Sunday, January 21, 2018

Cleaning for Fun and Satisfaction

This is a photo of my children cleaning the bathroom windowsill. They saw that it was dirty and decided to do something about it. Then they noticed some other problem areas in the bathroom, and they cleaned those, too. Sometimes they clean and organize their room for fun, and other times they pretend our house is an inn, and they clean the whole thing aside from dusting (because they never remember that dusting is a thing people do*) for fun. Z also has discovered the joy of organizing her space so she can find things. I rarely ask my children to clean anymore, because they do it willingly.

I am a lucky, lucky woman.

But I also did some things to encourage this behavior, and so I'm going to tell you what I've done in case you want to give it a go and see if it works for you.

The main thing that works in my favor is that I have made it clear to my children that they are not required to clean. It is optional. They can always choose not to do it. They have to have all their things put away if they want screen time, but they can choose not to have screen time. For our weekly Minecraft night, they've got to have all their things put away plus clean the bathroom, but it's still optional. They can choose to skip the work and the Minecraft. Sometimes they have. I offer sympathy when cleaning is the last thing they'd like to do, or if they made the choice to clean too late and can't get it done in time to get what they want, but I don't make a huge deal about it.

I've also told them that, aside from the times that they are earning screen or Minecraft time, they can keep their room as messy as they wish. This is their space, and I won't interfere. Sometimes, the entire floor is covered with toys and books, and once there were ants coming in through the window because Z forgot that she'd left a muffin in a bag that she'd set on the windowsill. I say nothing negative about it unless someone gets a little aggressive with their request for me to help find something that is lost in there, and then it's just a firm reminder that I am not the one who put the room into a state that made it easy to lose things. The ants provided a handy lesson on their own, because both my kids are afraid of insects, and I didn't do the ant removal process without some words about how this would be the only time I'd complete that task for free, given the same circumstances leading to ant invasion. My kids really don't want to pay me to be their personal exterminator. (I'll work for free if they come in at random.)

When we are not in the middle of a lost toy crisis or ant invation, I talk about how I used to let my things get very messy, and how it helps me now to have things be organized a bit better so that it's quick to clean up. I mention how it's easier to get something fully clean in a short amount of time if it gets cleaned on a regular basis. I mention the benefits without being pushy, and I also point out that sometimes rest is more important than cleaning, and it's okay for things to get messy until I have time and energy to do the job without a lot of stress.

I've also mentioned how satisfying it is to see improvement in something. I love clearing clogged drains and have not been shy about sharing my joy at having cleared out the drain with my own two hands (and some tools) (and sometimes gloves). I sometimes clap my hands when I've organized my desk. And when I notice my children doing things that improve a room, I offer praise for the effort and note how much better things look. Z will sometimes exclaim, "Can you believe how nice our room looks?" I respond, "Yes! Because you have gotten quite good at organizing! It looks amazing! You worked hard!" E is happy to join in these cleaning exploits, and bask in the praise for her own efforts.

And that's it. That's all I do. Mostly, I think that they have come to see for themselves that cleaning can be rewarding for its own sake. They like it. They love seeing the results of their labors. They are happy to do it, and I am happy, too.

*I will admit that I often don't see the point in regular dusting, so I don't model good dusting behaviors. I dust when I notice that the dust is getting pretty thick, and then I forget about it until I notice again. Dusting was my chore when I was a kid, and it's also possible that I still can't stand it for that reason. Or maybe it really is just a waste of time to do it frequently; I've met some people who agree with me on this point, so surely there's something to it. It's not unsanitary like if you fail to clean your kitchen sink or your toilets, you know?

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