If your living room looks like a giant mess of blocks, stuffed animals, and action figures – you’re probably searching for how to get children to clean up their toys.
Fear not, we have the magic solution!
Teaching kids to clean up from an early age is an important skill that will save your sanity in the present and continue to serve them later in life.
But there’s not one solution that works for everyone – so we’ve got 10 amazing clean up hacks to try! Plenty to experiment with to find which ones work best for your family.
Let’s get cleaning!
Disclaimer: This page contains affiliate links. See our disclosure policy for more details.
At What Age Can You Teach a Child to Clean Up Their Toys?
Once your child has mastered grasping and releasing objects – they’re reading to start picking up (and putting away) their toys. Granted, it will get easier once they’re mobile and better able to understand the concept of cleaning up.
So it’s really never too early (or too late!) to introduce these concepts.
All of that being said, a good target age to start cleaning up regularly is during the toddler years.
How Do I Get My Kids to Clean Up Toys?
Here are a few tricks and games you can try to encourage your children to clean up their toys:
1 | Play ‘I-Clean’ (Similar to ‘I-Spy’)
Who doesn’t love a game to spice up cleaning? Try one of our favorites, ‘I-Clean’! (a twist on the original ‘I-Spy’)
Give simple commands and let kids run around to search for the items that match the given description. Some examples:
“Clean up all toys that are purple”
“Put away all toys that rhyme with fall”
“Find all toys that are round”
Good news, this game is a sure winner guaranteed to please even the youngest of kiddos. But the downside is that sometimes it causes clean up time to take a while.
2 | Proper Homes
Make sure each and every toy, stuffed animal, board game, car, and doll has a designated storage area.
It could be on a shelf, behind a cabinet door, or in a toy bin – just make sure it’s consistently the same place. And make sure it’s reachable and easily accessible to kids.
Underneath it all, most children thrive on order and consistency. Set them up for success by making sure that every toy has a proper home in the living space.
If you’re having trouble organizing, start by paying attention to the toys that are most played with. Make sure these items are front and center in a toy storage solution.
3 | Model Good Behavior
You knew this one was coming. Kids learn by observing- which means that teaching them to pick up after themselves starts with watching you cleaning.
Model behaviors you want your toddlers and children to copy in front of them. Don’t wait to do all the cleaning during nap time!
Additionally, you want to narrate what you’re doing so kids better understand. Try, “I’m going to put this away now since I’m done using it”.
Be consistent and give it time, it takes a while for them to catch on and become part of the routine.
4 | Limit Choices
For those kids that immediately dump out their entire toy bin – give them less to pour out by starting a toy rotation so all of your child’s toys aren’t available at all times.
Start prepping for the rotation by pulling out their absolute favorites (it’s best to keep those out as long as they’re popular). Then randomly divide the rest of the toys into 3 piles. Box away 2 of the piles and hide them in a closet. Put away the remaining pile into the playroom.
Evey few weeks, rotate the toys that are out by packing some away and unpacking a closet box. This limits how many toys are “out” at a time and makes it easier to clean up.
5 | Magic Item
You can thank @mollythemom for this clean up hack:
“Mom hack. If you want your kids to happily put things away and for the load to be equally shared—because usually it’s consistently the same person doing all the cleaning—pick a mystery item and whoever picks that item up and puts it away in the right spot wins a prize.”
Feel free to get creative with the prize! It could be a sticker, getting to wear a special crown for the day, an M&M, or the privilege of picking that week’s movie – just to name a few ideas.
6 | Clean Up Songs
Get everyone into the cleaning spirit with a fun clean up song! OK, so you may not care for these tunes, but lots of kids love them and if it gets them cleaning, well it’s worth it.
You can make a playlist of cleaning songs or pull up Youtube videos. If going the Youtube route, kids can get super distracted by the screen so I put it on my phone and don’t show it.
Our favorites include ELF Learning’s “Clean Up Song For Children,” Little Baby Bum’s “Tidy Up Song,” and Miss Nina’s “Clean Up Medley.”
If you’re feeling creative, improvise the words to your usual clean up tune or make up your own songs completely.
Also, it doesn’t have to be a “clean up” song to help get your kids moving. Older kids will probably bristle at those “baby” songs anyway. Using their favorite upbeat song can be fun and helpful too.
7 | Be Specific
Simply saying “clean up” to little kids can be confusing and overwhelming especially. Being more specific can help young children understand what they’re supposed to do. Specifying to clean up the blocks or Paw Patrol is a great start.
For toddlers and young kids, giving very specific instructions like “Please put these blocks in this bin” is more likely to get them to understand.
A large mess can also just be overwhelming to a child just like a large project can be to us. Dividing the work into smaller pieces can make it seem more manageable. Starting with one small area to clean can be helpful and has the added benefit of teaching your kids a coping skill for stressful situations.
8 | Make It A Competition
Put your child’s competitive side to good use. Perhaps the fastest to clean up their toys or the person who puts the most away (bonus is that this encourages counting too) wins.
Personally, I don’t like to foster competition between my kids because with three boys there is already enough of that, however, this works really well for them to work as a team against me. Shockingly, I’m a pretty slow cleaner and they usually beat me. They’re thrilled they won, I’m thrilled it’s clean, and everyone’s a winner.
9 | Beat The Buzzer
Set a timer, I usually set 5 minutes but it could be longer or shorter depending on the mess, and everyone speed cleans as quickly as they can to finish before time’s up. I find it helpful to call out when there’s a minute left and countdown the last 10 seconds.
RELATED 5 Google Home Hacks All Parents Should Know in 2021
While a bit similar to the competition above, I like the cooperative spirit of everyone working together this way.
The biggest benefits of this quick and dirty method is that it is super fast, but you often have a tradeoff in precision as toys rarely get sorted at all and occasionally end up in strange places as little ones try to hurry.
10 | Let The Toys Clean
Make clean up fun and playful by letting the toys help do the cleaning. Large trucks and things with scoops are ideal for loading toys and taking them to their destination in their bin. A doll or stuffy can “pick up” toys and put them away.
Letting the toys tidy themselves makes clean up feel like play.
While my kids love to clean this way, I must admit that it is my least favorite option only because it takes SO LONG. If you have time, it’s great, if you’re in a hurry, it is an exercise in frustration.
Getting your child to clean up their toys can be a challenge, but hopefully these tips will help tidying go smoothly! Imagine a clean house and happy kids!
Did we miss anything? What tricks or games do you use to help get your kids to clean up their toys? Share your clean up tips in the comments!