Several years ago, I shared a few of my tips for living with a messy spouse — not because Dave was messy, but because it was one of the most common questions I got from readers!
I still get questions like that today… and now that we have 4 children, I’m also asked how to get THEM on-board with cleaning and organizing — or, at the very least, not undo every single thing we’ve done to try and clean things up!
While I don’t have any quick-fix answers or easy solutions to these questions, I do think there is hope… IF your children and/or your spouse are willing to try to change their behavior (even if it’s just to please you)!
That said, I realize there are many spouses, significant others, and children who are NOT willing to change, or even put forth any effort around the house. Maybe they are depressed, maybe they are beyond stubborn and defiant, maybe they are in a bad place in life, or maybe they just honestly don’t care enough about the house or enough about you to even try.
I don’t like to admit it, but in those situations, it will be significantly more difficult to see results with the steps I’ve outlined below. However, I certainly don’t want to discourage you from giving it a shot — you can’t know for sure until you try, right?
If you are struggling to motivate messy children or a messy spouse to clean up and get more organized, here are 5 steps that might help!
1. MODEL how you do it.
This might sound overly obvious, but in most situations, if you aren’t willing to put your own dishes away, hang up your own clothes, make your own bed, or pick up your own messes, then you can’t really expect your spouse or your children to do those tasks either.
If you’re currently not accustomed to picking up after yourself, it might take a bit of work to change YOUR habits first — but I promise that it can be done!
This is a crucial first step, because in order for anyone in your house to take your organization requests seriously, you need to be modeling good behavior.
2. ASK them to do it.
This was fortunately something I learned VERY early on in my marriage — if I didn’t ask, it probably was not going to get done. As many of you know, Dave is super helpful around the house and is always more than willing to do almost anything I ask… but I do have to ask.
In the beginning of our marriage, I had to ask him to do everything because he didn’t naturally think to do the tasks on his own. It’s not that he was lazy or didn’t want to help out — it’s just that his brain didn’t constantly look for things to do around the house. He could walk right past a basket of clean laundry and not think to fold it. Or he could open the clean dishwasher and not empty it.
After 12+ years of marriage (and lots of asking on my part) I can happily say that Dave is now extremely observant and frequently takes charge of various household chores even before I ask!
I’m not saying that simply asking will magically do the trick (especially with stubborn teens or a spouse who has “checked out” of the marriage) but I do think this is an extremely important part of the puzzle. You’ll probably feel like you are “babying” your spouse or your grown children (at least that’s how I felt), but you might be surprised how differently their brains work.
Oh, and subtle hints most likely will NOT work 🙂
Don’t say, “I took the laundry out of the dryer and put it on the bed.” and then get upset if they don’t fold it — after all, you never actually asked. Instead, say, “I would really appreciate it if you would fold the basket of laundry on our bed while you’re watching the football game this afternoon.”
See the difference there?
In my experience with a very helpful spouse, I still needed to come out and specifically ask him to do exactly what I want because hoping he will catch my hints just leaves us both frustrated.
Just remember to ask nicely and ask specifically for exactly what you’d like them to do.
3. SHOW them how to do it.
If someone asked you to do something you’ve never done before, you’d have a pretty difficult time doing it without some instructions…right? Well, the same goes for your family members — maybe they just need you to patiently show them how to do it.
If you want the bathrooms cleaned a certain way, or the dishwasher loaded a certain way, make sure you take the time to SHOW others how to do it before you start harping on them or complaining that no one in your house ever helps you out.
And please do NOT assume that simply because they’ve witnessed you do it 849 times, that they should automatically know how to do it themselves. You would think this should be the case, but it’s not.
Even in my own life, I need to physically do the job myself in order for me to learn and remember how to do it. By taking the time to show my family how to do various tasks, they will be better able to pitch in an help (and yes, I often need to show them several times!)
4. LET them do it.
Once you’ve asked them to do something and shown them how to do it, then back off!
Don’t hover around watching to make sure they do it perfectly! That is super annoying — I know this because Dave told me how annoying it was when I did it to him early in our marriage!
He said if I wanted him to help out, then I would have to relax and let him do it his way. Maybe it wasn’t exactly the way I would fold the clothes or load the dishwasher, or scrub a toilet… but it was good enough!
Of course, there might still be times when you need to step in and offer more instruction or help (like if they’re using bleach in the colored laundry or completely ignoring the underside of the toilet seat) but don’t continually correct them or hover around waiting for them to make another mistake!
SIDE NOTE: when teaching toddlers and young children to help, I think it’s perfectly OK to hover a bit. But even then, there are certainly times when you can give them the instructions and let them go off on their own to complete the task. It probably won’t be done exactly how you would have done it, but it’s done and you are teaching your children independence and self-sufficiency at an early age!
5. THANK them for doing it.
I realize that compliments and thank-you’s aren’t extremely common in our line of work — in fact, I really can’t remember the last time anyone thanked me for cleaning out the dishwasher, emptying a trash can, folding laundry, pulling weeds, or cleaning a toilet. However, I think it is extremely important for us to genuinely compliment and thank our children and spouse any time they help out (even if they grudgingly help!)
You might be surprised how far a compliment or a simple thank-you goes.
My main “love language” is Acts of Service — which means I really DO appreciate it when Dave is willing to help out around the house. It’s the best gift he could give me, and he knows that too.
I have to admit, I don’t thank him every time he does something helpful — but there are many nights when we crawl into bed and I say, “Thanks for doing the dishes and helping with the laundry.” to which he often responds, “Thanks for doing everything else.” 🙂
It takes 5 seconds… and it’s totally worth it. Maybe one of these days, you might actually get a thank-you too (maybe!)
Like I mentioned above, I fully realize these steps won’t magically work overnight — and for many families, they might not work at all. However, for those of you who are looking for something else to try, I figured they were worth sharing.
If keeping your house somewhat neat and organized is important to you, I hope these steps will help you encourage your family members to “get on board” and start helping out a bit more.
What tips would you add to my list?