share post

My Top Five Tips for Successful Cleaning Routines for Kids

by | Mar 21, 2012 | Domesticity, Organization

This Post May Contain Affiliate Links. Please Read Our Disclosure Policy here

My Top Five Tips for Successful Cleaning Routines for Kids

Do you have cleaning routines in your family?

I remember when my girls were younger we were always coming up with cleaning games or activities to help them develop a sense of daily order and cleanliness, without making the process feel like a dreaded “chore.” I’ll admit we were sometimes successful, but sometimes our kids mocked our creative attempts.

They still laugh at a chart we devised where they could put a smiley face every time they picked something up off the floor.  At the end of the week they would exchange smiley faces for cash. Well, that plan kind of backfired when they conveniently dropped additional socks on the floor all week and plucked out tiny pieces of lint from the carpet in order to get more smiley faces. Smart girls. Anyhoo….

But along the way though trial and error, we did figure out a few motivational techniques, tips and routines that seemed to work for them.

1. Have Realistic Expectations.

I remember telling my girls to “clean their rooms” and returning later to find the room hardly looked cleaner. I didn’t blame the kids, I just realized I needed to make my expectations more clear. To a child, asking them to “clean a room” is an overwhelming and confusing concept they often have trouble mastering. Asking them to put away their clean laundry away or to clear off a desktop are likely more manageable expectations and will eventually lead to better skill with keeping a cleaning routine.

My Top Five Tips for Successful Cleaning Routines for Kids

2. Set Timers

I don’t know about your kids but mine worked much more efficiently with deadlines. If I asked them to pick up all the toys off the floor and return them to where they belong, it might take all afternoon because they would become distracted by playing with them. But if I set a timer for 15 minutes, the task was over and done 15 minutes later. We called our timed cleaning rituals “cleaning frenzies” and it turned what might feel like a chore into a fun game. And as a long term bonus it taught them to do housework quickly and efficiently!

3. Have A Place for Everything

Most of my failures trying to teach my kids to clean and establish routines came from not having a good system set up to begin with. If my kids were struggling with picking up their room or closet, it usually meant one of two things. Either they had too much stuff or it was not clear enough what they should do with everything. By regularly purging excess and having a clear place for everything, I hoped to teach my kids be successful not only with daily cleaning but understanding the need for keeping only what you need and basic organizational skills.

My Top Five Tips for Successful Cleaning Routines for Kids

4. Set Aside Time for Daily Cleaning.

Once a month cleaning and weekend cleaning plans did not work at our house. For awhile we tried Saturday cleaning and it pretty much ruined our weekend. Once I realized that I didn’t enjoy letting all the housework pile up to be dealt with on Saturday, everything changed around our house.

Instead of putting off cleaning until “later” we incorporated cleaning routines into our day to day schedules and it made life much easier. Our kids had a certain “zone” in their room to clean most every single day. One day they’d tackle their desk, the next day the floor, the next day the dresser. A little bit of upkeep every day helped our whole family to become people who generally just picked up after ourselves regularly, rather than waiting until “heavy cleaning day.”

My Top Five Tips for Successful Cleaning Routines for Kids

5. Rewards, Memory Making and End of the Week Fun.

My husband and I looked forward to our date nights after a week of chores and homemaking, or enjoyed paychecks after a hard week at work, so we decided our kids would benefit by having something to look forward to every week as well. Sometimes rewards were directly related to completing certain chores (as a paycheck is directly related to doing our job), and sometimes chores were simply part of being a member of the family. But we tried to create some sort of weekly “reward” or “memorable event” to look forward to each week — whether it was allowances or fun family nights or ideally both!

It is so important to make living fun and memorable. I never wanted my kids to have more memories of “cleaning days” and “chores” than of regular family fun and I really liked teaching them about the rewards of hard work and daily discipline.

So did all our efforts to teach our kids pay off?

I’d say both of my girls are well on their way to having some great homemaking skills and are two of the hardest working young women I know. And not only that, they lead fun creative lives at the same time (while they don’t blog very often, you can find Kylee’s blog here and Courtney’s blog here). I’m so happy we took the time to instill some basic cleaning routines and homemaking principles into their lives when they were younger! We are still working with our 11 year old son, but he is also learning some of the same things we taught our girls!

