3 principles for teaching children to clean up after themselves


Cleaning up after ourselves is an eternal principle. I imagine that if we are to learn to create worlds, we have to learn what to do with all the resources we are provided. We begin learning about creation and resources when we recognize what resources we have right now and evaluate what we are doing with those resources.

For example, I have a bedroom with a bed that I sleep in. Each morning, I help make the world a lovelier place by taking a minute to make the bed. I have clothes on hangers in my closet, a laundry basket in that closet, and washing and drying machines in my home. When I change from the clothes I’m wearing to my PJs, I either hang my clothes back up or put them in the basket. Once a week, I take the basket to the mud room and do my laundry. Then I bring them back up and put them away. I have been learning how to create order in what otherwise might be my own personal chaotic universe. (Sometimes it does become chaotic!)


God gives us principles in the scriptures that teach us how to govern ourselves and learn to create order in our worlds. Just this morning I went into the children’s bathroom and saw a sign I had put there at the start of the school year. The sign lists a “bathroom tidy routine” that I wanted the children to learn to do. (The bathroom had been so messy for so long, and I needed to try something new/different to help them learn to keep it clean.) I put the sign up and invited the family to follow the routine each day after they showered.

I watched and waited. I decided I wouldn’t criticize their efforts but instead only praise the good that I saw. I also put a tally mark on the white board in the hallway for each day the bathroom was tidy after everyone had gotten ready, and each day at family prayer or each week at family council, I would go over how many consecutive days they had accomplished a tidy bathroom.

It was wonderful to see them improve! The bathroom went from messy to tidy from day 1! It wasn’t perfectly tidy every day (we are human in our family), but it was a vast improvement! I felt so happy!

Now that it has been several months, the bathroom tidiness continues to be much better than it was in the previous year. But it can be hard, in the rush of getting ready, to want to take the minute to tidy up after yourself, especially when your sibling is knocking (pounding?) on the door saying to hurry up so they can have their turn.mormonad- follow the leader-1118290-mobile

I was thinking that it might be time for some added instruction–something–to increase their knowledge, desire, capacity to clean up after themselves. I know that if I teach my children in the Savior’s way, I will be more effective in my attempts. This leads me to consider some eternal principles.

There are (at least) 3 gospel principles I can think of that I want to teach my children that can help them learn to clean up after themselves:

1. Come follow me (see 2 Nephi 31:12).

Jesus was always inviting people to follow his example. His example is the way to light, truth, love, happiness, and peace. I try to model what I hope my children will do. If I ask my children to tidy up after themselves in the morning when they get ready, I need to leave my bathroom tidy after I get ready. If I ask them to make their beds and put their clothes away, I need to do that. If I ask them not to leave piles of stuff around their rooms, I need to show them that it is possible to do it.

2. Now is the time (see Alma 34:31-33).

I learned either from Linda Eyre (A Joyful Mother of Children) or from Jeroldeen Edwards, a mother of a missionary in my mission (Things I’d Wish I’d Known Sooner and Celebration) to try not to multiply your work. For example, if I am changing my clothes, and I drop them on the floor and leave them to put away later, I have just made a job for myself for later. If I just deal with the clothes immediately, I haven’t created more work for myself. I think the easiest way to think of this is that now is the time to do the work (that you can do) that is before you. (The caveat is that you have to use good judgment: sometimes you can’t do something immediately because there is a greater, more pressing priority: the toddler fell down and hurt himself while you were changing and is bleeding. You shouldn’t, as a mom, take the extra minute hanging up clothes when your child needs your immediate attention. Or you can’t make your bed because if you do, you will miss the bus and then your mom will have to take 20 minutes from her morning of helping your siblings to get you to school. Life requires choices and judgment. You get the idea.) If you don’t procrastinate work, you keep life simpler and cleaner. It is a profound principle that I think I am learning as an adult, especially in the last few years.

3. By small and simple things (see Alma 37:6).

Wow! This is a powerful principle! I have realized that by this principle works both ways: if I do the small, simple tidy right now after I complete a task (waking up, showering, getting dressed), I create a tidy home! Tidiness actually has positive emotional and spiritual benefits to it!

On the other hand (opposition in all things!), if I don’t, I have little by little created a mess for myself that I have to clean up later. Messes can have negative emotional and spiritual consequences in my life. They aren’t tragedies, but they do detract from the peace I feel in my surroundings. Think of how beautifully clean the temple is, and the peace we feel there, and you’ll know just what I’m talking about.

It takes planning, then, to decide on when you need to get up in order to have the minute you need after waking, showering, and changing to be able to accomplish the needful follow-up (tidy) that is a part of completing that creation task. But I will say this: it doesn’t take long. I am a natural procrastinator. I like to sleep to the last possible minute. I like to get showered at the last possible minute. I want to spend time on the things I like to do much more than the things I have to do. So I have learned that you can tidy up really fast! And that makes anyone feel good. It’s part of the “leave a room as clean or cleaner than you found it” mentality that makes the world a lovelier place.

So now I have to decide how to share these principles with my children and if I just focus on one principle or teach them all together in the context of teaching tidiness. Hmmm. I’ll have to get back to you on that.*

I’m always inspired by this quote from Joseph Smith, Jr.: “I teach them correct principles, and they govern themselves.” And they do.

*I taught it as a Family Home Evening lesson.

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