At our house, we have a girl dorm. 3 daughters aged 9, 11 and 15 sharing a room. Calling it a room can be a stretch: some days it amounts to a pit, also known as a dump. This post is not an attempt to shame my daughters into cleanliness — well, maybe a little — but rather a reflection on what it takes to raise children who pick-up after themselves. Caveat: I have no clue (yet).


You may think that this room has not been cleaned in 6 months but it was picked-up three days ago. You will also notice by the large cushion on the floor that a large dog sleeps there too, although she has recently taken to sleeping in the hallway. She was probably concerned that her sleeping accommodations violated about half a dozen animal welfare laws in 9 provinces.

I can hear you object: “But Vero, have you thought that taking dirty laundry to the laundry room might place an onerous burden on a young person’s time?” To this I reply with exhibit A, a picture of the laundry room taken from the doorway of the girls’ dorm. They don’t even have to pick-up their clothes; they can just kick it over. Heck, what do you think I do?

Exibit A:

Anyway, I have a friend who has a large family and keeps a very clean house. My question, when I look at my house is “would I be embarrassed if she came over now?” The answer is always yes because she cleans her baseboards weekly. I like to hold myself to unattainable standards, it keeps me out of trouble.

So I set out on a mission to sort out the girls’ room. But here’s the rub: they don’t give a crap. No, let me rephrase that. They like it when it’s tidy… But not enough to do it themselves . And the biggest offender — the older sister– she really doesn’t give a rat’s ass. She’s 15. What have you done for her lately?

I need a solution that will not only assuage my need for a tidy home but also teach a thing or two to my daughters. Because really, I don’t want my children to learn that their shit will get picked-up if only they wait long enough. Seriously: after the twins were born I waited for quite a while for the en-suite bathroom to clean itself. It didn’t. In fact, it almost picked itself up and walked away but it did not clean itself!

I toyed with the idea of putting all the girls’ clothes in my bedroom. They would need to apply for a piece of clothing upon which application I would determine whether the requested item was in fact needed. But how much more drama do I need on a weekday morning?  In the end, I decided to cut them off their clothes intervention-style. They now have 3 pyjamas, 3 pairs of pants, their school uniforms, 2 hoodies and a reduced selection of t-shirts and sweatshirts. There.

How is reducing the clothes offering helping my children learn to pick-up after themselves? It has to do with the cardinal rule of parenting — no, not bribery — expectations management. Cutting things down to bite-sized pieces increases the likelihood that your children will be able to handle them. Giving my children 3 pjs to fold and put away sets them up for success and sets me up for satisfaction. I call this a win-win. We form the habit of picking-up with tasks that can be performed reliably and completely before taking them up a notch. We also set them up for success by avoiding pitfalls. For example, a neatly folded pile of 15 pyjamas asks to be knocked-over when the child wants to wear the pair at the bottom of the pile.

As for the room, I cleaned it myself.



4 thoughts on “Intervention

  1. My mother was threatening me that she would throw away my things. It seems that I believed her. 🙂
    At least, from the photos, the books and CDs were nicely arranged.

  2. AHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA! Can we say that there is some heredity x 3 ?

    Véronique, tu ne te souviens pas de ta chambre ? Et me rappelant ma jeunesse, je n’ai jamais été très sévère avec ce trait de caractère que tu tenais certainement également de ta propre mère !

  3. I will be watching this space. My three children have the boy version of this, which is as messy but also involves recycling underwear and putting boogers on the wall. (I’m not kidding.) I’m torn between trying to get it done better, or doing what my mother did with me and just trying as hard as possible not to look at, or think about, what’s behind the door to their communal room. DH wants to try confiscating everything from them but two pairs of jeans, two sweatshirts, two t-shirts, four each of socks and undies, and one pair of pajamas, and not letting them have more until they keep the room clean.

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