Reader Sonja submitted the following to Ask Unclutterer:
How do you get your family to want to help with a cluttered house? I have four children.
Unfortunately, Sonja, I have some bad news. If your family doesn’t want to help unclutter your home, there aren’t any methods to make them want to help. Fortunately, though, you’re the mom and there are numerous strategies you can implement so they will help you — regardless of if they want an uncluttered home.
The first thing to remember is that children are led by example. If you’re cheerful, excited, and energetic about getting the clutter out of your house, they’ll see this enthusiasm. On the flip side, if you complain, whine, and drag your feet, your children will see and mirror this negative attitude. Maintain an eager and positive attitude, and they’re more likely to get on board with your efforts.
Be explicit about what you want completed, when, how to do the activity, and why. A chore chart (like one that was discussed on Wednesday) helps children to know exactly what actions you expect of them. Telling your kids to “pick up the family room” is vague, they need specific directions such as “return your shoes to the shoe bin in your closet, bring all dirty plates to the kitchen and load them into the dishwasher.” Additionally, let them know how long a task should usually take and when you would like for it to be done (take out kitchen trash, 3 minutes, immediately after dinner). A training session might also be in order to demonstrate exactly how you want an activity to be completed (don’t be condescending, just give them good directions). Even with a demonstration, younger children might also need to be supervised when they do tasks. Finally, be direct about why you want them to help with the uncluttering efforts. “Because I said so,” is not a reason that will motivate your children to help you, but explaining to them the life you want to lead can make an impression — “I want us to spend less time on chores and work around the house so we can spend more time having fun together as a family.” Have a conversation with them and let them share their opinions on how they want the house to look and how they want their home life to function.
Next, take some time to think about what it is that made you happy as a kid and what makes your kids happy now. If your children love games and puzzles, create an incentive structure based on these activities. For each five minutes of uncluttering completed, let them choose a letter on a game of hangman. If your kids are older, do a minute-for-minute video game tradeoff — 15 minutes of uncluttering becomes 15 minutes extra of video game playing later (or reading or bike riding or staying up late on a weekend). Kids can earn allowances with bonus dollars if they don’t have to be reminded to do their uncluttering tasks. They could bank time toward a slumber party or a trip to their favorite park. Put incentives in place that they really want and that you think are deserved for their efforts.
Also, make the uncluttering process fun — play upbeat music while everyone works, have snacks available, tell goofy jokes, and dance while you work. Race to see who can fold their stack of laundry the fastest or find all the toys in the house they haven’t played with in months and can be donated to charity. Work together and enjoy your time uncluttering as a family.
When your children help you with uncluttering efforts, be sure to thank them for their work and acknowledge that you appreciate their contribution to keeping the family home running smoothly. Consider handing out silly awards (King of Loading the Washing Machine!). It feels good to receive praise, no matter what age you are.
Finally, listen to what your kids are saying throughout this process. They might want different incentives than what you’ve put in place, so be flexible and willing to change. Your children might figure out a better way for them to complete tasks, so let them take the lead. If you really want your children to help you unclutter, respect what they have to lend to the project. Most importantly, don’t nag — nagging is a sign of disrespect — but feel welcome to pass along a gentle reminder at different points during the day: “After school today, you’ll have trumpet lessons, probably an hour of homework, 30 minutes of helping around the house, dinner, and then it’s family movie night. What movie did you decide we should watch?”
Thank you, Sonja, for submitting your question for our Ask Unclutterer column. Good luck getting your children to help out with uncluttering efforts in your home. It might take a few months to master their involvement, but with guidance you’ll help your children establish good habits that will stay with them into adulthood.
Do you have a question relating to organizing, cleaning, home and office projects, productivity, or any problems you think the Unclutterer team could help you solve? To submit your questions to Ask Unclutterer, go to our contact page and type your question in the content field. Please list the subject of your e-mail as “Ask Unclutterer.” If you feel comfortable sharing images of the spaces that trouble you, let us know about them. The more information we have about your specific issue, the better.