Things are not sitting around in the wrong place for long
This is a rule in my house; you cannot leave dishes, trash or items you are using just sitting out once they are no longer being used. There is a place for most things in my house. It may not seem super-orderly but there is a method to our madness and we are all used to how it works. If you do laundry, you cannot leave clothes (dirty or clean) sitting around in a basket for more than a day. If you eat something at your desk or in front of the TV you are expected to take those dishes back to the kitchen once you are done. If you have a piece of trash, it should not be put anywhere except a trash can. No excuses. If you need help putting something where it goes, then you are expected to speak up and ask and anyone around is expected to stop what they are doing and help you. I have raised three boys (two on the spectrum) and as much as they don’t like it, they KNOW the expectations. This does not mean their rooms are not messy – dear gawd – but that is because my one concession was that “your room is your own. So long as there is nothign that would attract pests or smell bad, you can leave your room as nasty as you like” So the boys do not eat in their rooms often but when they do, they bring the dishes upstairs when they are done and make sure the refuse (like pizza boxes) are thrown away. They grew up this way and it is now habit. They may leave their clothes on the floor, strew their toys and items about the floor and never dust a thing but so long as there is no pests and no bad smell emanating from their rooms, I do not bother them about it. They also all do their own laundry. They learned that when they were in middle school. Now that doesn’t mean every surface in the house is pristine and clean. The “don’t leave things out” rule is for big items and things that get messy. The tables still have markers and paper strewn about. The kitchen counter still has the remnants of food-making on it. The sink still has dishes in it. Because those things are all in the general vicinity of where they need to be, they are allowed to be there for a certain length of time. After a while, a day or two, I will order someone to clean up what they left and fix it all nice and neat – clean the counter, fill the dishwasher, sweep the floor, etc. So the counter has stuff on it more often than not. But because its only yesterday’s stuff, it doesn’t take long to clean it. It gets done on a semi-regular basis so it doesn’t take long to clean it when it comes time. It isn’t just me who reminds others either, the boys sometimes like to cook for themselves and going into the kitchen and finding someone elses mess is annoying. Rest assured, they will find the culprit and demand the kitchen be cleaned.
How I make this work
First off, one of the first questions my boys learned to answer was “what is this doing here? This doesn’t belong here” and as annoying as it was to stop what I was doing and stand around while a surly child grumped at me while putting something away was worth the time it took to teach them this lesson. Putting something where it goes was an easy lesson to teach at an early age. Toddlers can find it a challenge “Why is this here? I don’t think this goes here! Where does it go!? I bet you can figure it out! 1-2-3 go!” and grade school kids find it an affirmation of their “big kid” status “uh oh, someone left this here, can you possibly help me put this back?” It’s not really until junior high that kids get grumpy about it but by then its also ingrained in them not to fight it.
Second, this rule requires some accommodation. As I said, this is a general rule and it can be fulfilled in a general way – I am not strict about every little tiny thing being put away, just that things are in the general area of where they go. Putting a dirty dish in the sink is fine – they dont’ have to put it in the dishewasher because it might require putting away all the clean dishes or rinsing off all the dishes already in teh sink etc etc and I’m not interested in making one dish become a huge chore, just get it off the coffee table. Also, there are many things you can do to facilitate the ease of putting things away.
- I have a place for everything that can accommodate everything. I am amazed how many people have a place for something like tools but there are more things than there are place to put them. If you’re running out of room to house your knick-knacks, then get another knick-knack shelf. If you cannot fit another basic tool into the kitchen drawer, maybe its time to clean out the drawer or find another place.
- I have trash cans in every room and hallway. I am talking about trash cans that can actually house the trash that is generated in that area. The hallway has a small can, the bathrooms have medium cans, the kitchen has a kitchen can and a recycling box and a place for grocery bags. There’s a tall kitchen can at the bottom of the stairs between the boys doors. Each boy has a small can in their room. The shared bathroom has a kitchen can. There’s one by the desks, by the front door, by the backdoor, under the dining table, and in the laundry room. There’s plenty of trash cans in this house and I NEVER see trash anywhere but in a can. NEVER.
- Like trash cans, there are enough laundry baskets for everyone. I have a humongous basket for my room because I share the room with my youngest. She changes clothes regularly so we need a triple-size basket. My Second Son changes once a day and has a regular sized basket. My Third Son uses a smaller basket. My Eldest waits a long time to do laundry (because he has a lot of clothes) and uses a double-size basket. When I was married there was a basket under my husband’s desk because he liked to take his socks off when he got home. Everyone also knows very well that when your basket is full, its time to do your laundry. No excuses.
- I have a few things that facilitate moving items to where they go. We have a tray to carry dishes up and down the stairs for when you want to eat in front of the tv. That tray has become one of my favorite items. No more grumping about cleaning off the coffee table. I have end tables in strategic locations that can temporarily house items when you don’t know where they go. I have shelves for housing misplaced or unplaced items. There’s small baskets, totes, buckets and hidey-holes always within reach. Because trash cans are so numerous, it is not hard to grab a trash can nearby and sweep a mess into it from a desk or table.