he tested me on this for a while. But now he is cleaning his room when asked, and I don’t have to spank him anymore. He does it with a smile and it’s totally adorable!

    It did take consistency in the form of months. Wasn’t a quick fix, nor did it take just a couple weeks. I actually didn’t expect him to be cleaning his room like this so soon. I expected to use this form of discipline for a long time, maybe even a year.. But alas the boy is smart and decided mommy meant business and cleans his room. 

    Lets hope his younger brother when the time comes (he’s only 1) learns from his brother. 😉

    I would say, that you may have to deal with the noise and fighting for a while, in order to get the true peace. I think your kids will love you more for it, by shaping them, instead of being walked over. 

    Pick a form of discipline and stick with it. It’s not like results will happen even in a few months, depending of the age of your child it may take a while(the older the child is, the harder it gets, unless you already started discipline), but if you stick with it, they will eventually bend. 

    They know what you will bend with. Kids are smart. And because they know you will in this case, they WILL use it. Gosh I was a strong willed child and I would try every trick in the book with my mom, she never backed down with me, so by 5 I gave up. haha But it took 5 HARD years of consistency. :)

    hmm, gee this is a long comment.. I hope you find something that works. I know I hate living in a pig sty as well.

  3. says

    Ave’s always kind of enjoyed cleaning up.  Isaac….not so much.  He threw a wrench in the system that we had created once he started getting into the toys.  Things are getting better as I get tougher, though.  Things that help:
    1.  I made it EASY for them to clean up.  Every toy has a home.  It can be a bin, a basket, or a spot on the floor, but it has a place and they know what it is.
    2.  Each of them has to help the other.  I don’t care whose mess it is, they’re both responsible.  Because of that, they police each other on the “put stuff away before you get anything new” policy.
    3.  If one person is doing more than their share, I declare them “free” to do other stuff.  The other kid is stuck doing the rest since they didn’t help when their sibling was there (this rule primarily applies to Isaac; Avery would happily put every single item away herself…).
    4.  If Mama has to help clean THEIR mess, all Hell breaks loose, in that I grab the garbage bag.  More often than not, they freak out and rush around to clean everything faster.  But if they don’t, I bag everything up.  I have thrown things away once or twice, but just putting the bag in the attic for a few weeks will suffice….they forget about it and think I really threw it away.
    5. I do NOT reward for cleaning up.  That’s their job.  Like brushing teeth and setting the table.  That’s what they are expected to do.
    6. Relax.  Things will be cluttered during most points of the day (Lord, I can’t wait to be able to go outside all day!).  We have a small house and our play area is the same as our TV, visiting, living, computing, and music areas.  If I don’t learn to get over some of it, I’ll need to be medicated.

  4. says

    We invested in the long term for this one, and I think it paid off, for the most part.

    We’ve been emphasizing that Pantsless needs to help us clean up her messes since way before she could ever really help. We’ve sung the clean up song countless times and we have had a “you mess it up, you clean it up” rule (with obvious exceptions for accidents that she can’t manage) for a while. She’s now almost three and although she has her moments – she’s recently just started randomly throwing things; we lost a snow globe this evening – she does as well as we could hope or expect with cleaning right now.

    When she does give us a hard time, the one bit of advice that seems to work for us is to keep the carrot or stick very relevant and near-term. For example, we don’t do whatever else she was asking to do next until the toys are cleaned up. We’ve always found that to work better than longer term things like “You’re not getting candy after dinner” or “Tomorrow you can’t play”

  5. Anonymous says

    I am with the original comment- I ALWAYS clean up after everyone (husband included). I feel everyone treats me more like their maid. I have threatened to throw things away but the kids now know it is an empty threat. Help! Any suggestions?

  6. Oldermom says

    Hi! It’s been quite a long while since my son was a little one, but one of the things I learned along the way is that when children are little, they do bot have a point of refference on most things. For instance, when we are cleaning, I know that when A,B, and C are done, then I am done. Whereas children cannot grasp the entirety of a job, chore or task. They see a big mess and are unable to conceptualize the steps and order it takes to complete the task. May I suggest, something like “Once all the toys are in the basket(s), then you are done”? You will have to do some things yourself still, it’s just part of the job. And NO ONE cleans like mom! But as long as there is an effort expended, the formation of good habits has already begun. Remember they are little yet, but if you continue to train, once they are older , it should be habit. My son, lived like a little piggy during his teen age years, however during his 16th year, he was invited to stay at a beach house, sans the adults. He was the “papa bear” in that house, making sure everyone else was picking up after themselves! I was proud of him and the fact that the training I did and the way I lived became his habits.
    Anyway, hang in there, make the tasks so that there is a foreseeable end and don’t expect perfection! It’ll be okay!

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