How to Get Your Kids To Pick Things Up Every Night

Updated: Apr 25, 2019

About a year ago, my wife and I were ending our day talking about work and life, when we decided it was time to go to sleep. I got up, went upstairs, brushed my teeth, laid down and started reading.

Our house still looked a bit like the photo below, so Angie got up, picked up some books in the living room, put some dishes in the dishwasher, rearranged the books on the piano, wiped off the dining room table, flushed the toilet (seriously boys!), and thought about what work needed to be done first thing in the morning.

15 minutes later, she came upstairs. We have three (practically) grown children in our home and she just spent 15 minutes picking up after them. To be clear, I wasn’t frustrated with her – I was frustrated at the situation and wondering how we could have let our kids get to the point that they didn’t do a better job picking up after themselves.

As a husband I want to serve my wife by letting her go to bed as freely as me (apologies to my wife!). As a father, I thought about how I might be able to train my kids to help more around the house.

So, we started talking about how we might do this in a way that was fun for all of us. And, we landed at something we call Family Activity Night (“FAN”, for short). FAN is a weekly night for us to do something fun as a family – like ordering pizza, going to a movie, or having a cooking contest. We do this at the end of our rest day and it’s our favorite night of the week. The kids plan FAN and as parents, we say yes to whatever idea they come up with, no matter how crazy (though mostly, it’s adventures with food).

FAN is made possible by a clean house. Here’s how it works (the diagram below shows the big picture):

Set A Goal

During our weekly family planning meeting, we set a goal for the number of things the kids are “allowed” to leave out overnight. This past week, that goal was 2 items for the whole seven days.

Clean Up & Inspect (Daily)

Every day (and often in the evening), the kids pick up after themselves for the day. Every morning when I wake up (before anyone else is awake), I “inspect” the house to see if anything was left out. Every single thing I find counts against the goal (I tell them about it at breakfast). I’m usually super-strict about it – I’ve counted a single bobby pin left on the bench at the bottom of the stairs.

Make the Goal?

If, at the end of the week, I haven’t found more than 2 items, they get a preset amount of money toward FAN. They can save up money over time (we set a maximum amount of money at which point, they’re required to spend it or lose it). If I find more than 2 items for the week, they lose their money for the week and everything they’ve saved up.

If they don’t hit the goal for a week, they experience the following consequences:

FAN is cancelled for the week and we treat the night like a school night (homework, housework, etc.).

The FAN account is emptied.

As of this writing, our kids have made the goal for 42 consecutive weeks and for 42 consecutive weeks, Angie has gone to bed as freely as me, and we’ve had some money in a fund to go out and do something fun together, like a breakout room with friends.

Here’s what I love about this approach:

Angie feels more respected and cared for by the entire family.

The kids have to work as a team to make the goal, which is important because it means the kids hold each other accountable. As parents, we don’t have to police it. I’ve seen them get their siblings out of bed to go back downstairs if they see something left out. More than anything though, I’m thankful to see them functioning as a team.

The terms and rules are very clear, so it’s easy to hold the kids accountable

We have some handles we can play with – if the week is particularly challenging, we’ll sometimes increase the count on the number of items to make it a bit easier.

Here’s what I don’t love about this approach:

We put in more money than I’d like for just picking up the stuff left around the house. I’m working to change this by adding in more activities that need to be done during the week (like the weekly house cleaning).

I don’t like that the parents are not held accountable, so I’m considering having the kids count the number of items the parents leave out and subtract that amount from the number of items the kids leave out. This will create tension in the system for them to find places where Angie or I haven’t modeled behavior well.

If you’re interested, here’s a one-pager to get you started in your house. I hope you find it helpful.

Comment below about the tools, systems, and games you use to help your family tackle your mission.

By Rich Theil


© 2018 by Wild Oak, LLC     |     Cincinnati, Ohio