5 Tips To Encourage a Clean(er) and (more) Organized Family

posted by Andrea | 11/8/2018

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!

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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.

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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.

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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!)

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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!

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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!)

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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?

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29 comments

  1. Anna

    11/08/2018

    I definitely struggle with a spouse who is messy and unorganized. But while I would say it isn’t super different after 10 years of living together he has made some changes.

    I did struggle before this blog with Ask Them to Do it. LOL I think I read this tip a while back on another blog topic and it has really reminded me that I need to ask rather than just expect it to happen.

    I’ve found these to be helpful with my spouse and children.

    1. Let them choose what they want to be in charge of. My husband early on hated cleaning cause he didn’t know where to put things and it would just end up in the next room. He never remembers to change the clothes in the washer in the dryer and then put them up. The clothes will stay in the dryer for days! LOL BUT he doesn’t mind washing dishes and that he can do at any time and not forget. So he does dishes every night and most of them on weekends.

    2. Let them organize how they want their area. So for the dishes and the kitchen setup some how it didn’t make sense for him on where I had everything so he’d struggle or get frustrated trying to figure it out. So we re-organized the kitchen in a way that made sense to him. And I’m flexible so I don’t mind learning a new way. (This past year he’s also taken the responsibility of cleaning our bedroom and we reorganized it in a way that he likes, is simple and knows where everything goes.)

    3. As you said don’t hover. And also don’t expect it done right away. Usually my husband does the dinner dishes after midnight. He’s an evening guy and doesn’t have much energy until after dinner, a shower and some TV time. And I’m usually in bed pretty early so dishes are done way after I go to bed. So be patient.

    4. Have a family evening or weekend clean up time. I find that have a family cleanup with the kids and my husband works better cause everyone is helping and no one feels like they are doing all the work. In addition, it helps my husband model great behavior in helping clean up and not feeling like I’m telling him what to do but telling the kids. Even though I know cleaning the rest of the house is a struggle for him. We put on cleaning songs for the kids as well cause they are younger and love music. It also helps cause the music stops them from complaining and whining about what they don’t want to do.

    5. This sounds awful but for spouses and children who don’t want to change this is what I did. Occasionally when first started out I did all the cleaning and would get frustrated with having to do it all. So then I’d just stop and not do anything for a week or two. Then my husband and kids would be like I’m out of clothes or tripping over stuff or they would complain about not finding stuff. So I’d make them responsible for helping me catch up. And over a few years of doing this (lol yes years) my husband and kids see a great benefit in keeping up rather than catching up. Not just cause they have to help but because they can see how much less stressed I am and how nicely the day and weeks flow. And they are less mad about not having stuff when they need it.

    6. Another struggling spouse and children tip is to give them some quality time as a reward. Usually right after our clean up time we play a board game or watch a TV show together, go to the park, etc. Cause I tell them when everyone helps mom has more time to spend doing things with them. Same with my spouse if he’s helped out with the cleaning he gets bonus quiet time cause I’m playing games with the kids instead of cleaning and him having to attend to them in the process. I should say he does help a lot with the kids through out the day so rarely he gets time to himself so this is a big bonus for him. LOL

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    Michelle Reply:

    These are amazing tips and suggestions!!!

    Sounds like you’ve got a great system, Anna!

    I am going to pass this whole post along to my daughter and encourage her to read the comment section as well. She was just roaring mad the other evening and bending my ear about it and, hopefully, she can implement some of these tips and get some help around her house.She’s got a son, a stepson, a stepdaughter, a clueless partner, and she’s expecting their fourth! She needs all the help she can get.

    Thanks so much! To you and Andrea.
    Michelle

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    Anna Reply:

    Thanks Michelle! It’s a work in progress. I’ve just implemented immediate allowances as well now that 2 of my children are getting older and having more events they would like to do at school or with friends.

    So this one is where instead of getting an every 2 weeks allowance, I’ve started paying them for specific tasks.

    It definitely is starting to help them to see the immediate cause and effect of them working to earn their money to do those events.

    While I definitely know that some parents don’t do allowances and I didn’t when my kids were younger it helps with my older kids. 1. Cause my husband will definitely give them the money regardless of whether they’ve earned it or not. 2. It shows them that they can earn up to their weekly allowance before I normally give it to them. So I’m hoping that will help them learn that extra activities is a privilege of helping with family stuff. 3. I’d like to also teach them about saving up the money till its time for them to do their event.

    And the biggest benefit is my husband is on board with it. He feels like the kids are more eager each night to do some extra cleaning and on weekends too. We typically have some challenges agreeing on kids and level of responsibility at each age and enforcement.

    So this is my new experiment with my challenging family whose not normally organized and naturally helpful. LOL

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    Andrea Reply:

    Sounds like this is working really well for YOUR family — and that’s what counts!
    If you, your husband, and your kids are all on the same page, you are definitely doing something right! Keep it up 🙂

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    Alissa Reply:

    Yes to #3! If I ask my husband to do dishes (or whatever) and he says yes then they will get done when they get done. This was SO HARD for me at first but now I chuckle a bit because, “I get the night off from dishes, why should I spend it huffing and puffing about when they get done.” I think Andrea once said, “Done is better than perfect” or something like that and I agree 🙂

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    Andrea Reply:

    oh I hear you — I want it done and I want it done NOW, but Dave isn’t always that way either. Sometimes I just want to do it myself SO badly, but I know he’ll get to eventually and I just need to wait!
    And yes, Done is Better Than Perfect! For sure!

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    Andrea Reply:

    WOW — thanks so much for your long and detailed reply. Such great tips (you could have practically written the original post!)