What are your best tips for cleaning with kids?

And what attempts have failed miserably?! Go ahead. Confess.

All photos taken by me at the Street of Dreams, Portland, Oregon 2008.


  1. Lynn from For Love or Funny

    It’s Spring Break at our house this week, so my high schooler is using the extra time to sort through her room. I’m hoping to dust it by Friday!

  2. Heather

    When the kids were younger, I used to obsess about having them clean their rooms. But as they got older (teens), their rooms became THEIR rooms and so I gave up. I was lucky enough to have a cleaning lady come in every 2 weeks – f the kids rooms weren’t “cleaning lady worthy”, their door was closed and it stayed messy. A couple times a year, we would go in and do a gutting of the room.

  3. Sandra

    A great book to read is the Entitlement Trap- it really puts the focus on understanding the value of things…this is not ypur typical chore chart..we use it and it’s great

    • Melissa

      Sounds like a cool book!

  4. Tara G.

    We start them young and try to instill the concept of serving one another rather than being the center of everything.

    • Melissa

      Yes, good good tip!

  5. Linda Stoll

    LOVE LOVE LOVE that little blue vintage dresser & mirror!! Sweet!!

    I remember crawling around under the dining room table with a dust rag on Saturdays when I was a little girl. Good times!

    I like this “Take 15” concept … for adults or kids! It’s amazing what you can do in a short amount of time … especially since attention spans at a young age aren’t all that lengthy!

  6. Susan

    Expectations are key – and consistency. I feel that I am not being realistic for my kids if one week I expect a certain degree of “clean” and then pay no attention for weeks, then to come back and be a hammer. It needs to be part of our weekly routine to keep the room picked up to certain standards. I also love the timer idea – that helps everyone!

  7. Ellen Delap

    Rewards, making memories and making it fun! The true reasons to get organized! So glad you are making chores a consistent part of your family routines.

  8. Ellen Delap

    Rewards, making memories and family fun! These are the important reasons to organize. Thanks for sharing ways to make this hard part of family life a regular routine!

  9. Karen

    Our kids ONE requirement was to make their beds (once they were old enough) every morning. Recently, my daughter-in-law thanked me for “training” our oldest son that habit. She loves the fact that he makes the bed every morning once they’re up! :-)

  10. Terry

    Melissa, do you have a source for the cute boys bathroom photo, or was it from your own house? It love the dump truck pic!

    • Melissa

      That was a photo I took at a Street of Dreams years ago, that is really all I know about the room! :-)

  11. The Hill Hangout

    Great post, Melissa! I finally figured out one day that my little ones just get too overwhelmed when the mess is too big. If I can help them break the chore down into manageable steps, they can stick with it until they are finished. I pinned this one so my friends could benefit.

    • Melissa

      Thanks for pinning!

  12. Dana

    I blogged about this topic last year. Getting all 4 kids involved in some daily maintenence cleaning has made a huge difference in my sanity and has gone a long way to making our home “clean enough.” I no longer “wince” when a neighbor drops by without warning. And I’m happy that my kids are gaining life skills that will hopefully serve them well in the future. It’s not perfect, but wow, it’s made a huge difference.


    Melissa these are all such great tips for young families. I think some adults could follow your plan as well. A little each day is a great way to tackle the job,

    • Melissa

      Yes, truth be told these are tips I use for myself too :-)

  14. mary timmers

    Helping kids develop a great work ethic can never start too youg!Plus consistency on the parent’s part teaches the parents consistency! It’s a win, win!

  15. Walnut

    When my Mom and I had to tackle a big project (the catch all closet, garage, etc.) we would set the 15 minute timer and take turns being “the boss”. One of us would tell the other what to pick up and where to put it. It was particularly effective when I was younger and not always so helpful.

    • Melissa

      I like it! Great idea!

  16. Cindy

    One of the things that I would say is teach by example. If your children see you walk into the house and drop you coat anywhere they will do the same. If everything has a place, then put it there.

  17. Jenny

    This is a great post. I am constantly following my twin toddlers around, picking up after them. DH says I’m crazy, but I really believe that it will someday get through to them and that they’ll start following my lead. Thanks for the tips.

