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Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Ask a Cleaning Lady: Can my kids clean?

This one is for people who take care of children.

Here’s the scenario: you’re tired, you’re busy, you’ve got stuff on your mind, things to take care of etc. You don’t want to be bogged down with inefficiency or protracted efforts; you have to prioritize your time carefully. So of course when the abode is a mess, you may not like it, but you grit your teeth and just get it done.

I bet while you’re cleaning, however, you’re noticing every item that’s out of place, every nasty thing that was left behind, every thing that makes the mess you are cleaning right now. You’re thinking about how IF people just paid closer attention and put things away when they were supposed to, then there wouldn’t BE this big mess to clean! Harrumph!

Well there’s your real problem right there; you live with people who don’t bother being tidy, much less clean up after themselves once it gets messy. So here you are, cleaning up the aftermath for everyone else. But wait, you’re the one in charge, right? The adult, the caretaker, the person who decides who does what when, right? So why didn’t you make sure everyone else did this tidying and cleaning? Why are you the only one who seems to care about it anyway?

I’ll tell you why; you’re the only one who cares because you’re the only one who has to deal with it. Nobody else has to clean up the mess later so nobody cares about making the mess in the first place. And why is that? Because that’s what you decided.

I’m not about to try to play armchair psychologist and pretend I have any idea why you decided this, I’m just going to point out that regardless of *why* this is how things are because you engineered them this way.

If you really want it to be different, you have to make a very hard decision: is it important to you that other people in your household start pitching in? Is it important to you that other people in your household at least do not contribute more to the natural disorder that is life? Or are you prepared to go the rest of your life picking up after everyone else?

Allow me to detail some of the reasons why it *should* be important to you that other household members pick up or at least refrain from compounding the mess.

1. Children only learn things by actually learning. That means someone or some thing has to teach them. There are many things genetically coded into our brains like language and smiling and walking, but cleaning up or not being a slob is actually not one of those genetically coded things. It might be a personality trait to *like* a clean environment and some people are more inclined to not be bothered (or even enjoy) cleaning, but that trait is not very common, and you can’t rely on it. Besides, by the time it crops up in development, they are usually moved out of the house meaning yu will recieve none of the benefits of having raised such a person. Thus, if you want children in the house to clean and not be slobby, you must actually be ready to teach them how it is done.

2. Cleaning isn’t just about removing dirt and debris, its about organizing. No one is born organized, least of all children. The world is a huge chaotic place and it takes years to get a basic grasp of how it works so it is pretty much impossible for someone who has only been around for a few years to somehow magically KNOW how to keep an orderly environment. It is a skill that is learned and its best learned slowly, incrementally. Cleaning is a natural complement of being organized: teach one, you teach the other as well.

3. Being clean isn’t just having a nice atmosphere, being clean also contributes to your mental and physical health. It greatly affects morale to have a clean abode. Accomplishing a clean area also gives a self-esteem boost as well.

4. Cleaning is one of hte earliest forms of multitasking and prioritizing.

5. Learning to clean is a matter of character as well; its not pleasant but perseverence brings a future reward. This is a chance for a child to have a long-range lesson in hard work and humility.

6. Cleaning gives everyone a chance to obscure their transgressions.

“But Cass,” you say, “My kids are so resistant! I’ve tried to teach them! Its impossible!”

No, its really not. Its difficult and it seems like a waste of your time (“I could just do it myself and get it over with so much faster and better”) but that’s precisely why you need to knuckle down and push this task. By giving in to their resistance you let them know that its okay to just skip out on the really boring and hard parts of life because someone lower down will just step in and do it for them. Maybe you’re even okay with that lesson but do you really want that “someone lower down” to be you?

There’s a lot of art involved in cleaning. A lot of chances for knowledge and structure to be spotlighted. You wouldn’t miss out on an educational opportunity like this just because its “too much work” would you??

Imagine this were math. (Basic math, I mean) Would you decide it was too much hassle to get your child to do their math homework and just do it for them? Of course not. No matter how much they whine and bitch and cry about it, you’d make them do it. For many very good adult-y reasons that they probably aren’t mature enough to understand right now. There’s many good reason for enforcing this standard upon your resistant child and many of those reasons won’t be apparent to them for a long time but you enforce it anyway. You don’t even get anything out of it yourself!

So why do you let them “win” about cleaning?

Don’t let them win any more. By making the firm choice to persevere in enforcing the lessons of organization, cooperation and humility, you can infuse a level of familial unity and respect that goes beyond having a clean floor. You can put your kids on a path of learning that will lay the foundation of maturity to come. Like homework, you can help your children benefit from unpleasant tasks that have hidden rewards while building positive character traits.

But do not approach this with any less preparation than homework either. Cleaning isn’t something you can just hand them a rag, some spray in a bottle and expect sparkling results an hour later. You must be willing to show them what being clean means and what the goal is.

My parents had a wonderful postcard on the wall above the sink: “There are two ways to wash the dishes, one is to wash the dishes, the other is to get them clean!”

This homily emphasizes the point in unpleasant tasks; not to just do them by rote as if the motions of a task matter but to accomplish the goal of the task itself. Sometimes that means changing how you do things, or allowing someone to approach the task differently than you do but the essential point remains true; you want the goal to be reached, not just the task to be aped. This means you will have to accept a certain amount of imperfection and time drag as well. Teaching a child how to do something they don’t want to do doesn’t sail by on a cloud of happiness and smiles. Children will complain and pout and yell and even have tantrums about being forced to endure menial tasks that have no immediate obvious benefit to themselves. So what? If the task were to accomplish gaining a million dollars, I am fairly certain you would be able to muster the resolve and fortitude to plow through any and all obstacles the children throw at you.

Why is cleaning any less important than having money? It carries lessons beyond a bright environment, as I’ve outlined. It creates habits that can only enhance their lives as they grow, as I’ve shown. Learning to clean and be clean also creates a future sense of pride and accomplishment when the day comes that they realize having cleaned their surroundings actually makes them feel better. Lastly, forcing your children to learn to clean (and forcing yourself to endure the unhappy tedium of teaching them) eventually brings the reward of having a cleaner, brighter house that you *don’t* have to expend extra energy creating all by yourself.

Plus, once you’re old and infirm, you won’t have to worry about them allowing you to live in filth. Now isn’t that thought worth a few months of hassle?

Next month: tips on how to teach cleaning to ungrateful little brats.

A middle-aged mom who cleans houses in order to pay for her education habit. She is currently single and available for dates or tributes. Chocolate, flowers or cruise runs are all happily accepted. While she writes our popular Ask a Cleaning Lady column, she writes about all topics with sensitive wit on



  1. I appreciate your efforts which you have put into this article. This post provides a good idea. Genuinely, it is a useful article to increase our knowledge. Thanks for sharing such articles here. cleaning services in Toronto

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  3. Clair Wayman: Yep, Cleaning isn’t something you can just hand them a rag. Thanks!



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