Kids And House Cleaning: Mission Possible

updated: 17/01/2023

How To Encourage Your Kids To Take Part In House Cleaning

We’ll say at the outset that no method of encouraging children to clean their rooms exists. There is very little you can do to raise kids who always keep their room tidy and do domestic cleaning chores around the house without complaining. I wish there was one. There will still be days when you feel as though the children go around where you’ve tidied up, making the place nice and messy again as soon as they can. And there will be days when it seems as if the only way to get kids to do jobs is to threaten them with hanging and flogging if they don’t get those socks and dirty undies off the floor and into the washing basket NOW!

Children can and should help around the house. It’s a matter of preference whether they get paid pocket money for this (after all, you don’t get paid to tidy and vacuum, but this can be a child’s first experience of working for pay). But, at least according to some early childhood educators, giving a child household teaches responsibility and helps their self-esteem because they know that they are making a valuable contribution to the household – their efforts count. Although, to judge from the protests I get when asking for a job to be done, my ten-year-old boy doesn’t seem to have heard this last point.

But there are things that you can do to encourage children – even preschoolers – to help keep their rooms tidy, as well as other parts of the house. Here are a handful of suggestions.


Start young

If your child is old enough to tip blocks or toys out of a medium-sized box, they are old enough to put them in again. Make this part of the routine something that must be done before moving on to the next activity (this is a sneaky tip pinched from Montessori classrooms). Well, the next activity might as well be a crash course into how house cleaning works and what little people can do to help their mums and dads. Habits are second nature, and the earlier kids are encouraged to share chores around the house, the better. At the end of the day, you are not “torturing” them – you are preparing them for the big bad world out there.

Here are some age guidelines you can follow:


  • Matching socks and sorting laundry. Apparently, this is also good for learning basic math concepts as well as a useful job.

  • Putting their own toys back in the right boxes. Make sure that each sort of toy has its own container and be prepared for some muddle-ups.

  • Basic pet care – filling up water dishes, giving dry food. Don’t let a toddler feed fish, though, as a good-natured toddler is inclined to be generous. Also avoid meat or wet cat food at this age, as a small child will probably try to taste the food (birdseed, rabbit food and even dry cat biscuits won’t do them any harm).

  • Laying the table. Don’t expect a formal place setting, but everyone will end up with one knife and one fork, even if they’re on the wrong sides of the plate. Also supposed to be good for maths.

Starting school to about ten:

  • All the preschool jobs, but done to a better standard.

  • Basic bed-making – not from scratch, but pulling up the covers neatly and tucking things back in.

  • More advanced pet care, e.g. grooming, cleaning cages, feeding meat.

  • Watering the garden

  • Emptying kitchen scraps into the compost bucket

  • Putting clothes into drawers (they won’t be folded, but they should be in the right drawer)

  • Food preparation – washing vegetables, shelling peas, even cutting up and grating. Operating a blender is quite fun to do, as is bashing meat with a tenderizing hammer.

  • Bagging up waste paper for recycling.

Easy-access storage

Have easy-access storage and label it clearly. Old-fashioned toy boxes fit loads of stuff, but they are tricky and even dangerous for kids to use. Better to have pigeon holes, shelves and stacking boxes. Label your system so children know what goes in where. If your child can’t read yet, put a picture symbol of the contents on the appropriate box/drawer/shelf along with the word (e.g. a picture of a teddy bear on the soft toy box, a picture of a car on the toy car box, etc.).

Tidy often

Do tidying little and often. Small bits of tidying-up are a lot less overwhelming than one big weekly (or fortnightly) session. Incorporate tidying bedrooms into part of the daily routine. It’s best if the tidying session is done before something that your child enjoys doing, so if he or she does get a bit grumpy about tidying up, there is some extra motivation. You get to watch Dora the Explorer or whatever the favourite program is once everything in your room is tidied away because that is the way we do things around here. You dragged the chain and now there are only five minutes of the program left? What a pity – you’ll have to tidy up more quickly next time.

Avoid clutter

The more stuff you and your child have, the more stuff there is to make a mess with. Children can find decluttering amusing to do.

  • Put away half of your kids’ toys and switch them around every few months. They will have plenty to play with and their room will stay cleaner.

  • Set a short period each day or each week that kids have to straighten up their room. Make a game out of it with a timer and give rewards to all kids for jobs well done. It will become a good habit and they will have fun.

  • Get the kids to go through their toys periodically and pick out some things that they do not play with any more. Pack them up and take them somewhere where there are kids who do not have enough toys.

