Getting kids to clean is as important for them as it is for you.
If you always pick up after your children, they won't learn the necessary 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 wet duds 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 had 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.
Invest the time now, and you'll be rewarded with a child who takes pride (if not joy) in carrying his share of the home-cleaning load.
Neglect this lesson, and your child will still be cute - for a while. Then she'll grow up and drive people crazy with her serve-me attitude toward life.
In short: Kids are born wired to clean. All we as parents have to do is encourage that tendency (even though it initially means tasks will take twice as long to complete). Kids love to help, so let's let them!
As soon as children reach ages 2 or 3, it's time to start using a more formal approach to chores, such as a chore chart and stickers. The nightly ritual of placing blue and pink stars on my children's charts was the highlight of the day for these two.
And today I'm thankful for the time it took to get them in the cleaning routine. For the most part, they're whine-free cleaners and helpers.
If helping out is a new concept in your home, you'll need to use 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 proper 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 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. 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!)
Now that you've prepared yourself, it's time to get your family on board. Start your new housekeeping-with-kids routine off right by calling a family meeting.
Don't let the meeting part scare you: It can be as casual or as formal as you and your family like no gavel or agenda required.
Though ultra-organized people like me would probably want to at least open the meeting with a brief overview of the topics to be covered and then tackle them in a preset order, it's perhaps not necessary.
What is required, however, is that your family meeting takes place on a day and time when every family member can attend. Saturdays mornings or Sunday evenings work well for many families; your meeting time will depend on your schedule. Be flexible, and pick a time when everyone is relaxed.
Define the chores. Next, you'll need to explain what the chores are. Explain that there are some "personal virtues" such as making your bed in the morning that is expected to be completed by everyone and aren't on the chore chart. Go through your weekly chore list.
You may even explain why each chore is on the list, such as we do the laundry once a week so too much doesn't pile up and become overwhelming. Detail each task on the week's list, taking time to explain exactly what's expected of, say, doing the dishes.
To you, it might mean setting the table, clearing the table after dinner, and then helping you wash the dishes. To your 11-year-old daughter, however, it might mean waiting until you ask for her help. Or that she sets the table.
Head off misunderstandings by being crystal clear about your cleaning expectations early on.