HG: Annie Payne Column April 25, 2009


It’s taken me 10 long years to come up with this plan. And it will probably take me another 10 years to perfect.

I would be lying if I told you it was easy. I would be lying if I told you there haven’t been some tears along the way.

It’s not for the faint of heart. It’s not for anyone looking for an easy way out.

Teaching your kids to keep their rooms clean is no easy task.


This is where most parents go wrong.

When baby pulls all the books out of the bookcase, mommy comes and puts them back. When baby turns the bucket of blocks upside down, mommy puts them all back. The baby learns that when he dumps stuff out, mommy puts it back.

It’s a fun game!

Training babies, from the beginning, to put back what they got out is easier than trying to teach them later that mommy is not their maid.


You can’t expect your children to keep a clean room and make their bed every day if you don’t.

Children learn by example. Model the kind of behavior you are expecting from them.

When they see you caring for and putting away your things, your children will model that behavior.


Growing up, there were times when the room I shared with my older sister would get so messy that only narrow trail of avocado green shag carpet was visible from the door to the bed.

After repeated requests to clean our room went unheeded, my dad came in with a trash bag and just started throwing things away.

Our ambivalence quickly turned to horror, and the mad dash to save our belongings by putting them away began.

We now lovingly refer to this incident as “The Garbage Bag Treatment.”

We do our kids a disservice by buying them too much.

Believe me, I know how adorable your kids are and how much you want to see them happy, but overloading their rooms with stuff isn’t doing them any favors, it’s just setting them up for failure.

Try this out for awhile. For every new thing they get, two things need to be either donated or thrown away.


Fifteen years ago, I lived in Venezuela as a missionary. I visited several homes every day.
During the year and a half I spent there, I can’t recall ever entering a messy home. Venezuelan homes, in general, are orderly and clutter-free.

I remember one humble home near a cookie factory that belonged to a woman named Luz.

Her cinderblock home didn’t even have glass in the windows. (Don’t ask me how she kept the rain out. I don’t know.) But, every one of the few possessions she owned were meticulously cared for.

She didn’t have kitchen cupboards, but her dishes and silverware were carefully arranged on a shelf above her stove. The two beds, in a room she shared with her young daughter, were made so perfectly I wondered if she had spent time in the military.

And even though the family chicken walked freely in and out of the house, Luz’s cement floors were immaculate.

Teach your child to show gratitude for each toy, shirt and pair of shoes by giving it a home.

Help your kids find a place for everything and have everything in its place by making sure they have these items in their room:

1. Laundry basket or hamper.

2. Trash can.

3. Toy box or bucket.

4. Bookshelf.

5. Shelves to display collections.

6. A dresser with working drawers big enough to store their clothes.

7. Sufficient hangers to hang nicer clothes, i.e. dresses, slacks, collared shirts and jackets.

8. If they own video games they’ll need baskets or boxes to store game cartridges, controllers, chargers, etc.

9. A bulletin board for notes, photos, or drawings.


Avoid letting your kid’s room reach

DEFCON 4 by making pick-up-and-put-away a daily routine.

This is the most integral part of keeping their rooms tidy and the most difficult. They make messes every day. They need to clean up every day.

Here at casa de Payne, we keep our bedrooms clean with only five minutes of maintenance each day. We’ve made it part of our bedtime ritual. The kids put on pajamas, then we meet, even me, in the bathroom to brush our teeth. After that, we clean their rooms for five minutes and five minutes only. Whether we are done or not, we stop when five minutes are up. We say our prayers and then lights out.

Keeping our cleaning ritual down to five minutes a day keeps the kids from getting burned out.

Sometimes, I use a timer to help keep them motivated.

Even if they start this routine with a messy room, it will only take them a few nights to get their room in order again.


You started early by teaching your baby to put away his own blocks.

You set the good example with your own cleanliness.

You helped your children by not overbuying and purging old items when new ones were bought.

You helped them learn the value and show gratitude for their possessions by giving each one a home, and then you kept it up every day.

Now, it’s time to give them and yourself a big pat on the back.

An orderly room is its own reward. But children aren’t that different than you and me. Everyone appreciates a tangible reward for a job well done.

They’ve shown great responsibility by keeping their room clean, now give them a chance to choose what their reward will be ... within reason.

For more on an unpredictable variety of other topics, visit Annie Payne’s “Anniethology” blog online at Anniethology.blogspot.com.


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