The Trick That Made My Kids Clean Up Their Toys

As a mother of two young children, cleaning up everyday messes can be a chore. Here's how to stay in control of your house while having fun with your kids.

Mom tired to tidy up the house. Child scattered toys.Photo: Shutterstock / Ulza
Photo: Shutterstock / Ulza

At the end of the day, my living room often looks like a microburst has come and gone. I suspect it erupted somewhere around the couch area, picked up everything plastic and primary colored, and distributed the items wherever they made the least sense, like the hallway or kitchen floors.

This is life with a 1- and 3-year-old. I’m used to demanding, bargaining, bribing and deep-sighing my way through the clean-up process nightly. My older daughter is smart—too smart—and will counter my request for her to clean up with her own sweetly asked inquiry: “Will you help me, Mama?” Of course I will, though I end up doing all the work!

So when my friend Alissa, a fellow mom of two, told me about something she’s named “The Clean-Up Blitz,” and how it gets her kids to become super-powered toy-picking-up machines, I was sold. Her kids are 7 and 11, but she assured me it would work on even the littles.

Cue the music

The first thing you need is music. Per the name of the game, the soundtrack for this is the ’73 hit “Ballroom Blitz” by The Sweet. You’ve heard it.

Next, set 15 minutes on the timer (or 5, if they’re really little like mine and have the attention spans of butterflies). Tell your kids you’re about to play a game called The Clean-Up Blitz. Act amped. This part is important. You need the energy of a sports announcer during some really big sporting event.

Tell your kids they have 15 minutes to put away as many toys, books, backpacks, homeless socks or discarded pieces of string cheese as possible. This game works best if you can pit two or more kids against each other. If you’re only working with one kid, congratulations; you get to be the competitor. The goal is to pick up the most things. The person who picks up the most things—wait for it—wins.

The count is arbitrary. It’s going to be clear who is putting forth the most effort, and you get to make that call. It probably goes without saying, but this game works better with a prize (say, homemade fudge pops) at the end. I used a single animal cracker. You’d think they were playing for a Corvette. My kids are easily pacified.

Start yelling

What makes this game successful is the frenzied pace and volume level. I started the time, turned on the song and cranked the volume. The cat hid. My husband and I yelled, “GO!” and began simultaneously shouting directions.

“Grab the dolls! Put them in the toy box! Grab your blocks! They go in the bag! Hurrrry! Go! Go! Go! One minute left!”

It lit a fire under my 3-year-old. With a huge smile on her face, she ran crazily around the living room grabbing objects and throwing them into, or at least near, her toy box. Meanwhile, my 1-year-old was just enjoying the excitement, dancing in a circle and clapping her hands, unaware that she was, in fact, very much losing this competition.

When the timer went off, we all collapsed on the floor and I looked around—it was shockingly bare. Sure, it wasn’t perfect, but it was significantly tidier than when we started. Most important, my 3-year-old had laughed and smiled through the whole thing—not a single complaint or protest had escaped her lips! She was even more pleased when we deemed her the winner and bestowed upon her a cracker shaped like an otter.

Take a turn

I asked my other girlfriends to try it out with their kids, most of whom were a bit older, and the results came back positive—the Clean-Up Blitz propelled their kids forward into action. For some, the competition aspect was the biggest seller while for others, the silliness and the song made the chore fly by.

I’ll tell you a secret. After seeing the success it had with my kids, I began putting a timer on my own chores and playing Clean-Up Blitz for one. I gave myself five minutes to unload and reload the dishwasher. I pretended Pat Sajak was off to the side with an envelope ready to see if I’d won a Ford Fiesta. I’ve never organized forks faster. It was silly, but it broke up the monotony. And I definitely won that Fiesta.

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Amanda Kippert
Amanda Kippert has been an award-winning freelance journalist for nearly two decades. She is based in Tucson, Arizona and specializes in food, health, fitness, parenting and humor, as well as social issues. She is the content editor of the domestic violence nonprofit DomesticShelters.org.