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    Anna Reply:

    LOL Sorry! I know how having a unorganized and messy family can be frustrating and deflating. I’ve done a lot of trial and error over the last 10 years. So I’m super excited when things actually work!

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    Andrea Reply:

    definitely! BE EXCITED!! It’s great that you’ve found something that works for you!

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  2. Joy

    11/08/2018

    Andrea – I truly appreciate your site and learn so much from the things you post. Could you do a post on Grove.com? I do believe you use this service, but I’m still a bit confused about it. Lately they have been running a freebies deal and I’m always apprehensive about it. Would love to know your opinion.

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    Andrea Reply:

    Thanks Joy!
    I have done a few posts on Grove.co in the past — and yes, I still use them for many household items. I will agree that their system is a bit confusing, but you get used to it!

    That said, I don’t think you have anything to be “apprehensive” about. They are not a scam in anyway, their products are great quality, they work with very reputable brands, their customer service is great, their return policy is wonderful, and I doubt they would ever try to ‘screw anyone over’.

    There is no subscription or membership price, so if there are things you’re interested in ordering, I’d definitely order them and just see how you like it. You don’t HAVE to order every month — just choose to “skip the month” by moving any items in your cart to the next month’s order. They will also email you and text message you a few days before your order is processed so if you don’t want to order anything, you can log in and empty your cart.

    It’s really nice to get so many household (and baby) items delivered to my door without needing to remember to buy them from the store all the time.

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  3. Annette Silveira

    11/08/2018

    I laughed at the part where you thanked Dave for doing a couple of jobs and he thanked you for doing everything else. My husband and I have had that exact conversation a lot! I’m also fortunate that he thanks me every day after we eat for his meal. He’s a sweetie.

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    Andrea Reply:

    yeah, he’s a good guy — so appreciative and thankful for the everyday things I do (and there are a lot of them!)
    Sounds like you have a good hubby too 🙂

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  4. Kate

    11/08/2018

    6number 2 was pivotal for my marriage. I love the way you phrased it, that hes not just looking for things to do around the house. My husband is totally willing to help but he doesnt notice what needs doing. When I swollowed my pride and judgement and just start asking, he does help and I feel less stressed and upset. Now. He does do stuff without asking. For instance just this morning he went to get work clothes from the dryer and he swapped the washer to dryer without my asking and took out the items that cant go in the dryer (because I’ve clearly explained in the past). I found It funny that i just dwelled on how grateful i was for that and how asking for help with specifics has changed us for the better and then read your article:),

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    Andrea Reply:

    This is awesome — and yes, I can basically say the same thing about Dave. He now does SO much without ever being asked (which I really appreciate). but it took several years of continually asking!

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  5. Abra

    11/02/2015

    I found this article very helpful. Thanks for the suggestions! I appreciated your point about having to ask Dave for help in the beginning of your marriage. I don’t think I had heard that perspective before and just assumed he was a naturally helpful guy. It gives me hope that one day I can get the help I need from my husband, but for now I should just ask! He even reminds me that I need to ask him for help (and that he doesn’t think of things that need done in the same way I do), so I should just do it!

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    Andrea Reply:

    Thanks Abra! And yes, Dave IS very helpful, but it took a few years of consistant asking before he started to see things to do even before I asked 🙂

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    Michelle Reply:

    In the early years of our marriage my husband called it nagging and accused me of being a “slave driver” whenever I asked him to do something for our household or our children.

    It was very hurtful.

    Thank goodness he isn’t that man anymore.

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    Michelle Reply:

    Back in those days, also, men believed that all things related to the house and the children were solely the responsibility of the woman.

    He believed that he went to work everyday and that was his contribution and ALL he had to do.

    I am so glad things have changed.

    I watch in amazement when my son-in-law is so hands-on with his kids. He makes their plates at dinner, washes them up, changes diapers, etc.

    My daughter is so lucky.

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    Andrea Reply:

    yes, thank goodness!

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  6. Kate beckett

    10/31/2015

    I totally agree to all of these. My husbands brain just doesn’t look for things to do but he is so willing to help when i ask. He’s not sued what is rather do myself or want him to do especially when I’m usually the ones to do it. Instead of accusing him of nor being helpful i had to calmly Jay ask for more help and on which things and he’s been so great. I to have acts of service as a love language. He built me shelves once as a surprise and i couldn’t believe how much i felt loved!

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  7. Karen

    10/30/2015

    Great advice!!! I need to make some changes for sure in certain areas. I wanted to let you know that I don’t read many blogs any longer, but I seek yours out every day. I love your advice and wisdom! Have a great weekend!

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    Andrea Reply:

    Wow, thanks Karen! So glad you are still enjoying my blog!

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    Kate beckett Reply:

    Me too! This is the only one and i used to read a bunch. I like that i can get an email if i forgot to look:)

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    Andrea Reply:

    yay — thanks Kate!!

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  8. Karyn

    10/29/2015

    Excellent advice, Andrea! Oh, and I LOVE your matching t-shirts!!

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    Andrea Reply:

    haha thanks! Although I don’t think we’ll be wearing these matching T’s around on a regular basis, it was fun to snap one family photo 🙂

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  9. lydia @ frugaldebtfree

    10/29/2015

    I don’t think anyone would call my home “organized” but I am blessed with a husband who does a lot around the house. He folds all the laundry. That’s the job I can’t stand so he does it. One thing I learned was that I can’t criticize the way he does something. If he offers to do the job it’s his job to do the way he wants to do it. Even if it’s not the east way I would have done it myself. I learned early on that when it comes to husbands if I nitpick him I wouldn’t get help for very long.

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    Andrea Reply:

    amen! That was one of the hardest “lessons” for me to learn too. Thankfully, I learned it early on in our marriage — and have since enjoyed lots of help from Dave!

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