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#ParentHacks: How to Make Kids Clean Up After Themselves

Teens can be messy and leave a trail behind them everywhere they go—giving new meaning to the phrase “hot mess express.” My house is a prime example. Both of my teens often forget to clean up after themselves. Sometimes I think they are just being lazy and unmotivated. But it’s exhausting cleaning up after them. And it’s even more tiring reminding them over and over again to pick up their stuff.

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I always get the inexcusable response: “I’m sorry, Mom, I forgot.”

I was done constantly reminding them to pick up their things. And I knew doing it for them was enabling their behavior. I had to do something radical to change this ongoing problem. After all, soon they will be out on their own. And I shudder to think of what their living conditions will be if we don’t get this under control. But how do you get kids to do chores like cleaning up after themselves?

Getting Kids to Clean Up: Our Payment Program

For us, it all came down to dollars. I told my kids that I would be charging them $1 per item that is not picked up and put away by the time they go to bed every night. The money would be taken from their weekly allowance, and if necessary, I would also tap into their future allowance and their savings account. I knew this would be the perfect motivation for them because they don’t want to lose a dime from their limited budget.

We’ve noticed improvements since we started doing this “Payment Program” a year ago. Both kids have lost money in the process, but they are much more mindful of picking up their things now that it comes with a cost. They still need reminders, but when I say the dollar amount out loud, they move fast.

On my end, keeping track of the charges and dealing with the stress of them losing money is a worthwhile price to pay for helping them learn responsibility. And my house looks a little neater, too.

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As for that hot mess express? There’s a new conductor in town.

Christine Carter writes about motherhood and parenting, health and wellness, marriage, friendship, and faith. You can find her work on her blog,, and several online publications. She is the author of Help and Hope While You’re Healing: A woman’s guide toward wellness while recovering from injury, surgery, or illness.” And Follow Jesus: A Christian Teen’s Guide to Navigating the Online World”. 

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