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How I “Motivate” My Messy Teens as I Battle to Keep my House Clean

When we were alerted that school would be out indefinitely last year, I sent my sister a picture of my kids lying on the sofa surrounded by bags of chips and empty Vitamin Water bottles. There were throw pillows on the ground and the carpet desperately needed to be vacuumed.

My text read: “I don’t think I am going to be able to get through these next few weeks if my kids think this is their new way of life.”

I could tell my anxiety was on its way up. I knew if we were going to make a go at this—without me losing my voice every day from hollering to my three kids to clean up after themselves—I had to come up with a plan.

The truth is, I can be a compulsive cleaner. I notice when something isn’t in its place and it bothers me if the clean dishes sit in the dishwasher too long.

I am aware not everyone is like me and that I need to chill the heck out about sometimes. I remind myself every single day that my home doesn’t have to be magazine-ready at all times.

But my children swing so far in the other direction that it’s only fair to establish a happy medium so we can all feel some sense of peace.

Honestly, during the days when they’d go off to school, I was able to rake through the house and put everything away: the forgotten cup, the dish towel that was left on the counter, the crumbs from breakfast they never seem to see.

It was my way of decompressing and catching my breath. Before I could even begin to sit down and work, the house had to be in order.

It drives me crazy to see a mess my kids have made, then to look over at said kids to see them lounging the afternoon away, happy teenagers with full bellies who aren’t bothered by their own messes.

It wasn’t a feeling I could endure every day, even though I tried telling myself there were bigger things to worry about—like getting my 11th grader through his chemistry class. It was only a matter of time before something had to change.

The Key to Getting My Kids to Clean Up

My kids now wake up and do their assigned chores and clean up their breakfast mess before they get their phones.

If they want to get out of the house to do a fast food run, or browse Target, their rooms need to be cleaned and traces of what they’ve been doing (and eating) need to be cleaned up before I will take them.

If they don’t put chips away and they get stale, I stop buying them for a while.

These little things have saved my voice, my sanity, and made it something we really don’t have to discuss—much.

I can be thankful my kids are home and healthy without needing to accept that the house looks like a tornado ripped through it. Encouraging them to take responsibility for their mess keeps me from feeling overwhelmed and messy—and keeps them from having a mother who wants to bite their head off at every turn.

And while they would probably never admit it, I think helping to keep the house clean not only gives them more confidence in themselves, it makes them happier, too. They’ve also learned how much easier it is to just get the chores out of the way, before it becomes an issue.

We are all home more now, and we all have more time to do the jobs we couldn’t get to before. If anything, the house should be in the best shape ever. Okay, that that might be pushing it a bit for my children, but I’ll take what I can get. I’m satisfied with them simply doing their part by picking up after themselves. In the coming weeks, maybe they’ll get motivated to organize their closets and break out the label maker.

A mother can dream, right?

Katie Bingham-Smith

Katie Bingham-Smith had three kids in three years and crafts herself silly in order to stay sane. She loves to write, wear faux leather pants, eat at burger joints, and make beautiful things. You can see more on her blog www.philigry.comFacebook and Instagram.

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