  18. Sarah

    Melissa, This is a great post! My family chore list has caused quite a stir on the internet since I posted it. Here is my lighthearted rebuttal:

    I have found our system to work very well for the kids. They like having their chores clearly visable, they know what’s expected of them each day. It makes them feel important, our house cannot operate without each one of them and they know it.

    Thank you for shedding light on this topic. I was feeling kind of like a wicked stepmother for a while. Great post!!


  19. Julie

    It’s always great to hear what other moms do on this. Everything in our house has a home. This keeps my 3 and 5 year old responsible for their toys, shoes, dirty laundry… they love helping me sweep, empty the dishwasher, and dust too! Simple but it’s a start for their ages. I use the ‘manage in zones’ concept with clients and for myself-and will for the boys. Now, if I can get the kids to rinse the sink after brushing their teeth!!

  20. Shauna

    All fantastic tips. My son is really good about his weekly chores and I think it’s because we started him at a young age and we really show our appreciation for the help.

  21. Dana at Cooking at Cafe D

    I’m all ears.

    I have figured out that one thing.
    When I mentioned that I can hardly tell what color the comfy chair is in his room was – since it’s his dumping ground and usually piled high – it made an impression. It’s been empty since. Now, I have no idea where things are going instead… Nowhere obvious – unlike the hangers that were living under his bed. LOL

    His drawers are a complete mess. Every drawer has socks, undies, shirts – he just opens a drawer and stuffs it. My husband is the same way. Drives me batty. But, I figure it works for them.

    well, it usually works for them. When the 14 year old couldn’t find his beach towel – which I had spotted clean and folded up and under the pile on his chair – I just asked him to double-check and look everywhere. When I eventually told him to look on the chair and made a joke about it, he got the point. (Apparently in a positive way.)

    I put folded clothes on their beds.
    What they do with them…is up to them.

  22. Anne

    I agree there should be a reward. Our kids are expected to do chores, but there are specific chores they get paid for at the end of each month. Money gets taken off if the chore is left undone.

    My girls are fantastic with their chores. My son, even though we did the same thing with him, needs a bit of ‘encouragement’.

  23. Roeshel

    Great tips! I’m implementing some this weekend! ;)

  24. Richella at Imparting Grace

    These are great ideas, Melissa. I wish I could say that I did a good job in this area, but I didn’t. I’m afraid my future daughters-in-law will one day be very angry with me! On the other hand, I guess they can “train” my sons to be tidy in whatever ways work best for them, right? Well, maybe. But mostly this is an area in which I wish I’d done a better job. Blessings to young moms who are just starting out with their kids–may they learn from your good example!

  25. Cindy

    I am a simple woman that likes to be clean and organized with her home but it may sometimes get a little tiring what can i do to be more proactive at home? any suggestions??

  26. step moMster

    thank you, *thank you*, THANK YOU for this post. you have no idea how grateful i am to read this post. and now i’m off to check out sarah’s original post at the i need to see if she really IS a stepmom, because introducing these concepts and implementing some of these changes in a household (that i affectionately refer to is as “thunderdome”) that was under the rule of sweet, but terribly spoiled and entitled nine year old (the result of single dad guilt)is…uh…tricky at best. we’ve only been married 3 month and i live in fear of being branded the evil stepmother. i need to see if she has any tips for stepmoms. sigh.

  27. Julia

    Great advise, as a mother of 5, I’ve tried every approach I could get my hands on. I’ve never given up, can’t wait to try this!


  28. janet

    Thanks for this blog, Melissa! I love it and am inspired to keep going. My oldest son, who is finishing his sophomore year in college and about to move into an apt, thanks me for teaching him how to shop, cook and clean! He says there are many, many kids at his school who cannot do any of these things and he’s grateful. He teaches them how to do things that they should have learned at home. Boys need to learn all of the things we typically/used to think girls need to know!! My daughter and younger son also know how to do what they need to do, and it gives them all a sense of strength and control. Whether they choose to keep their rooms neat is one thing, but they do know how to clean and sort when they need to do it, and to cook food and clean up and help make the family function well.

    Keep up the good work out there!


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published.

browse categories:

browse archives:

let’s stay connected!

Follow for daily
Home Inspiration:

get my free decorating guide

home decor inspiration, free downloads,
and more, straight to your inbox