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How to get your kids to help you clean

Jen Klein is a New England-based technical writer and mother of three. When she isn't asking her kids to stop bickering, "caramelizing" the dinner or actively ignoring the dust bunnies under the couch, she enjoys knitting, gardening, pho...

Disco house cleaning

I am not known for my housekeeping skills. I mean, I can clean, I just have no interest in it and get bored quickly. Then when I have to do it all over again a day or a week later? Well, let's just say this is one area of my life that could use a tad more attention to frequency and detail.

Part of the issue (or at least one of my excuses) is the amount of clutter we create in the house. I try to keep on top of it, but it overwhelms quickly. As much as I tried to keep the kids involved and helping, it was a running battle, and never as complete a job as if I did it myself.

About a year and a half ago I was talking with a friend in town and she mentioned in passing that she couldn't do something on Sunday afternoon because Sunday afternoons at 3:00PM was a written in stone family commitment.

I looked at her with a raised eyebrow.

She said, "Every Sunday at 3:00PM is our weekly family cleanup. Everyone helps. One hour. No excuses."

I decided I had to try this, but also knew that an hour wasn't going to fly with my kids. My friend's kids are 16, 14 and 11. My kids are 11, 8, and 3.

I decided to try a 30 minute cleanup. One Friday after school, I explained the concept to the boys. They groaned. I set the timer.

It kinda worked. They managed about 20 minutes, but moaned the whole time. Sunshine helped a very little. She managed to help get some of her toys put away, but that was it. I decided it was an idea that could be tweaked.

I tried it again, a few days later. This time 20 minutes, and we focused on one room. That went much better.

Over the next week, I tried a variation every few days. There didn't seem to be an exact combination that always worked. The house was somewhat neater, but I was stymied.

Finally, we happened to start a cleanup when some upbeat music was on the stereo, and the kids did much, much better. On a lark, I decided to download some techno-ish dance music and burn a CD. Honestly, I titled it the "Cleanup CD" and left it in the CD player. (It's true! I don't have an iPod!)

It works! Now every time we do a cleanup, we put in the CD of disco music and get to it. I try to do a five minute clean up every day to keep things somewhat in control, and a 20-30 minute cleanup on weekends. If it's been a particularly messy or crazy week, I might even try for longer.

The only downside I can see to this is that my kids probably won't be able to clean up without disco music. I hope they have understanding college roommates.

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