The one-pile cleaning method for kids

The One-Pile Cleaning Method for Kids
DespiteĀ  carrying both Sean and my genes, sometimes our girls simply don’t see the mess around them.

It’s a scenario that all parents are familiar with: you ask the kids to clean their room, and then when you’re ready to check it, they insist it is clean even though there are approximately 381 things that still need to be put away.

For our girls, at least, it’s the things around the edges that just don’t grab their attention. If the center of the room is clean, they sincerely consider the room clean.

A few months ago, I discovered a simple method for helping the big girls see what needed to be put away without having to hover over them the entire time they clean.

Introducing the “one-pile”.

It started one night when I went up to check on them before heading to bed myself. I may or may not have been slightly frustrated at the state of their room as I began pulling things out of the corners to the middle of the floor.

The next morning I told them that they could come downstairs as soon as the pile was put away. They were able to complete the task in no time at all — without feeling overwhelmed and unsure of what I was asking them to do — since the pile was clearly defined.

(Note: We do still occasionally have issues with them choosing to shove things in hidden corners and crevices rather than putting them away; that is an entirely different issue, though, and one that has consequences since it’s essentially lying.)

Although I don’t do it every night, the “one-pile” in their room has made a huge difference in getting and keeping their room clean.

Recently, I started doing the same thing in the kitchen. The girls use the kitchen all day for crafts, Legos, school and more, and I often find a variety of papers, craft supplies and toys spread throughout our main living area even after we’ve supposedly cleaned up.

One morning I grabbed everything that hadn’t been put away the night before and piled it on top of the kitchen table for them to take care of before they ate breakfast. And they did.

I try to only do one one-pile per day so that they don’t get overwhelmed, but everybody is happier when we use this method: The girls can clearly see my expectations and what needs to be taken care of, and I don’t feel like I have to micromanage their cleaning process. There’s no arguing about whether it’s done or confusion about what needs to be put away.

And that’s a win!

How do you encourage your kids to clean?

Mandi Ehman is the blogger behind Life Your Way. She and her husband have four beautiful girls plus one baby boy, and together they live, work and homeschool on a little slice of heaven in wild, wonderful West Virginia. Mandi loves coffee, chocolate, easy meals, beautiful things and minimalist spaces.
  • Amy C

    Without a doubt, I am going to try. this. We have 5 boys in 2 bedrooms, and the older ones especially Bartle me and each other about who should put away what. It’s always a problem made up of 1) whose it is and 2) who played with it…because somehow, miraculously…no one has played with that thing in the middle of the floor! Sometimes I just divide the room into thirds and they are responsible for their third, no matter what’s in it. Other suggestions?

  • Mel

    I do something similar, with floors. I sweep everything that is laying on the floor into a pile, and announce that anything the kids don’t want me to throw away needs to be picked up and put away. It’s amazing the stuff they don’t “see” even though they’ve been stepping over it all day. Somehow, it’s just easier for them when it’s all in one place, and they no longer care about who is to blame for it being on the floor.

  • Sara Kilpatrick

    My daughter can be overwhelmed by a big pile (though I completely understand why it is helpful for many kids) so sometimes what I will do is make her a list. I will put things like “pick up laundry”, “put books on the shelf”, “make the bed”, etc. She is a list girl (gets that from yours truly) so she thrives on checking things off when they are complete. I think she also likes that I often will use her big white board for list :)

  • Talia

    Oh my gosh! I wish we would have had this idea when I was growing up as I was often in the same position as your daughters. I will have to give this a whirl with my daughter. Something that I recently read in a novel I’ve been reading to my daughter (“All of a Kind Family”) is that the mom was frustrated that her girls didn’t want to dust and they never did it to her standards. One day she took 12 buttons and hid them in the living room and told the duster of the day if she could find all 12 buttons then she will have dusted the room correctly. It became such a fun game that all the girls *wanted* to dust and got into the habit of going to all the places that she wanted. My daughter loved that chapter so it’s something I’m tucking away for later use as well.

  • Amy Norton

    Yep! This is what we do. It’s very effective and it lets *me* let out a bit of frustration at the mess by making a “mess” of my own in the middle of their room. Ha!

    • http://lifeyourway.net/ Mandi @ Life Your Way

      Bahahaha — yes, that too! :)

  • Michelle Wimp

    I do the same mandi, except I use an extra laundry basket. He knows he has to put it all away before bedtime. it’s nice as its cut down on the nagging and arguing that “I’m always cleaning, momma!!”

  • Meg

    I think it works for big people too–I know if I move a pile from my dresser to my bed it will have to be put away so I can go to sleep. Doesn’t always work to psyche myself out like that, but sometimes!!

    • http://joyceandnorm.wordpress.com/ Joyce (and Norm)

      Yup! Works for me too! I think when it is all spread out, my brain sees the scattered items and becomes scattered and overwhelmed. Putting it all into one pile helps me to see what I need to sort through.

  • LaDonna Harris

    I use the “one-pile” method as well. And I love it. I’m thinking into the future though about “how does that teach them to see the mess?”

  • Diana

    That’s great! I bet it would work for me too–make a big pile that I can work on putting away little by little. Visual reminder to keep at it through the day’s distractions, and a nice satisfactory feeling when I’m done!

  • Autumn Leopold

    This is an excellent way to keep kids from getting overwhelmed! Using a laundry basket or an open bin can help too especially if they don’t have enough time to get it all put away (say before guests are coming). It does work for adults too, especially with paperwork. :)