Works for Me Wednesday: when shame is a good thing, or, how to get teenagers to clean house

Welcome to Shannon’s Works for Me Wednesday‘s blog carnival!

Before my post on how I got my teens to clean, I want to promo my “Seriously, folks” contest. The prize is a three-parter, worth more than $50, see it here, and leave a reply or comment here to enter. The winner will be drawn randomly next week! Now to the post:

After years of trying to build up a happy, whistle-while-you-work vibe around house cleaning for my offspring, the making of charts and lists and rotas, giving stars and tokens and hard cash, planning pizza dinners to reward their domestic efforts, I have finally hit upon the only thing to make my kids really clean.


Not the “were you brought up in a barn? how can you live in a pigsty like this?!?” type of shame. I’m talkin’ kin shame, in the form of The Aunt Who Bakes. My closest-in-age sister has a cleaning lady, and looks at cleaning in a different light than I do. She sees it as a challenge. She knows the state of my digs, and when she offered to drive up for a day and a morning of cleaning and organizing together on the weekend, I jumped at the chance.

I told my crew: “Your aunt is coming up here for one thing—to help us clean. To get rid of these cardboard boxes [in the living room, two deep, four boxes high], these shoes and boots [35 to 40 pairs], to find out what’s under that couch [I’m scared]. You will clean while she is here and that is it. Why? Because I said so!”

I don’t actually use that phrase a lot any more. Huh.

My sister and I cleaned the whole first day and gabbed and gabbed. Time went quickly, and the kitchen looked fab. The next day we moved into the living room. I made breakfast. Kids came down, including a friend of Graydon’s who will remain nameless because of his actions over the next two hours. They ate, sis and I had coffee. Then The Aunt Who Bakes brought out her shop vac, handed it to Graydon’s friend and said, “Here, you can vacumn,” and for the next two hours that kid vacumned while the four of us picked up 2,000 or so pieces of Lego and Magnetix and Bakugon and fancy hairpins and CDs and beads and bits of jewellery and makeup and coins and so much stuff my head was spinning. We did 10 hours of work in two, and for the first time in a long time, we could see clear through under a couch, chair, coffee table and shelving unit. There wasn’t a blade of bunny hay anywhere.

If my sister hadn’t been there, they’d have lasted 20 minutes tops before someone would have to make tea, or go lie down because of a mystery illness or there’d be a homework meeting somewhere. With my little sister there, they couldn’t leave. Here was their aunt, 100 miles from her home, helping us clean ours. If that wasn’t shame, what was it?

I know there was pride there too, because for the next few days, I could hear them saying, “Wow, does this room look bigger,” “Here’s a place to put my DVDs” and “Hey, there’s nothing for the puppy to chew on!”

I promised Graydon’s friend I would never mention his name in connection to this story, nor would I tell his mother what a great job he did, for fear he’d be pressed into action at home.

Cleaning with a sister who can guilt my kids into working without saying a word—it works for me!

Please leave a comment, and then click over to Shannon’s blog for a ton of tips on parenting, cooking, organizing, playing, you name it!

Can’t think of a comment? Am I the only mum with teens who won’t clean? When rewards fail, what’s next? Have you ever thrown their stuff in the trash, or any other drastic measure?

Enter my contest—save the prizes in your holiday gift stash! See it here, and leave a reply or comment here to enter.


7 Responses

  1. I have three boys, teens and tweens. It’s so hard to get them to clean. My only thing is to catch them in a good mood, which is hard to do with all that testosterone. Also, we have a cleaning lady twice a month. If the teens room is gross, I just shut the door and tell her not to bother. That makes his real mad and he doesn’t leave it bad anymore.

  2. Haha!! I love this one!!!

    I don’t really have many clear memories of the procrastination, hiding, false promises, ignoring….
    hmmm… oh ya… I do remember that they had to wash, dry and put away their dinner dishes (5 kids & no electric dishwasher… fun)

  3. Being the only girl with 3 brothers leaves me sisterless when it comes to cleaning maybe having a sister would have helped me with that concept.
    Actually when the kids were home I found that I would clean the flat and attempt to keep the toys in the “toy room” but that did not last & by the time hubby arrived home from work the flat looked like it had all day long. The kids grew & we moved and the house never did look or stay clean for long (I’m the slob in this story) … The kids grew some more & we moved into our house (last move to date) where the kids grew up and moved away from … the boxes in the living room ~ all mine! And yes I need to get organized … one day & hopefully soon I will do so in the meantime I run here & there and if I’m not running here & there I sit & crochet. I say Great Job getting the house clean … Now what I’d like to know is how long can you keep it that way? How often will your sister come by to help keep it that way? Does she charge a lot to get one organized? My daughter in law has that cleaning talent but my husband said I can’t have her help me since I’m a grown woman I should do it myself … after 30 yrs he hasn’t learned I don’t manage it by myself???? LOL sad but true 😦

  4. There’s nothing harder than getting kids to clean up – they love it just where it is. 😦 I have 10, 14, 15 yr. old kids, and I stopped picking up their room when they were around 5-7, though I have gone ballistic from time to time and just chucked it all into a trash bag and put it in the shed. After a month or two, I’d get it back out and give them a few things as long as they kept the room cleaned. We have always tried to get the kids to understand that they have different standards then we, the parents, do. We give them organizational tools (aka storage, shelves, and dresser), and give them a certain time to make an improvement on their room (10-15 minutes) and make sure they understand it should be to the parent’s standards, not theirs.

    One time we had company and I just didn’t have the time or the energy. I told them their rooms must be picked up by a certain time or they would not get to participate with the company (they would be cleaning instead). They didn’t get it done, they wrote appology notes to the company and missed out on the fun. They did much better after that!

    Something I learned from another blogger, I tell the kids exactly what I need/want from them instead of thinking they know. This way it is their responsibility and they must live with the consequences of not helping out our team, the family.

  5. I have a cleaning lady and I often think that I have failed my children because I have not had to teach them how to scrub a toilet or mop a floor. Turns out, though, that they have both learned to do those chores at their part time jobs! Ha! My teenage son whines about having to do dishes at home because “I just spent 4 hours doing that at work”. So hard not to smile.

  6. For my kids , it was the shame of having their friends , of the opposite sex ,coming over.That worked wonders …even the lost dishes from their rooms entered the dishwasher . Please count your blessing that your sister was able to come to your aid. In this day and age , most family live on different sides of the continent …mostly because they were afraid of their mother’s request to help clean their houses .

  7. I love it! I’ve bagged entire rooms and only left a mattress on the floor. Whatever helps get things done. Usually the lesson only takes once.

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