Owning The Room
by Mindy Starns Clark, author
Few things in life beat the feeling of just-finished Spring cleaning. Once you’ve flung open the windows and purged the winter’s dust and grime, there’s nothing quite as refreshing as strolling through your now-spotless home and admiring your hard work, inhaling the lingering traces of fresh pine or citrus, and relishing the gleaming wood and crystal-clear glass that sparkles from every side.
Why, you wonder, can’t the house stay this clean year round?
This year, maybe it can. In my book The House That Cleans Itself, I outline a plan for eliminating clutter, getting organized, and setting up your home so logically and efficiently that it often feels as if your house is actually cleaning itself. Beyond conquering the chaos, however, still remains the issue of how to stay on top of the daily straightening and the weekly deep cleaning. One of the best methods I’ve found for this, especially in families of four or more, is based on what I call the “Room Ownership” method.
When my children were younger, the hardest part of keeping the house tidy day-to-day was the blame game.
“She left it there, tell her to clean it.”
“That mess is hers, not mine.”
As much as it bugged me, I had to admit there was a certain logic to their complaints. If they both contributed to the mess but one simply left a book on the floor and the other scattered ten toys on the rug or spilled crumbs from one end of the couch to the other, why should they both have to clean it all up? On the other hand, why should I have to be the one to divide out and enforce individual responsibility? I just wanted the room clean, whoever had messed it up. The blame game used to make me nuts.
Then I discovered the Room Ownership method, which eliminates this problem by assigning the various common rooms of the house to specific family members. It’s then their job to see that their room stays neat each day–and, if they’re old enough, to do a “deep cleaning” of the room once a week as well.
In the beginning, it’s important to find a fun but fair way to choose who gets to own which room(s). If the choices aren’t obvious, then use a game to decide who’ll own what. For example, write the name of each room on the back of a different candy bar or sticker; spread out the items on a table and let everyone pick one or two. They get to keep their prize plus the rooms that are revealed when the items are turned over.
Once the rooms have been assigned, choose a convenient time of day, every day, for straightening. (In our house, this was always about 15 minutes before dinner.) At the pre-designated time, call out “Everyone to the room they own, please,” and each person then goes to their room and sees that it is tidied up.
Rules of Thumb for Daily Straightening
If someone has made a mess in your room, you can choose whether to clean it up yourself or get them to do it; either choice must be carried out in a Christlike manner, though, without resentment or sharp words.If someone requests that you clean a mess you left in their room, you must stop your own straightening and take care of that first.
Rooms should be assigned based on age and ability, with more difficult rooms (such as the kitchen) going to teens or adults.Rotate room ownership once a month, so that no one is stuck with the messier rooms for long and every family member eventually has a chance to learn how to clean each room in the house.
If your kids are in grade school or higher, they are more than likely old enough to be the “deep cleaner” for the rooms they own as well. That means that once a week their job includes not just straightening but also mopping, dusting, vacuuming, etc., until the room positively shines.
To get started, write down a list of the tasks required for each room; teach your kids any skills that they might need so that they can complete those tasks themselves. Stay with them the first few times to answer questions and give feedback. (But resist the urge to jump in and take over!) For consistency, advise your little cleaners to work from left to right, top to bottom, and clockwise, just like the housecleaning experts do.
Once they seem to have the hang of it, agree on a convenient day and time for the deep cleaning then simply let them know when the moment has arrived. Having built the habit of daily straightening, it’s usually not that much more trouble to do the weekly deep cleaning as well.
Rules of Thumb for Weekly Deep Cleaning
Younger children can be assigned as your “room buddy” and given simple tasks, if possible. Even a toddler knows when he is part of the family cleaning routineÑand he can help by dusting the baseboards and lower cabinets with a damp rag. (He might miss a few spots, but he’s sure building a great habit.) For safety, just be sure to use natural cleaners rather than chemicals when tiny ones are around.Each person is responsible for organizing and replenishing the cleaning tools they need. (Needs are written on a master shopping list on the fridge.) For morale, each person should be allowed to use the cleaning-tool carrier of their choice. They may want a bright red plastic caddy, a rolling cart, or even a carpenter’s apron! (A kid in a carpenter’s apron that’s fully stocked with spray cleaners, paper towels, rags, etc., is a force to be reckoned withÑand a great soldier in the battle against grime.)
To prevent conflicts over sharing larger tools such as vacuum cleaners, deep cleaning times can be assigned in a “staggered” fashion.
Springtime All the Time
The Room Ownership method does more than just keep rooms clean on a consistent basis. It takes parents out of the roll of arbiter and enforcer, it teaches kids to be more considerate of other people’s spaces, it allows one person to become familiar with the responsibility of getting a specific and limited area clean, and finally it tends to give the owner a true sense of pride and accomplishment.
Try the Room Ownership method in your home today, and enjoy that Spring-clean feeling all year long.
This article has been adapted from the book The House That Cleans Itself, by Mindy Starns Clark, from Harvest House Publishers, ©2007 Mindy Starns Clark. ISBN 0-7369-1880-9
©2007 Mindy Starns Clark