Recently, one of the CT Working Moms bloggers had asked for help with her child who would not clean up after herself. Her child was three.

Well, this prompted me to write about my experience with children who refused to be responsible for their messiness because I had the same problem… Only thirty something years ago!

Things were a little different then. I never believed in time outs for kids under the age of seven. Seven was the age of reason to me, so what would this kid know about reason if they were three? I was a no-nonsense mom. I worked a 70-hour a week job as a Creative Director and had no time for time outs. I was more of a “you do it my way, or the highway” type of mom.

So eventually I got as tired as a lot of other young working mothers with the messiness of my three children at the time. (The baby was too young to be counted in these antics!) I didn’t’ have time to reason with three kids who seemed to pay no attention to me so I had to take drastic measures. I told them that the next time I came home from work and they hadn’t picked up their toys, school clothes, coats, shoes or whatever, there would be serious consequences. And as most kids do, they ignored me!

Well that was just not going to happen!!!

The next time I came home from work and the house was a mess, I grabbed the largest black garbage bags in the house and I started to collect all the junk. I started with their bedrooms so they didn’t know what I was doing. I took EVERYTHING! I left them with their mattress, their sheets, their blankets and their pillows.


Then I proceeded to go to the main floor and pick up all of their toys, books, coats, etc.! I put them in the black bags and hauled them out to the garbage cans in the back yard.

This woke them up!

“ I NEED MY COAT TO GO TO SCHOOL!” One of them lamented. “You took my doll???” said another.

(At this point they hadn’t seen the bedroom stripped of everything.)

“Really….. then you had better do something to earn it back. This isn’t a free ride in this house and you are old enough to understand that I am not your slave!” Whoa! That worked.

“What are you doing Mommy?”

“Well, you had fair warning that something bad would happen if you didn’t listen to me and here it is! Now, if you want one item back, as a privilege for living in this house, you can earn it. You have the choice of what it is, but you have to earn it. There is no free lunch here. We all have to chip in and help. You are old enough to not be a slob. That won’t be acceptable in this house. Get used to it.”

Complete and utter silence. From 7-years old down to 3, they all stared at me. Guess that got them thinking! And when they saw what I had done to their bedroom… OMG! The wailing and gnashing of teeth! You would have thought the Noah had left them behind when he sailed with the Ark!

And there the bags sat, right by the garbage cans. Filled with toys, clothes, books, you name it. They lived in fear that I would actually put their stuff out on the curb for pickup! And you know what? They started to pick up the few things that they had retained. They totally got it that I wasn’t fooling around. I was seriously willing to dump all of their stuff if they didn’t learn. (That’s the important thing that a lot of young parents have a problem with… sticking to their guns. You can NEVER give in! If you do, you lose.)

So the weeks went on, and little by little they were making their bed, (yes, even the 3-year old), putting their dishes in the sink, hanging up their coats, putting their school stuff in places they should be and one by one I gave the stuff back.

This worked until they became pre-teens and teenagers, but that is a whole blog unto itself. Totally different strategy had to be found for THAT age group! But for young kids the threat of them losing their now-a-day iPhone, TV, clothes except what’s needed for school and stripping their room of decorations, and extemporaneous items can work. My kids learned to work for their belongings… just like we all have to work for our things in life. Sometimes this is easy, sometimes is sucks. Sometimes is harder than you would ever imagine, but that’s real life.

They eventually got everything back and the black bags were empty, but their habits of inconsideration were diminished. And mom was a way happier person. My advice? Get tough young mothers. Don’t give in. Kids know exactly how to manipulate you from the age of 18 months, so be on guard.

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