How to finally get your family to clean up after themselves

family help cleaning, kids chores, get help cleaning

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.

10 thoughts on “How to finally get your family to clean up after themselves”

  1. I like that suggestion be calm embiid from watch what you say, be assertive make sure everybody is relaxed and know what you going to say in the end of time I need to tell my fiance that about the family that’s in your house right now I’m going to try that have her to read but I have just ready yet, anything is better than what it is now from what she told me house haven’t been cleaned up in 2 months I can’t imagine how it looks.

    1. Hi Rickey,
      I hope this helps your fiance. It can feel helpless when people aren’t used to pitching in. Often, it’s just getting to a place where you aren’t the only one working on it, regardless of how much actual help the family offers. There was a time when the kids thought having a dance party in the kitchen during dishes clean up was helping, but at least it was fun. Having it be a constructive thing instead of a power struggle is key.

  2. Katarina Hinsey

    So the solution to having a selfish husband and entitled kids is to always be the one who is perfect and composed? No wonder women become alcoholics.

    1. Hey Katarina, funny, thanks for commenting. It’s a painful problem, no doubt. The article is written for anyone who has this issue, not just women or people who are part of a couple. I had this same issue when I was a single mom and my husband had the same issue as a single dad. I have the same take as Marla Cilley (Flylady) on this, which is that the person who is reading is the only one I can speak to; your partner and children aren’t the one’s reading the article. This is one approach to a problem that may or may not be a good fit for you.

      1. Hi Tarla, thanks for commenting. Usually there’s more going on than housework in the situation where people are just done. I hope all is well and wish you all the best for you and your family.

  3. It works for SOME and not for all unfortunately. I have “contracts” even drawn up with my child and my grandkids that live with me. That have debit cards with rewards to go spend (allowance). I am ill. We have discussed how hard it is on me to clean up after them and if they would literally just pick up after themselves it would help tremendously. Still, I spend first hour of my day picking up dirty dishes, trash, cups, etc from night before. Putting up toys. YES I’ve tried getting them up and politely asking or telling them to do it. They do it, then next day is just repeat. At a point the stress just is easier to just after months of trying just clean it up myself. I am super STUBBORN lol that point does NOT come easily. We’ve tried rewarding, explaining, grounding, taking away electronics, you name it. I’ve been called a dictator, Hitler (HITLER I’m telling you honest to GOD). You can’t make this stuff up. These kids have LESS than 15 minutes of chores a day each. I even let them draw chores from a hat, tried letting them choose their own daily chores. You name it, I’ve tried it. Kids just do not have accountability nor work ethic nowadays and my heart hurts for them. Several of mine are teens headed for a rude awakening in this everyone gets a trophy society. I WANT them to feel the pride of a job well done. To know the pride of perseverance. We even tried counseling. Faced with other kids who are letting them know how “mean” we are because THEIR parents don’t make them do chores or hold them accountable, everything is a constant battle!

    1. Dear Sandra, Oh my gosh I feel how hard it is and wish you and your family all the best. Thank you for sharing everything you’ve tried in your family. You mentioned counseling, which helped a lot in our family not on cleaning but on other elements of family life. To your last point, I bet that when the kids go into the world they will remember what you tried to teach them even if they didn’t practice it when they lived with you. Some of our kids’ friends didn’t know how to do their own laundry and had never been expected to clean up because they had household help that did it, which was amazing to our kids. Even if the kids resist and don’t get it done the way you would want they’ll know that it’s a thing people do. Best wishes to you and your family.

  4. Hello I want to help my daughter she has 4 young children her house is a big mess to say it nicely! How do I help her

    1. Hi Connie, Thank you so much for bringing this up and for wanting to support your daughter. I guarantee that she knows it’s messy. A lot depends on your relationship-does she look to you for safe support and help? Or would the topic feel judgmental to her when she’s doing her best? There are some seasons, and having four young children is one of them, when there’s just far more to do than is humanly possible, especially now when many of us are more isolated from support systems than usual. The best thing is to wait for her to bring it up and ask what you can do to help. Most likely she needs more support or is struggling with a difficult situation. I found out that I had undiagnosed executive function issues that made it hard. I very much recommend K.C. Davis at strugglecare.com for resources and nonjudgmental support for those who struggle with care tasks and those who love them. Her book “How to Keep House When Drowning” is available on Amazon and she has lots of videos on YouTube and TikTok. The bottom line is your daughter probably already feels bad due to the pressures society puts on moms, so it’s best to offer support when she brings up being stressed or wanting to change it herself. I would have loved for my mom to offer support back when I struggled, as long as she did it when I wanted it and in a nonjudgmental way. Best wishes to you and your daughter!

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