Getting kids to clean is as important for them as it is for you. If you constantly pick up after your children, they won't learn the basic cleaning skills they'll need as adults.
While the time you spend initially in cajoling extra helpers and showing them the ropes may seem like more trouble than it's worth, you'll soon find that delegating has its benefits.
Your children will benefit by learning responsibility - which will make them good little guests who are sure to be invited back to friends' homes.
The best approach, of course, to getting kids to clean is to train them while they're toddlers so they never imagine until years later that it's even possible to go to bed with toys on the floor.
Picking up your own things should be as ingrained and habitual as brushing your teeth. Parents with older kids are going to have to work a little harder here to get their children's attention, but it can be done.
Start early. Introduce your toddler to the concept of cleaning up and putting away her things as soon as she is walking - out of diapers at the latest. My youngest son began tossing his dirty jammies atop the laundry hamper in his room just after he turned a year old.
By the time he was 18 months old, he knew that the cars and trucks must be put away - along with the plastic mat "road" they race on - before the dinosaurs came out to play.
At age 3, he automatically came to me in the laundry room when he heard me opening the washer or dryer door. He loved grabbing chunks of soggy clothes and throwing them into the dryer. Something about the thud the soggy dud made landing in the dryer just floated his boat.
True, these small efforts aren't exactly a big help. You'll probably find yourself, as I did, redoing all the helpful cleaning young tots do for you. There's a good measure of truth in the old saying "cleaning with kids is like shoveling the driveway while it's still snowing."
For example, I'm a big fan of those disposable floor mop wipes. And so is my son. He figured out how the wet-mop leaves a snail-trail (and it's wet, oh goody!) while cleaning our kitchen floor. It has reduced him to tears on several occasions when I had to take it from him after 20 minutes of "cleaning".
It took me an additional 20 minutes to clean up his cleaning up! It's hard to be patient at times like these. But your patience will pay off in a big way: Your toddler won't grow up thinking Mommy (or Daddy) is the maid.
If helping out is a new concept in your home, getting kids to clean requires the gradual approach with your school-age kids.
Like grownups, they can get set in their ways. But you're in luck, even if chores have been few and far between up until now, because as long as they're still at home, you're the boss.
Keep in mind that it takes 21 days for a habit to form. So starting slow is essential for good cleaning habits to grab a toehold in your home. And that goes for you, too.
Begin by creating a chore list with just one or two chores for each school-age kid. Initially give them responsibility for their own things - school papers, packing tomorrow's lunch, permission slips, making beds daily - and then graduate them to responsibilities throughout the home .
A few weeks later, add a family Saturday clean-a-thon. By year's end, your eldest will be cleaning the bathroom, your youngest will be delighted to help sort laundry, and your new program of family housekeeping will be routine!
Give older kids some input in your new system. They're part of the overload-on-chores problem, right? So, make them part of the solution. For example, when you introduce the chore list or chore chart, talk with them about the best ways to set it up. Let them decide when they will do their chores. (Within reason, that is!)