Thursday, September 22, 2011

The Throw-away Box

My 3 youngest children getting ready
for the day....sort of!

As you can imagine, having five children can create a lot of work around the house. Things can get out of control rather quickly if I don't stay on top of things, and getting sick can be a way to turn the house into a disaster area!

Since it can be a lot to handle for me, and because I believe in teaching my children responsibility which they can carry with them into adulthood, I've come up with several tools to get a handle on the mess. The latest tool is "The Throw-away Box." Doesn't that just make you cringe? No? That's okay, it's not meant to make you cringe, but I hope it gets my children's attention!

Believe it or not, it's easier for me to keep the house clean during the times school isn't in session. The kids all know what they have to do so they can hang out with friends, play video games or other such things. So they generally accomplish this at the start of the day and then do their fun things after they're finished.

During the school year, however, the older kids are so bombarded with homework, projects, music practice, sports and activities of that nature that they just come in, throw off their backpacks, take out all their papers, books, instruments, etc; take off shoes and socks and any jackets they may be wearing, run for a snack and then dig in to their homework/lessons/practice, etc.

So regardless of how clean the house is before they get home, it quickly looks like a tornado hit it within the first 15 minutes of them being home. I tried to keep up, but it just made me grumpy. Imagine that! So I decided that even though they have other work to do outside of home, that shouldn't exempt them from cleaning up after themselves! Right? Of course! I don't imagine they'll have a maid with them at college, so they better learn this lesson now.

Here's where "The Throw-away Box" comes in. After a long day of canning and all that entails, and taking care of my younger two children, I was exasperated to watch my freshly picked-up living room become littered in the flurry of my returning school children.

"That's it!" I said. "No more!"

They momentarily stopped in the process of shoveling papers out of their packs and discarding them willy-nilly, to look at their wild-eyed mother. But those wide-eyed, innocent looks weren't going to stop me from laying down the law.

"Tyler, go get me a box." I commanded my teenager.

"A box?" He asked, clearly confused.

"Yes, a box," I affirmed. When he came back with it, I set it down in the middle of the mess in my living room. "You see this box? This is where everything that I find out of place is going to go." I started to pick up their belongings and shoved them in the box.

"Okay." My seven year old didn't seem bothered by this one bit. The older two just watched me warily.

"I'm not finished," I told them. "If, by the end of the day, your things are still in the box, I will assume you no longer want or need them and will take them out to the trash. No exceptions, no second-chances."

They all look horrified and immediately started to grab for the items that I'd already put in the box. I stopped them for a moment to add one last warning: "And if I find any of those items that you've taken out of the box out of place again, they will go straight to the trash. Understand?"

They all ran to put their things where they belonged and at the end of the day, the box was empty. Does that mean I haven't had to put things in the box since then? No. It's only been a few days of this new rule, and so far they've been catching their items before they end up in the trash, but haven't quite stopped them from making it into the box in the first place. On the plus side, the box hasn't been getting as full as it did the first day. Progress? I like to think so!

Anyway, we'll see how this goes. Somewhere we need to find the right balance of work for everyone. School can be demanding, and so can the other activities the kids have going on. That's why I limit their extra-curriculars so they don't get so bogged down. But with five children, that still makes for a full schedule most weeks.

So what do you think? Am I just a mean mom? Or maybe some think I'm a pushover? Haha! What do you do in your family? I'd love to hear your ideas and solutions!