You know the feeling.
You left the house in a more or less tidy state and when you get back it’s trashed. It looks like the “before” house on a decluttering show.
You can tell exactly what every person did — your son had a grilled cheese sandwich, your daughter did her nails in the living room, someone made chocolate cupcakes. You can detect the evidence of every act as if it were a crime scene.
Forget the chores people said they would do.
Instead of feeling happy to be home, you feel defeated.
There’s got to be a better way, one that gets your family to take care of their own things without turning you into a nag, a martyr or a maid.
People will never be perfect but it is possible to get your family to pick up after themselves.
They’re watching you
You are the leader. When you are the person who cares the most, you are the person who has to set the example. It’s not fair, but it’s true.
People will follow your lead when you consistently take care of your own things. It will take time for your family to mimic you, and it won’t be as perfect, but it will get better.
Even if you’ve been married forever and your kids are practically grown, it’s not too late to ask your family to do better. Family dynamics are always changing. If you change, your family must change around you.
It’s time to prepare your pitch and ask your family to mend their messy ways.
Prepare to make your pitch
Think it through before you ask for change.
- Does your family know how the mess hurts you? UCLA researchers discovered that women’s cortisol spikes in cluttered homes, while men and children were unaffected. Get ready to tell your family how you feel — they might not know.
- What’s in it for them? They might want to be able to have friends over to a clean house. They might want to protect their things from getting lost or broken. Be ready to point out compelling benefits.
- When is the right time to ask? Your request will go better if you have had a good night’s sleep and if your family is not rushing out the door. Wait until you can be calm and matter-of-fact.
- Inhabit your authority. You have authority that comes from your example and your place in the home. Feel that and make your request calmly and confidently.
- Watch your tone. Be sure you are being warm and kind when you talk with your family. Anger and blame will erode your request.
Rules you must follow when you make your pitch
You have every right to ask your family to be responsible for their own things. But your pitch will go better if you use some delicacy. Following a few rules when you make your pitch will help your family get on board and avoid resistance.
Rule 1: Get buy-in. Start by asking your family about the situation. They may volunteer ideas that are motivating to them and acceptable to you. If at all possible, try their solutions first.
Rule 2: Be positive and clear about what you actually want. “Don’t be a slob” is not actionable. “Please be sure your things are put away before I get home from work at 5p” is. You are asking for a behavior change, not a personality transplant.
Rule 3: Ask if there’s something you can do to make it easier for them. Our kids wanted their own cleaning tools and storage spaces.
Rule 4: Be realistic but firm. Kids have activities, homework, the angst of being kids. They may not think they have time and there really are times when they don’t have much attention to spare. Still, you aren’t asking them to run Downton Abbey, just to pick up their own stuff.
Rule 5: Make it rewarding. Having a tidy house is its own reward, but it’s fun to do something special. Could you celebrate a week of success with a special dinner or mini-party? When I was a kid, my family went out for Bob’s Big Boy hot-fudge cake after a so-called “work party”.
It won’t work right away-and that’s OK.
Inevitably, your family will do a slapdash job. That’s all right — change happens over time, with much backsliding and renegotiation.
Be appreciative. Tell your family how happy you are with their efforts, even if they don’t go far enough. As improvements become habitual, ask them to tweak it just a bit. Don’t expect perfection.
Find your gratitude. Your untidy family is a blessing that means you have a full and vibrant life. Eat the messy chocolate cupcakes and try to appreciate any change for the better.
Adjust the plan. After some experience, your agreements with your family will likely need to change. Or, you may need to make some physical changes, such as adding storage so things have a home. Change whatever needs to change so that your family can succeed.
Make it visual. Keep track of new family habits you are trying to accomplish. If your family is trying to pick up after themselves every day, or clean up the kitchen after dinner every night, mark it on the calendar every time you are successful. As the marks build up, the family won’t want to break the chain.
Hit the reset. There will be times when things fall apart. During home projects, the middle of the week, people coming and going, it’s natural for mess to accumulate. Just take a deep breath and ask your family to pick up their part of the debris.
Your life “After”
Imagine how you will feel after you and your family get practice with your new habits.
No more coming home to the “before” house, no more stress eating, no more blow-ups, just relaxing in your relaxing home.
The house might not be actually perfect when you get home, but it will definitely be better.
The more everyone practices the more effortless it will be. Your kids will learn life skills and everyone will be happier.
Just take those first steps to get your family onboard and then enjoy the results.