Just Five


So the other day I was thinking to myself that getting my kids to clean up their room as GOT be easier then what I’ve been doing!!  For us it turns into a 3-hour project that basically ruins our homeschooling day.  Ugh!  Everyone is frustrated and totally spent before we have even finished.  I am so exacerbated at the thought of it, that all I care to do is throw everything out!  There has got to be a better way.  Well… I think I’ve finally found it.  No, I know I have stumbled on to something good and I’m pretty excited to share it with you! 

So even though I knew that sending my children into the abyss of toys, shoes, clothes and books with the charge “Clean your room for goodness sake!” would only overwhelm them, I kept on because I had no idea of how to make it easier.  It was a broken method but what else was I going to do?  I couldn’t just let it stay a mess.  And to make matters worse, it seems there was always some sort of feud that would ignite without me being in there doing it along side them.  And let’s face it, if I was able to do that everyday, then I might as well just do the whole thing myself.  Of course that defeated the entire purpose in the first place.  Ground zero, again.

But one day it hit me!  My kids are just as overwhelmed as I am!!  I realized that what they were responding to was the size of the project!  They were struck by the feeling of “Where do I even begin?” and “This is going to take for-ev-er!”  It dawned on me that it is not that they don’t know where each and every item goes, it was instead the fact that there were so many of them that they were lost before they even started.  The little ones were lost because they only saw “chaos” and were instantly distracted by anything they could reach.   And the big ones were lost because they knew with the little ones in there playing instead of helping that meant even more work for them.  So the whining and complaining would begin, followed by the bickering and feuding, and soon everyone would all be unraveling in a downward spiral of despair.  Even I was getting frustrated because I needed to be in the kitchen making lunch or cleaning up the dinner or setting up the next activity, not playing referee and coaching them on where to put what!!  “Why can’t they just be get it done, after all it is their toys!!” I’d think to myself.  Yeah, in theory this would be perfect but never once did that work perfectly.   

So, what’s the idea? 

Well, let me start by saying there might be a few snags as you begin, I could see how over time it would really keep things manageable.  Okay, so this is it in all of its simplicity.  What would happen if instead of asking them to clean their room I just asked them to pick up five things and put them away?  Just five!  Then report back, and tell me what each of the five things are.  Sounds interesting.  But could this work?  Well, let me tell you what happened in both the perception and actions of my children.  Instantly the task now had a foreseeable beginning and end.  That took a large portion of the pressure off right there.  The task felt manageable.  So instead of the “Awww man, do we have to??” response, I got the “Okay” and off they ran!  What??  Seriously?  Yes, and if that wasn’t shocking enough, it gets better.  Asking them to report back some how insured that they were doing real work.  When they’d come to me and rattle of “Okay Mom, I’ve got one scrap of paper!” I’d say, “Um, yeah that one is a freebee, it doesn’t count!” we’d both laugh and they’d run off and do better on the next one.  So this now became fun.  Yes, in some miraculous act God’s goodness it really did!!  And it continued.  They’d run in and out of the kitchen and I’d respond to the work they’d done, they would get instant gratification, and guess what, I so would I!  At times I could send them back for another 5 more items to put away, and they would go just as willingly as the first time, because they knew that they could get the job done!   What’s more, is that it can be done throughout the day, before lunch “Go run in and pick up just five!” or right before we leave the house “put away just five!” and it was done without any fight.  And as an extra bonus for those who have big families feeling like more kids more mess right?  Well, five, plus five, plus five, plus five adds up pretty fast and makes momma a happy camper!  This is totally my kind of math! 

Now there are a couple of cautions to heed here. 

1.)  Do not over do ‘Just Five’ redos.  If you send them in over and over, they’ll catch on fast, and it will begin to feel like the unending job of the abyss again. 

2.) You will have to make peace with it not being all done right away.  Building a new method also involves creating a new ideas associated with the task.  So helping them get there over a little time is key if before it was the “get it all done now!” kind of feeling. 

These two things are very important.  If you miss them, the entire method will fail.  But if you keep it light, have a little fun with it and remain patient, eventually the room will be clean!  And with that clean room, the job of getting it done will be a good memory in place of the old daunting one.  For children this is lasting and will carry over to next time, when hopefully there are only a few things on the floor to pick up. 

Give it a try.  Just five.