The ’10-Minute Tidy’: How to Make Kids Like Cleaning

Libby Kane
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When you have kids, there is no end to the paperwork you might need at a moment’s notice—school forms, medical notes, that paper with your kid’s thumbprints he made last Mother’s Day … (Why would you need that at a moment’s notice? Have you tried telling a smiling kid you lost his masterpiece amidst the mess? It’s not fun.)

Keeping a tidy house helps us keep track of all the important papers in our life, it helps us get out of the house easier in the morning (no more searching for lost car keys!), and it helps us feel better prepped to take on the outside world.

In essence, it makes our lives a little bit easier. But cleaning up after a family usually requires a bit of help.

Unfortunately, kids and cleaning go together like oil and water. If you approach it the right way, though, children can not only be involved in tidying up, they may even like it.

Of course, we’re not asking you to have your five-year-old polish glassware or your toddler run loads of laundry. There are safe, age-appropriate—even fun!— ways younger members of your family can contribute.

What’s Your Go-To Cleaning Supply?

Do you have a cleaning tip, trick or tool that saves you time when it comes to cleaning? What methods do you use to get your kid to pitch in when it comes to cleaning?
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Assign Them Age-Appropriate Tasks

Melissa Homer, Chief Cleaning Officer at MaidPro, tells us that kids of nearly any age can be involved in cleaning. “As long as you’re using safe, non-toxic products, any kid can help out,” she said. Below, we’ve broken down some tasks by age.

Under 5: The littlest members of the household can put their toys away and wash more durable toys like Legos.

Ages 5+: Thanks to their somewhat more refined motor skills, kids over age 5 can bring their dishes to the sink after eating, wash windows (with actual cleaner), put away dishes, take out the trash, Swiffer or vacuum, sort toys into those they play with and those they don’t for easy de-cluttering, make beds, carry laundry to the wash, or anything else that isn’t dangerous or particularly fragile.

Ages 10+: By now, kids can do just about anything that needs doing. They can run loads of laundry and dishes, help strip linens and slipcovers, dust just about anywhere they can reach, change lightbulbs, vacuum or mop, shake out rugs or even touch up paint on the deck. (Of course, every child has different capabilities, and no one knows better than you how your child is or isn’t capable of helping.)

After you know which tasks your kid can do, you have to get them to actually do it. “Discussions of responsibility can turn it into a battle,” Homer cautions. She recommends asking kids whether they would rather have fun time now, with the understanding that they owe you some serious cleaning later, or get the cleaning over with to have some fun. “This sets them up to feel like you’re working with them.”

How to Make It Fun

These are Homer’s top three rules to involve children in cleaning:

1. Make It Convenient

“Kids today have a two-minute attention span … about the length of a YouTube video,” says Homer. “So even the minutes they spend looking for cleaning supplies can derail them.” To get around this challenge, she recommends placing the cleaning materials near the place to be cleaned to make it as easy as possible.

2. Use Mood Music

Making cleaning convenient won’t automatically make your kid love the act of cleaning, though. For that, Homer suggests getting musical. “Music goes a long way,” Homer says. (Kid’s songs are great, but you’ll probably want to intersperse your own favorites in there, too, for sanity’s sake.) She also likes small-scale rewards like stickers, and declaring a contest among siblings. “Make it a contest where the first person to clear all of the clutter off their floor, or fold their laundry or do a given task gets two stickers instead of one. But warn them that you’re looking for quality!”

3. Give Them a Job They Love

It’s a rare child who feels strongly about the carpet in the entryway, but most kids do love their toys. For that reason, jobs involving their toys–the parts of the house they feel ownership over–are the best fit for them, Homer says. “Sit your child down with a bucket of disinfecting solution and a pile of germy Legos and have him be responsible for washing and drying them.” She also recommends giving them jobs in their own rooms, such as stripping the bed, putting away toys or deciding which toys and clothes can be donated or thrown away. (For a guide on how best to decide, read this.)

Try the ’10-Minute Tidy’

If you’d rather not spend hours on a Sunday coercing your family into cleaning with you, here’s something else that works. Mom of four and green cleaning expert Leslie Reichart of Green Cleaning Coach implemented “the ten-minute tidy” each day, where everyone has to clean up for ten minutes. “I set the timer and we all clean up a room,” Leslie says. “Since there are five of us, I get 50 minutes of cleaning. In one week I get almost six hours done! It makes a huge dent in my spring cleaning.”

What are some of the methods you use to get your kids involved in spring cleaning?

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