  • Put bookshelves in every available place where kids can stack their toys, books, etc. Anything to keep the floor clean.

  • Let kids listen to whatever they want to while they are cleaning. A little noise will be worth a clean room!

Outdoor play is important

Encourage outdoor play wherever possible. The most mess that children make outside tends to be of the biodegradable sort that washes away in the next rainfall (leaves, mud, sticks, pebbles). Beware of toys getting lost outside – a good rule of thumb is that it’s not allowed outside unless it’s bigger than an adult’s hand. Have outdoor toys that can stay there safely – swing sets, buckets, playhouses, balls, tricycles, etc. If you don’t have a garden, then look for a nearby park and go there often.

Cleaning Our Kids’ Bedrooms – We All Have Been There

Cleaning the kid’s bedrooms can be dreadful and frustrating. I would spend hours sweeping, dusting, and organising, and when they come home from school the room would look like it was hit by a hurricane within minutes!

Removing Stickers

  • If you remove as much of the sticker as possible, you can remove the rest with a little Ben Gay ointment and a blow dryer set on the low heat setting. It will work on the carpet too.

  • Other cleaning products that have been known to remove stickers include WD-40, Oops brand latex paint remover, De-Solve, fingernail polish remover, rubbing alcohol and even peanut butter!

  • Now if you go into the store they have products called ink-lifter to remove in from the walls.

My two younger kids love to draw on their dolls’ heads with a pen or marker. If you have any idea of the cost of dolls you will know that dolls and stuffed animals wan run high in price and when your kids decide to draw on them it can frustrate you, to say the least. Below are some tips to help you clean these dolls and stuffed animals.

Cleaning Stuffed Animals

  • Puts kids’ stuffed animals inside a pillowcase tie a knot in it and wash them in the washing machine.

  • You can also clean up the animals by placing them in a paper sack with baking soda and shaking them up good.

  • If the animal is stuffed with natural fibres, it should not be immersed in water, but can be wiped off with a soapy cloth, followed by a clean wet cloth.

  • Make sure the animal does not have torn seams before you put it in the washing machine.

  • Look for plastic parts before tossing a stuffed animal in the dryer.

  • Make sure the animal does not have a “sound box” or other mechanical parts before you put them in the washing machine and dryer.

Your Kids Have Grown Up – Thoughts On Empty-nest Cleaning

You’ve waited for this since they were little, and now that your kids have grown up and gone off to their own lives, you probably have a myriad of stuff that they left behind. Not only is empty nest cleaning necessary at this point, but it can also be therapeutic for dealing with the empty-nest blues.

Hopefully, you’ll only have to deal with one vacated bedroom at a time, but you probably have some of their stuff in the garage or attic, too. Part of the whole exercise is to invite them back–for a mucking out of what they want to keep and what they would like to store.

If you have an extra shed or truly have the room, you can store some of your child’s things for them for a while, but what usually happens is that you end up storing it for years. So, if they’ve gone off to college temporarily, that’s one thing, but if they’ve moved out into their first place, you have to put your foot down. If they have more stuff than they want to move, they’ll need to rent a storage unit and pay for it themselves. Empty-nest cleaning is also about regaining some of your personal space.

So set a day when they can come home and help. Go through their room with them, and if they haven’t used something in a few months, suggest that they donate it to charity. There may be a few mementos that you can’t bear to part with, but try to keep it to a minimum. I kept it down to one box for each kid.

Empty-nest cleaning provides a time that the two of you can get together and talk like adults. They need to move on and you need to let go. This is easier said than done, I know, but it will help if you can go through their belongings together. Discuss freely with them plans that you may have for their old bedroom. Maybe you’ve always wanted your own sewing room, or craft area, or a home office. Look at the solution-oriented plans rather than focusing on the sadness of saying goodbye to your child–it’s not forever, they do tend to come back from time to time to visit!

Remember, a pile for storage, a pile for the dump, and a pile to donate. That’s the key to empty nest cleaning. If you want to keep a box of their things for your own sentimentality, be sure to store it where you will actually take it down and look through it from time to time, you’ll probably do this often in the first few months, but that’s okay, you may want to move it to the attic for now and bring it out in a few years, as well. Now you can get excited about new paint, new carpeting, and a different look for your extra room.

About the author 

Nick Vassilev

Nick blogs about cleaning. He is a cleaning expert with more than 25 years of experience. He is also an NCCA-certified carpet cleaner. Founder and CEO of Anyclean.