Quick Pick-Up Tricks



The cutie sitting among the chaos eating a cassette tape is my youngest daughter, Faith, about thirteen years ago. And, no, I'm afraid I can't tell you that this was an artistically arranged for a photo illustration even though Kara did use it in a book she was created. At the time my kids were 14, 12, 9, 5, 4, 2, and almost 1, and it was all too easy for the little girls to slip away and create destruction while I was working with their older siblings. 

Kids are messy, and toddlers take the cake in their dedication to proving the truth of the Second Law of Thermodynamics in their closed systems. So living with little ones means constantly striving to return the house to a sense of order. It is amazing how much easier it is to keep room in basic shape without toddler tornadoes these days!

There are some basic principles that can go a long way toward alleviating toddler and older kid-messdom, such as purging excess toys, clothes, and so on, or teaching your children to put one toy away before moving on to another, but that discussion must take place elsewhere. Here I just want to give a few ideas for picking up from the typical mess that rejuvenates itself at the home of most families with one, two, three, or more little people who are much quicker at taking out items than organizing them and putting them away. These are in addition to your usual pattern for chores and housecleaning. The type of strategy that works best for you will depend in large part on the current makeup of your family. If all your children are under the age of four, you have a different road than you will have when you also have older kids. Just keep trying different things to find what works best during your current season.

Rather than running around like a crazy lady trying to keep the house immaculate, especially when we were schooling we had (and still have) certain periods of the day of focused cleaning and also chore time. I like to have things in order before we start school (or whatever the day’s activities may be) and then again late in the afternoon before Tim comes home. A quick pick up before lunch also often took place when our house had multiple under-5s.

Quick Pick Up Strategies:

1.Cleaning blitz:
Set a timer for 5, 10, or 15 minutes and everyone goes to work madly tidying. This is different from regular chores because here you are focused on getting one room or possibly one floor of your house in order with all stray items returned to their “homes.” (And everything in your house must have a designated home!) You may want to assign a specific category for each child such as crayons, clothing, or math manipulatives. Be very specific when you direct little children to pick up. Telling young children to clean their room is overwhelming, but when you break it into parts it becomes manageable. Have designated blitz times during the day such as before lunch (or naps), before daddy gets home, and/or before bed. 

We’ve long had blitz times, though without preschoolers anymore, our regular chore routines usually suffice, so blitzes are much less common than they once were. Goggling “blitz cleaning” to see if others use this technique,  I ran across a lovely blog written by a homeschooling Catholic mom of seven (mostly grown now) children. Here’s a bit of what “Aunt Leila” says about blitzing in their home:

Which is why I quickly learned that my small-family deep- and moderate-cleaning skills were not enough. And, as I told you, having a lot of kids actually made me forget any attributes I had acquired -- my brain literally became paralyzed from the necessity of feeding, teaching, and, in fact, defending myself against all my kids, whom, nonetheless, I loved very much; and I really did just forget how to deep clean a room until another person physically demonstrated to me what was required. The blitz is a lightening strike on a room that has been reasonably maintained (in other words, not a room in need of a deep clean but simply one that has endured three nano-seconds of kid-exposure).

The blitz enables you to live a real life with the sure knowledge that you can whip things into shape in 15 minutes.


2. Pick up twice your age
This one won’t work if your oldest child is three, but it is a boon if you have lots of kids with some of them getting up in age. For example, at the time of the picture above, adding the kids’ ages you come up with 47, which doubled is 94. That’s a fair number of stray items to pick up and return to their proper places! If you have a younger pick-up crew, it can still be a handy tool, though not as dramatic.
Example: Younger crew: 5, 4, 2  = 11 *2 = 22 items  
(I pick up alongside the children, but don’t bother to count, just stopping when they are done.) If the room still looks trashed, we occasionally would say, “Ok, looks like we need to do three times our ages today,” and continue.  

3. Desperate measures:
Maybe not so desperate, but I have occasionally resorted to taking a broom and sweeping all the clutter that has accumulated under my children’s beds, dressers, behind the door, and so on, into a big pile in the middle of the room. Then I give them a certain amount of time to pick up and put away everything they want to keep. The rest goes in the rubbish pile.

4.  15-ers
I’ve found it handy to keep a running list of jobs I could tackle in 15 minutes. This might be sorting the Tupperware containers, cleaning out the kitchen junk drawer, or sorting through a shelf or two of the linen closet. Then when I have some spare minutes, I turn to this list, set a timer, and go to work. The timer seems to help me as much as it does the children and it helps me to take on unpleasant jobs that otherwise would go ignored.


Decide what level of order helps your family function best. Give up perfectionism, knowing that you have a real live home for a real live family. On the other hand, tackling the constant toddler messes can go a long way to helping everyone feel more peaceful and prevent that sense of panic that comes when your doorbell rings.

2 Responses
  1. Anonymous Says:

    Anne,

    What a helpful post! I read the first paragraph a few days ago and teared up thinking how grateful I was that you wrote this (most everything was in a state of chaos that day!) Then I shut my computer and came back and read the rest tonight when I could actually think about and remember it. Well, it was (again) very helpful. Thank you!

    -Becky


  2. Anne Says:

    Thank you, Becky! I'm glad it could be of help.