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The one-pile cleaning method for kids

The One-Pile Cleaning Method for Kids

We’re traveling this week and next, so I’m sharing some of my favorite posts from the archives. This method continues to work wonders for us, and our 8-year-old even makes these piles herself to help everybody get started!

Despite 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?

**originally published in August 2014