By Julia Pantoga
Last month, I had the great experience of helping my 11-year-old nephew clean his room. Maybe you think that it would have been more fun to take my nephew to the fair, but I was much happier helping him clean his room.
Here’s a list of advantages to helping him clean his room over taking him to the fair:
1. It was less expensive (by far).
2. I got to focus on nothing but him and his life for two hours.
3. None of his siblings were “jealous” of our alone time.
4. We accomplished something important to him.
If you were to look at the “before” and “after” (no photos, to protect his privacy), you might suspect that I actually cleaned his room for him. Not true. For most of two hours, I sat in a chair with a garbage bag and bossed him around.
Here’s the progression of what we did: The Lecture. I sat with Sam on his bed and told him what I’m sure his mother (my sister) has told him hundreds of times, “This is your private space; you should be proud of it. Every time you come in this room, you should be happy to do so and you should easily find anything in this room. Your younger siblings look up to you; if you set an example of keeping your room neat, they will keep their rooms neat, too.” Etc., etc. You get the picture.
I followed up the lecture by laughing with him about the sign he could put on his door (he has his own room) to keep the space private (“Keep Out!” with a drawing of a skull and crossbones, for example—well, that’s not the way I would put it, but he is an 11-year-old boy).
Preparation. Before we started, we got set up for some serious room cleaning. First we found a blank sheet of paper and a pen and cleared a place for them on his desk. We would use this paper to write a list that he could share with his mother of the things he needed to keep his room clean. The first item on the list was a “Keep Out” sign for his door.
Next we looked around the room and identified what big containers we would need. This is a variation on the “three container” advice I gave you in one of my first columns, “Order = Calm, Part 3, Down To Business!” We needed much bigger containers though: 1) for garbage 2) for dirty clothes and 3) for things that belong to his brother.
I sent Sam for a yard-size garbage bag. He didn’t have a hamper, so we decided to throw dirty clothes in the hall for now and add “hamper” to his list. He already had a basket started for his brother’s things, so we used what was familiar (THAT was good practice. If his brother and his things are in his room often, he should keep a basket in his room of his brother’s stuff.)
Cleaning. This part was the most miraculous and the most fun. As I’ve said before, while Sam cleaned, I pretty much sat in a chair and held the garbage bag. My method was simple: “Don’t waste energy moving around.”
We made an exception for clothes that needed to be hung up, but, for the most part, when Sam was working on one part of his room (like the top of his desk), I didn’t let him move from that area. For example, if he encountered something on his desk that belonged in his closet, I had him put it on the floor somewhere in the direction of his closet and stay put at his desk, rather than walking over to his closet.
My job was to take care of the three big containers and the various piles. Sam would crawl under his bed and hand me things and say, “garbage,” “laundry, “brother” or “closet.”
Of course we eventually needed far more than three containers. But we kept at it for almost two hours and, by the end, (if you closed the closet door), the room was clean indeed.
Encouraging Note. The final step I took was when I was left alone in his room. I left him an encouraging note with:
1. A repeat of the lecture (This is your private space; treat it with pride).
2. Reminders of the tasks he had left to do (show his mom the list we made, clean his closet, go through his desk drawers).
3. Tips for keeping his room clean (clothes never go on the floor—they are either clean and get put away or they are dirty and go in the laundry, make your bed EVERY DAY, nothing goes under your bed unless you are storing it there).
I loved that I had the opportunity to be so helpful—certainly for a week or two for Sam and his mom, but maybe, just maybe, for the long term too. I guess what I’m trying to remind you is that it isn’t housekeeping skills that make you a domestic goddess; it’s using the skills that you do have to be truly helpful. That’s why I’m certain that we all have the capability to be domestic goddesses.